Knowing your wine likes and dislikes are half the battle when it comes to choosing the right wine. L’Espalier Wine Director Lauren Collins encourages wine drinkers to keep an open mind and even if you don’t think you love a certain wine, trying the same wine again from a different region could make a difference. Want to get more into wine? Collins has some suggested reading and even a food and wine pairing to try.
– Katie Curley-Katzman
Here’s some expert advice from L’Espalier Wine Director Sommelier Lauren Collins:
Related: Ask A Boston Sommelier Series
What advice do you have for wine beginners?
I think that the most important thing is to be open-minded. Tasting is the best way to learn wine – try not to be too quick to judge what you do and don’t like or what you deem good or bad. Simply because you’ve had one or two sauvignon blancs, for example, that you haven’t loved, I would urge you not to dismiss the entire category. Climate, vintage, winemaking, grape variety… there are many factors that are part of a wine’s character and there are many elements to consider with each new wine that you taste.
Additionally, if you want to attack it more systematically, I would buy a few key resources (The Wine Atlas by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson & Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course are great) and try to read something about the wines that you taste & where they are from when you are having them.
What should wine drinkers know about their tastes/preferences to help you help them?
I find that the easiest way to help steer a guest to a wine that he will enjoy is to ask him for examples of other wines that he has enjoyed recently and even one or two wines that he has not enjoyed. On average, this is more helpful than having him try to explain the style of wine that he likes, ie: I like dry Chardonnay.
As one becomes more comfortable with wine, trying to hone in on one or two reasons why these wines were liked or disliked can also be helpful, both for the sommelier and for the guest trying to better understand his own palate.
Favorite wine offered in your restaurant?
That’s a really hard question! By the glass, it is definitely the NV François Secondé Brut Rosé Grower Champagne. 100% pinot noir & hugely characterful. What better than Champagne to put one in a better mood!
Favorite pairing at your restaurant?
Our kitchen is doing the most amazing roasted foie gras preparation right now; it is served with a Japanese-inspired maple sap broth, foraged mushrooms and banana in wood caramel. It’s much too earthy for a classic Sauternes pairing, and I love introducing Madeira to guests, so we are doing this with Broadbent’s 10-year Malmsey Madeira. It has a rich unctuous texture to match the foie but darker spice and nutty notes that I love with the mushrooms and the maple. It’s delicious.
What wine do you recommend the most?
Definitely Burgundy. We have a great selection and both the reds and the whites pair beautiful with the delicate touch of the kitchen. I try to ensure that we have a wide selection available, from simpler to more lofty examples.
What’s an inexpensive wine that is sure to impress?
Crémants from France are always a great choice. There are seven regions that are allowed to use the term and the wines are required to be made in the same method as Champagne. Crémant de Bourgogne & Crémant de Jura tend to be my favorites and are usually based on the same grapes that they use in Champagne. Quality for dollar, these are definitely wines worth knowing!
How did you become a sommelier?
I have a degree in Romance Languages and Art History from Bowdoin College, and my first job was at Christie’s auction house in New York, where I was first exposed to the idea of wine as a career path.
After a few years, I moved home to Boston and took a job at Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton where I gained great experience and stayed for six years. Simultaneously, I began studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers and passed the first two levels of exams in 2009 and 2010.
I joined the L’Espalier team as a sommelier in June of 2012 and passed my Advanced with the Court of Master Sommeliers in April of 2013; I was promoted to Wine Director at L’Espalier that same month.
What do you open at home?
Haha – everything!! One of my favorite things about wine is its variety. Even when a wine turns out not to be the best, it at least is usually interesting. My fiancé is also a sommelier so we really enjoy opening different things and geeking out together.
What wine region are you most excited about right now?
I am surprising myself with this answer! But I have to say that right now I am very intrigued by the wines coming from cooler sites in California, especially the Sonoma Coast. Probably 90% of the wines that I drink are from Europe, so admittedly my first thoughts in answering this question were overseas, but there is so much innovation happening in California today. I am thrilled with the balance and freshness that many producers are finding from cooler sites and with more restrained winemaking.
One of the best things about studying for the Master Sommelier is that it forces me to assess the entire world of wine as fairly as possible. Most often, this is incredibly rewarding, as I end up discovering things that I might not have otherwise.
How important is it to pair your wine with your food?
When having a special meal, we definitely try to open something appropriate to what we will be eating. But more often than not, the wine is chosen first and then we just try to ensure that neither completely overpowers the other.
I generally think that most of the time, people are happier drinking what they enjoy and eating what they enjoy, and not overly focusing on the hunt for the perfect pairing.
What wine do you drink in spring/summer?
French rosé, Loire Valley chenin blanc, Dry German riesling & Chablis. In my book, these are staples all year-long but especially in spring & summer!
Katie Curley-Katzman loves learning, collecting and writing about wine. She holds a certificate in wine tasting and education from the Institut d’Oenologie in Aix-en-Provence, France and is a graduate of Salem State University with a degree in English and French. Her wine writing has appeared in the Quarterly Review of Wines Magazine. Have a wine question or suggestion? Tweet her @KatieKWBZ