I recently spent some time with Master Sommelier, Andrew McNamara during the Court of Master Sommelier’s Introduction and Certified level exams here in Orlando, Fl.
Andrew was one of ten candidates to pass this rigorous exam in 2007, Andy is also one of the very few in the court’s history to successfully complete all three portions and receive the highest score on his first sitting- tasting, service, and theory – and receive the coveted Krug cup – an award bestowed by Krug Champagne. In 2010, Andy was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Guild of Sommeliers. The Guild of Sommeliers is a non-profit, member-run organization, committed to excellence, development, inspiration and exchange of information for wine service professionals and wine enthusiasts across the U.S. (Editor’s note: Scott’s questions are in plain font and Andy’s answers are in italics.)
Why Wine? What drew you to Wine? This was a second career for me. My father loved wine, and instilled that in his children. It was always about family and friends and having a good time. It’s hard to have a glass of wine or talk about wine and not be smiling.
Why did you decide to start and complete the Master Sommelier course? I decided on the MS program for several reasons. First, the owner of the wine shop I worked in (Arthur’s Wine Shop in Charlotte, NC) had mentioned that a previous employee – Robert Jones, MS had worked through the program and that he thought I could do it. I took the Introductory Course in the fall of 2003. I remember coming back from the first day of class and telling my wife “I want to be a Master Sommelier – it looks like it’s so much fun!” And that was that.
How long did you study for the MS? My entire life? I’d been learning for a while and enjoyed it, but sitting down, studying, practicing – 3 ½ years from the time I took the Introductory Course until I passed the MS Exam in 2007.
How difficult is it to taste wines like an MS? It’s like anything – the more you practice, the better you become. I don’t believe that I’m a “gifted” taster in any way, shape or form, but I practice –continue to practice – a LOT – 4, 5, 6 thousand wines/year. I’ve found that most people are great tasters – they just don’t believe that they are. Most people eat a strawberry and don’t think about what it tastes like – most great tasters think about everything they taste and smell all the time.
Did you ever find out what wines you tasted on the day you took the MS exam? No – and I’m sure that I don’t want to!
If I were to give you a wine to taste right now would you describe for my readers what you taste? Always! But… and this is a BIG but… wine is such an experiential thing and each person is different. What I get in a wine might be different than the person next to me. The general categories will most likely be the same, but there is some subjectivity.
What’s the most difficult part of the Sommelier course? Finding the time to study! It’s hard to map out a study plan on a subject that constantly changes. It’s balancing work, family, friends, other obligations – all of it. It’s like having another full-time job.
For these Intro level students, what advice would you give them to go to the next level or even all the way to MS (there are a total of four levels in the CMS)? Enjoy it. I mean that literally. If you don’t stop and just drink a glass of wine or a cocktail every so often, all it becomes is study. Remember why you wanted to do it in the first place.
Some people think Sommeliers are very snooty… do you consider yourselves a wine snob? I’m a snob in the sense that I know what I enjoy, but I’m always open to trying new beverages. (Different question – Am I a price snob?) Absolutely not. Some of my favorite wines are $7 a bottle and fantastic. It’s easy to find a $200 bottle that’s great – it should be, quite frankly. I get far more joy in finding an inexpensive bottle that knocks my socks off.
What is your favorite value wine? I love Southern French Rose. They’re perfect all summer, great in the winter and extremely versatile with food.
You work two jobs… what are your roles in your respective companies? My official title is “Director of Fine Wine/ Master Sommelier” for Premier Beverage Company. I run our Premium Account Development Specialist team and Augustan Wine Imports. I also do internal education, some work with accounts, and new product acquisitions. Keeps me busy!
What wines are trending at the moment? Moscato continues to be hot – as does Malbec. What I’m seeing is a movement towards great values – the varietal, country or region doesn’t matter so much – it’s the quality in the glass that’s most important.
What wine did you taste last night? Actually tasted 6 – A 2010 Bordeaux, a Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling Vouvray, two reds from Spain – a Jumilla and a Ribera del Duero – and finished with a killer Amarone.
What is your favorite non-wine drink? I love a great Negroni, Manhattan or Margarita.
What is the best wine you have ever had? My stock answer is I haven’t had it yet. In reality – the 1990 Jacques Frederic Mugnier Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru from Burgundy. I can still taste it. It was with a group of great friends in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in San Francisco. The glassware was awful, the service even worse. But the wine… an amazing experience. I’ve had the same bottle several times and none of them were quite as good.
You pair wine with food not food with wine… why the distinction? I actually do both. In restaurants, especially in the U.S., it’s more common for diners to order their food first and the wine second (or start with one wine and then have another wine to go with the main course). Sometimes I’ll make a suggestion based on the food that was ordered, or I’ll make a suggestion of food to go well with the wine. Depends on the guest.
What is one word of advice you can give to the common wine drinker when choosing a wine? Know what you like, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The days of the snooty sommelier are (almost) gone – most are out to give you a fantastic experience, not a wallet-emptying experience.
Scott Richardson has been in the hotel and restaurant business for almost 30 years. His love for producing remarkable food and service evolved to his love for all things wine. Scott has worked at many prestigious locations including The Cavendish Hotel, in London England and The Grove Park Inn and Resorts in Asheville, NC. His culinary background and his love for wine pushed into the teaching profession with University of Central Florida’s Rosen School of Hospitality Management, Valencia College, Johnson and Wales University and New England Culinary Institute. If that was not enough, Scott is also a volunteer judge at several food and wine festivals in Central Florida throughout the year. Scott is currently pursuing his passion in wine by working towards his PhD in Hospitality Leadership with research in the wine tourism industry. In his spare time, Scott writes for The Park Press, his column “The Educated Palate” can be found at www.theparkpress.com. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org