Love Is Love

Last week’s truly momentous SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States got me thinking about the nature of love. What is it that draws people (and by extension, their wines) together? How much of it is genetics, Kismet, and just plain choice?

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Some science out there suggests that we develop basic flavor preferences very early in life, maybe even in the womb. Those few preferences become expanded, shaped and otherwise modified by culture and experience, but always guided by those basic preferences. In other words, people like what they like. Love is love.
One of the most grounding bits of knowledge I picked up from Yoda, Jedi Master Sommelier, is that at the end of the day, the guest likes what he or she likes, and it’s not sommelier’s place to judge that. The job–my job, if so asked–is to figure out what my guest or friend likes, and then facilitate his or her joyful experience. The sommelier is the wingman for booze: “That bottle is checking you out. Wanna meet it? It’s a little shy, but I think you might like each other.”
Like a good wingman, the sommelier has to know when to back off and let nature take its course, even if the guest is making what I consider to be a questionable choice. “That bottle is FREAKY, you sure you wanna hit that? Aiight, I got you.”
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I think the best sommeliers know how to gently teach someone about something new, but only if the guest is open to such a thing. “How’s it going with that bottle from last night? Y’all still together?”

Because love is love. And if it’s love, then everybody wins.

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Since finishing wine school, I’ve had a couple of friends and relatives comment self deprecatingly about their wines of choice around me. “I’m embarrassed,” they giggle and blush. “You’re totally judging my Cupcake wine now.”
“I am not,” I say. “Love is love.”
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This Post is Not for You.

“Well, I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it.” That is the almost reflexive response to hearing something offensive in polite society. It comes with a slight tightening of the mouth and maybe a sigh. “Well, I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it” was my initial reaction to this headline last week, which lead into an article about the brilliant mural outside of The Musket Room, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nolita.

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The headline, which featured a label above it called “Culture Quotient,” for me carried a distinct note of unwelcome. As if hip-hop and good food are at odds. As if black culture and fine dining are naturally at odds. What are *you* doing here? It seemed to say. How funny. You like the fine dining.

According to the article, Matt Lambert, executive chef and co-owner of The Musket Room, came up with the idea of beautifying the corrugated sheet metal gate with a piece of art. Painted by graffiti artist Fumero, the mural, with its jewel-toned, stained glass palate, depicts the Notorious B.I.G at the height of his prose and swagger. Its design commemorates the 18th anniversary of the rapper’s death on March 9, 1997.

It’s a cool idea. The article does a nice job of piquing my interest in Fumero and The Musket Room. One of these days (after I do my Johnny Kemp dance, let’s be real) I hope to visit the restaurant for dinner. But that headline, tho… 

But I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it.

Still, the feeling sucks and part of me  protested: I like delicious food and I’m black! I’m black and I think wine is delicious! I’ve even got a pin! I belong here too, seeeeeeeeee?

Another other part of me was thoroughly vexed. Why do I feel the need to defend Biggie’s presence? Or mine, for that matter. Why did the magazine’s editorial staff see fit to question it?

I’m positive that when I do visit The Musket Room, I’ll sample Chef Matt Lambert’s delicious food and I’ll find a delicious wine that compliments it perfectly, and no one will be daft enough to question the culture that Biggie and I call home to my face in the manner that headline did. After all, the point of the article was the beautiful art that draws people in and draws them together, which is kind of the point in this crazy business called Hospitality.

Le Whut?

Le Dosage* is the term for a mixture of wine and sugar (or sugar syrup)  that is used in the production of Champagne and other sparkling wines to balance acidity and, some say, flavor. A dosage is added as the wines are nearing the end of the fermentation process. That’s the idea behind this blog. Le Dosage is my attempt to add something extra — reflections on wine and culture — to discussions I see in the world of wine.

*Le dosage also called liqueur d’expédition, but I thought that would be a bit precious for a blog. I mean, for real…

I Almost Missed It

I almost missed Black History Month this year. I do something – read a book, watch a film, read some articles – to commemorate the rich heritage and contributions of my fellow brown folks of African descent. This year has been a little different. This year, I’ve been absorbed in the study of booze.

Couple Sitting at a Bar

Since early November, I’ve been a student in the Intensive Sommelier Training program at the International Culinary Center in New York City (at which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been employed for nearly 8 years). The program–led by Master Sommelier Scott Carney, a badass in his own right–is designed to offer students an introduction to the world of wine, beer, spirits, and service in preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam and a beginner-level job in the wine business.

I’m in class three evenings per week, tasting an average of 8 wines each night. It’s well, intensive. And friggin’ fabulous. Scott, along with his roster of Master Sommeliers including Wayne Belding, Christopher Bates, Laura Williamson, Kathy Morgan, and Alex LaPratt, have introduced me to a crazy new world of grapes, chateaux, neuroscience, scandals, and lawsuits. Hell, just a few months ago, someone stole nearly $300K in wine from an internationally renowned restaurant – an outright caper! My classmates are fascinating and altogether brilliant. This class – as a microcosm of what the wine world seems to be – is a ginormous Pinterest hole. Can you blame me for getting lost? Everybody should take this class. It’s cool.

And then it hit me. Everybody is not taking this class. While not the only brown person, I am the only African-American in my class. What gives? Wine is delicious.

I searched both my memory and group photos of classes past, and have seen only a smattering of African-Americans. It got me thinking about how wine and spirits are marketed to people of color in general, and African-Americans in particular. In the professional literature (e.g, Somm Journal, Decanter, Imbibe, Wine Advocate) which granted, I’m just starting to explore, there’s been some buzz about how Millennials are bringing diversity to the wine world, but much of that buzz seems related to tastes and styles than actual people.

As it turns out, there have been Africans and African-Americans in the wine business for years, I but they’re not widely known. It is easier to find articles about Black chefs who are not Marcus Samuelsson than it is to find one about Black winemakers and sommeliers, and that’s saying something.

I Googled and found a few articles, sparsely and infrequently published, about the “changing face of wine,” and two associations, the Association of African American Vintners, and the African American Wine Tasting Society. There were also some articles about hip hop culture embracing wine (especially international varieties) and some rappers starting labels, such as the True Wine Connoisseurs Sadat X and Will Tell, L’il Jon and Nelly. Forbes recently reported on Jay-Z’s association with Armand de Brignac Champagne, and apparently there’s been a Moscato boom. I missed it, but then again, I haven’t bought a rap album since “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”

What each of these articles had in common is a stated desire to make wine relatable, enjoyable, and let’s face it, profitable, for everyone. What several of these articles seem to rely on, however, is the position of hip-hop personalities as primary wine ambassadors for African Americans. They beg the question, what other avenues are there for bringing wine to communities of color? Are there other personalities we can learn about? Where can I, as a fledgling wine student, learn about what other folks like me are doing? Where can I read about Tom Bullock? Or, Thomas Price, Carlton McCoy, and Victoria Coleman? Don’t get me wrong. like Brand Nubian and Jay-Z, but I’d like to read more about these other folks, too. As I study to take the Certified Sommelier exam next month, I wonder if maybe I’m not the only one. I wonder too, how many African Americans are sitting for the exam.