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We brought together some of the city’s top sommeliers to the Bauscher Hepp showroom
to talk about wine, work and what they really drink at home.
What inspired you to go into wine?
Gamblin: I was working in restaurants for a really great chef in Chattanooga. A sommelier—I didn’t even know what it was. Our restaurant owner didn’t want to sell wines that everyone was familiar with and he wanted to expand their palette. And I fell in love with it. Everybody thinks you’ve got the best job ever. You get to eat food and drink wine. But if all I did were eat food and drink wine, I wouldn’t be any good to anyone. The reality is it’s a lot of reading, a lot of studying.
Tinley: I found my passion for wine here in Raleigh. I was working for an Italian restaurant. They had a good, intensive wine training program that forced the wait staff to pay attention. Italian wines are very complex. Once you get past France, which is a deep world of knowledge. You get to Italy and you think, this might be worse than France. I was fortunate that I learned Italian wines first and that drove my passion.
Agate: I finished school and then three years ago, I gave all my stuff away, packed my jeep and drove to Colorado. I showed up in Aspen one night with no intention to stay and someone offered me a job at a restaurant. I had never worked in the food industry. I ended up staying for three years. They were wine focused and I was a PBR guy. I found I was really interested in it. I’m still pretty new to it. I could spend 40 hours a week studying and never know everything.
Schuitemaker: I started as a server at the Angus Barn never thinking I would go into the restaurant business. Six months into working there I fell in love with the restaurant and the owners. I waited tables for three years and then I became a dining room manager for a year. [They] asked me to work with the wine and beverage director at the time. I resisted but I had no choice. It really was the best move I ever made. I love what I do. It’s one of those divine interventions.
Lynn: I had my first sip of wine out of a jug. It was pink. I had just started graduate school in psychology and I was looking for a reason to drop out. I was working at a liquor store. We didn’t get paid a lot but we got to try a lot of different bottles. I remember the day I tried a properly ripened Riesling. I have no idea who it was by, but I remember that when I tasted it, it made sense. It had sharpness; it had sweetness. So I decided I wanted to learn more.
There is this perception that you have to have a “gift” to understand wine. Can
anyone cultivate it?
Schuitemaker: Sure, you can cultivate it. You almost have to be a detective. A lot of it is sight, if you’re looking at a wine it can tell you a lot about age, quality, and grape variety. Of course, when you smell, your olfactory senses actually detect more than what your taste buds do. When you taste a wine, what does it remind you of—red cherries, blueberries? Do you smell a little spice? These are all things you can cultivate through time and tasting a lot of wines.
Gamblin: I remember when chef was teaching us about wine, and everyone who worked longer than I had would say, “Oh, I get apples and pears.” I remember looking at my friend and saying, “It just tastes like white wine.” About six months down the road it just clicked.
Lynn: Education, practice, guided tastings, those are things we can do to teach ourselves but our experience is the point of view we all [apply] differently. Some people ate a lot of fruits growing up. I was a little fat kid, and I ate a lot of candy so my approach to wine has been from a very confected point of view, “Oh, that reminds me of red Starburst.”
What regions in the U.S. interest you most?
Agate: I’m obsessed with Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Lynn: There is a lot of excitement with domestic wineries. If you’re in Arizona, drink some of Maynard’s wines, his Caduceus. If you’re in New Mexico, drink sparkling wines. Drink local.
Gamblin: You can’t start a conversation about California without talking about Napa. It’s the established region but it’s too expensive to open wineries there, so everybody’s going to southern California. They’re the young guys and making wines outside of the box.
Tinley: Paso Robles’ interesting because it’s kind of a land grab. People are seeing what the different areas can produce. It’s that young influence. That’s probably where I’d be if I had any talent in growing.
Chardonnay gets a bad rap and Merlot too like in the movie, “Sideways”?
Agate: That sentence in that movie put a 60 percent dent in the Merlot industry. There’s this weird pop culture reference that people associate with certain wines and it completely shapes their thinking forever.
Any varieties you love?
Tinley: The obvious sommelier answer is Riesling, and Kory [Lynn] you hinted at that. In the minds of many, Riesling is associated with inexpensive, sappy sweet wines. Whereas when produced in certain areas it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one of the must excellent expressions of a grape.
Schuitemaker: I like Pinot Noirs. We’re sort of a bubble gum society. We like things sweet and rich. They add Syrah to the Pinot to makes it heavier; they add a little more oak than maybe they should which adds butterscotch and vanilla notes to the wine to make it a little sweeter.
Any good ways to choose wine?
Agate: Talk to a wine professional.
Schuitemaker: Affiliate yourself with a wine club. Go to as many tastings as you can. And the Internet is a wealth of information.
What’s the next wine or region that hasn’t hit that’s going to be big?
Tinley: I can’t reveal that information.
Schuitemaker: Moldova is a cool country that’s been producing wine for thousands of years. You’re starting to see little countries like that come out—Hungary, Romania.
Tinley: I would probably pick Spain and Portugal. Personally, I’ve found a lot of value. The dry red wines have caught my notice.
Gamblin: What you pay for Spanish wine and what it delivers are two entirely different things.
Lynn: Croatia’s being celebrated right now. For me, my secret area, more as a place than a grape, is Chile. They’re finding their stride with certain varietals. If you look at the back of a bottle and you see “Vine Connections,” buy it; it’s probably going to be good.
Lynn: I like what they bring in. It’s an importer.
Tinley: Try and figure out an importer that you trust because that person is a decision maker for every wine that’s coming in.
We heard that before prohibition NC was the largest producer of wine in the U.S.
Schuitemaker: That’s true. I’m excited about what’s happening in this state. We’re still figuring out which grape varieties do great here. Viognier seems to do well, so does Cabernet Franc. In the Yadkin Valley, the microclimates tend to be better. I’ve had some nice examples. There are over 100 wineries now in the Yadkin Valley.
Do people often call the sommelier?
Gamblin: A few days ago, the server came up to me and said a table wanted me to choose between two wines, and they were adamant that they did not want to speak with a sommelier because they were scared. The server looked at them and said, “She’s 5” 1’ and she’s from Alabama.” I always ask three questions and one of them is “How much do you want to spend?” because I’m not going to play with your wallet.
Tinley: Nor should they be concerned that a sommelier is agenda driven. My only agenda is for you to come back to the restaurant.
When you’re not working, what do you drink at home?
Schuitemaker: Probably a white wine—a clean, crisp Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
Gamblin: It’s one of two things: Grüner Veltliner or PBR.
Tinley: A German Riesling, Beaujolais, or a White Street Kölsch.
Agate: I have to learn about beer now so I’m exploring every style of beer I can.
Lynn: A bottle of Cava or Prosecco. I love Syrah and I usually round it out with two or three beers I want to try.
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