Best New Sommelier 2014

Amy Racine | Sons & Daughters, San Francisco

There are sommeliers, and then there are well-educated wine geeks. There’s a big difference, and it’s clear at table: While both know wine inside and out, the sommelier is a hospitality professional, at the ready to guide you to your next great bottle.

To find tomorrow’s stars—the sommeliers who excel at hospitality and in their wine knowledge—we asked the toughest critics, their peers. And then we interviewed the people who garnered the most votes, to find out how they’ve gotten where they are so quickly.

Budding sommeliers, take notes. Diners, book your tables. Here are the six Best New Sommeliers of 2014.

Growing up in an Italian-American family that took wine and food seriously, Amy Racine always knew she wanted to work in the food world. “From the second grade I knew I wanted to be a chef,” she says. As soon as she graduated high school, Racine left Ohio for Hyde Park, New York, to attend the Culinary Institute of America.

She stayed on course to be a chef until she began the wine class portion of the cooking program, taught by longtime teachers Michael Weiss and Steven Kolpan. “It opened up a whole new realm of the culinary world for me,” she says. “Until then I used to think people just drank wine because it was fun; I didn’t understand how [wine] could be understood on a much deeper level, and how much it could bring to a dish.” For her, the realization was monumental. “It was scary; I’d put all my heart into becoming a chef, and then I took these awesome classes and saw that they were even more interesting to me than culinary class.”

After graduating in 2010, she decided to move across the country to enroll in the CIA’s Accelerated Wine and Beverage Program at Greystone in California’s Napa Valley. After that, there was no looking back to the kitchen, she says. She headed to southern Utah, to work as a sommelier at Amangiri, a luxury resort and spa in 2011, then moved back to California, wanting to be closer to the wine scene and a robust community of wine professionals. In 2012, San Francisco restaurateurs Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara tapped her to manage the beverage programs for their restaurants Sons & Daughters and The Square. Now 25 years old, with a recently earned Advanced Certification from the Court, she’s widely recognized among her peers as one of San Francisco’s most promising young sommeliers.—Erik Tennyson

“I’d put all my heart into becoming a chef, and then I took these awesome wine classes and saw that they were even more interesting to me than culinary class.”

Early Influences
Sunday dinners were big: Everyone would sit down together in the early afternoon, sipping wine and eating, then moving to Sambuca hours later.

First Love
Trimbach gewürztraminer. It smelled pretty, maybe even a little over the top. I thought about it all night and all the next day.

A Cook’s Approach
I try to connect what the wine is trying to do with what the chef is trying to do. We had one dish—abalone with sea grapes in a briny sauce—I paired it with Bermejo from the Canary Islands because it had this intense mineral salinity to it. Both wine and dish were showcasing a terroir with a harsh climate and heavy ocean winds.

Wine of the Moment
Portuguese dry wines: arinto, bical—these are great varieties that you don’t come across very often.

Classic Choices
When I think of fine wines my mind goes to Bordeaux. Everything is related back to Bordeaux. You hear of this wine maker in Rioja and how he spent time in Bordeaux or how this person in California worked back in Bordeaux.

Please Drink More…
...2010 Palette Rosé by Château Simone. Its herbal tones go so well with the items from our garden. The higher price ($150) and its association with rosé as a patio pounder turn people away, but this rosé has some real beauty to it.

Table Manners
This one guy had me pull up six wines so he could scan them all with an app. He didn’t seem interested in what I had to say; he just wanted to scan the labels. He wound up choosing three of them so it could’ve been worse.

Study Tips
Studying for the [Court of Master Sommelier’s advanced] exam, I went to go see Bob Bath, and he started firing off questions like ‘Name five producers from this area; Where is this winemaker from?’ It made me realize that it’s easy to go over the same flashcards and study your maps. But there are always areas that you miss.

How to Taste
Taste everything—not to figure out if you like it, but to figure out what Rioja tastes like, what new oak tastes like. I keep a journal and record how they were similar or different from other ones from that region; there’s so much you learn from one wine.

Working Glass
After really hard service, I like a really cold pilsner.

Perfect Day Off
Going to the Bay and relaxing with some oysters and Chablis. And maybe some Champagne.

This article first appeared in W&S October 2014.

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