Just as Fort Worth’s food culture has grown to epic proportions over the past several years, so has our city’s appetite for a good drink. And by good drink we mean something made or picked by hand, by people we know, whether it’s our favorite bartender or sommelier. There’s a time and a place for a glass of merlot or a Jack and Coke, but Fort Worth’s thirst for next-level drinking continues to be seemingly unquenchable.
These are indeed good times to be a wine or spirits lover here in Fort Worth. We have all witnessed the rise of the local distillery and Fort Worth-branded spirits. If we drink gin or whiskey, chances are we’ve sipped — or slammed — a drink made with a local spirit.
Likewise, we are surrounded by wine, from the uncountable number of North Texas wineries to restaurants with A-plus wine lists to sit-and-sip wine bars. Ask any wine snob and they’ll tell you, Texas soil and weather are mercilessly cruel to winemakers. But there they are anyway, stomping grapes, ignoring detractors and putting out formidable bottles of reds and whites.
This month’s cover story is dedicated to those who play instrumental roles in our local spirit and wine businesses. From a sommelier at one of the city’s top restaurants to local winemakers and winery owners to the dudes who run the city’s new school of distilleries, these are the people who keep growing, nurturing, and pushing the bounds of our wine and spirits scene.
To them, we offer this toast.
Acre Distilling Co.
Tony Formby wants to make this world a better place to live in, one drink at a time. Since opening downtown in 2015, Acre Distilling — which owners Formby and J.B. Flowers (both expats of Rahr & Sons Brewing) named after Hell’s Half Acre, the notoriously rowdy slice of downtown where, back in the Old West days, Butch Cassidy and his crew chilled and a photographer captured the famous portrait of the Hole in the Wall gang — has been crafting more than 20 spirits, including single malt whiskey, bourbon, gin, vodka, rum, liqueurs, and cordials, many of them award-winning. But what impresses most is Formby’s dedication to going green.
Teaming with area solar companies, he recently launched a campaign to make Acre a 100% green operation, using energy derived from more than 300 solar panels installed in Acre’s parking lot. Acre is the first solar-powered distillery in the country and one of only a handful in the country.
As part of this initiative, dubbed “Green Acre,” after the classic TV show, Formby has also replaced single-use plastic with a biodegradable equivalent and introduced a bottle-recycling program.
“I wouldn’t call myself a tree hugger, but I am someone who is conscientious about the environment,” he says. “I want to do what I can to help make this a better world to live in.”
Signature spirit: No collection of Fort Worth spirits is complete without a bottle of Acre’s excellent Hell’s Half Acre Rum. It’s won several awards, including the gold medal at this year’s US Open Whiskey & Spirits Championship. Also worth seeking out is Acre’s Lemon Bomb limoncello cordial.
Tours: Acre offers tours and tastings Thursday through Saturday. Tours include a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Acre’s distilling process, as well as a sampling of seven different Acre spirits. The tours also include a history lesson in Hell’s Half Acre, the storied downtown area of which Acre’s century-old building is a part. Tours last approximately one hour and cost $15 per person. Reservations are recommended and can be made on Acre’s website. After the tour, hang out on Acre’s dog-friendly patio or grab a craft cocktail at its cool wood-paneled bar.
Info: 1309 Calhoun St., acredistilling.com
Recipe: Java Shine Martini
3 ounces Java Shine Coffee-Flavored Whiskey
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Single shot of espresso
Dry shake (with no ice) vigorously for 10 seconds. Fill shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10 more seconds. Strain into a martini glass and enjoy.
Opened by lawyer, chef, and sommelier Markus Kypreos in 2019, Blackland is one of the city’s newest distilleries — and easily its most high-tech. Located in The Foundry District, the distillery is known for utilizing “Blade Runner”-ish hardware and state-of-the-art technology to produce its quintet of signature spirits: Blackland Gin, Vodka, Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, and Texas Pecan Brown Sugar Bourbon.
Not all die-hard distillery lovers may dig Kypreos and head distiller Ezra Cox III’s 21st-century way of brewing North Texas-grown grains, but whatevs, the high-end equipment makes a world of difference when it comes to how Blackland’s spirits taste, Kypreos says. “A lot of people distill by touch, smell, instinct. What we do is take away any chance of human error,” Kypreos says. “The end result is very clean spirits, without a lot of burn on the end.”
The distillery is unique in that it also houses an upscale cocktail lounge where guests can sip on drinks made with Blackland’s award-winning spirits at a marble-topped bar or velvet-upholstered banquettes.
In September, Kypreos announced the distillery will undergo an expansion that will include the addition of a VIP room and second barrel room.
Signature spirit: You and Kypreos can arm-wrestle over which is better: the newish Texas Pecan Brown Sugar Bourbon, our fave, or the red winter wheat-made Blackland Gin, one of Kypreos’ faves.
Tours: Starting in October, tours of Blackland take place Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Tours last approximately one hour and include a look at the distillery’s cutting-edge, spirit-producing technology. Each guest receives tasting flights of the distillery’s premium vodka, gin, bourbon, and rye whiskey, plus a signature craft cocktail. Tours cost $30 per person. Reservations are recommended and can be made in advance on the distillery’s website.
Info: 2612 Weisenberger St., blacklandfw.com
Recipe: Salted Pecan
1 ounce Blackland
Texas Pecan Brown
1 ounce Blackland
2 dashes of black
1 pinch of salt
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir to chill and dilute. Pour over ice. Garnish with a candied pecan. Enjoy.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company
What Heim has done for barbecue, Firestone & Robertson has done for whiskey. Not only has F&R improved the art of making whiskey, but its contributions to the world of spirits have unequivocally inspired others to get into the distilling game. And of course, F&R’s signature TX Blended Whiskey is its bacon burnt ends, a local sensation whose ripple effects have been felt regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Founded by Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, F&R is the first distillery to use a proprietary combination of grains, yeast, and barrel toasting, making it an industry innovator. That was the first of many firsts for this groundbreaking brand, now owned by French spirit-maker Pernod Ricard.
Firestone & Robertson, despite its growing global presence, is still very much steeped in Fort Worth. Its sprawling Whiskey Ranch is a sight to see even if you can’t stand whiskey. Resting on 112 acres of rolling golf grounds, it offers picture-perfect views of downtown, not to mention a stately bar, wraparound deck, plenty of cush furniture upon which you can sit and sip, and a gift shop where you can load up on F&R booze and merch. Whiskey Ranch is, in essence, as much a work of art as F&R’s spirits.
Signature spirit: By all means, indulge in TX Straight Bourbon and TX Blended Whiskey, the bottles that put F&R on the map. But don’t sleep on some of their more complex spirits, such as TX Straight Bourbon PX Sherry Finish, created by taking mature, 4-year-old TX Straight Bourbon and finishing it for eight months in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, or the TX Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon, whose fiery, 100-proof bourbon was distilled by one and only one master distiller.
Tours: Although Whiskey Ranch isn’t back open for full-on tours just yet, due to COVID-19, it is open for weekly ticketed happy hour events with live music, lawn games, cocktails, and gift shop access. Whiskey Ranch is also hosting weekly cocktail classes. When COVID’s outta here, tours of the facility’s stunning distillery equipment should resume. Hit up their website for more info.
Info: 4250 Mitchell Blvd., frdistilling.com
Recipe: Smoked Bourbon
2 parts TX Bourbon
1/4 parts Smoked
Handful of wood shavings (Whiskey Ranch uses
wood from used TX
Bourbon barrel staves)
2 dashes of
Place a handful of wood chips on a plank of thick wood or ceramic platen.
Whiskey Ranch uses shavings from a bourbon barrel stave, but you can
also use pecan, oak, peach, or hickory.
Use a torch to fire them up until they just begin to light.
Place glass over the chips to snuff the fire and leave for a minute to soak the smoke while making the cocktail.
Mix cocktail ingredients together in a separate glass with ice and stir.
Flip smoked glass over, immediately add fresh ice, and strain cocktail into smoked glass.
Trinity River Distillery
The Trinity River Distillery may have the coolest home in Fort Worth: the old Ranch Style Beans factory, built just east of downtown in 1913. A tour of the facility is a visual wonder — a mashup of the plant’s old guts with the distillery’s cool, new equipment.
That equipment includes Trinity River’s calling card: a rainwater-filtering system that allows the distillery to use rain, captured on-site in 13,000-gallon storage tanks, to make its spirits.
“It’s similar to how water companies use rainwater to make bottled water,” company president Bob Camillone says of the distillery’s double-reverse osmosis purification system. “It gives our spirits a cleaner, more natural makeup and taste.”
Launched in 2012 by owner Mark Lusignan, who was later joined by co-owner and whiskey-maker Kirk Richards, Trinity River Distillery took over a portion of the historic Ranch Style Beans factory in 2015. There, under the brand Silver Star Spirits, it has made a name for itself for outstanding — and award-winning — whiskey, bourbon, vodka, and a sweet whiskey called Texas Honey. In 2018, readers of Fort Worth Magazine named it best brewery/distillery in Fort Worth.
Signature spirit: Award-winning Silver Star Texas Honey, made with natural Texas wildflower honey for a sweet, silky flavor. It’s good on the rocks by itself or perfect for boozing up lemonade. Equally good is Silver Star’s 1849 Straight Bourbon Whiskey, made from a mash of corn, rye, and barley and aged in 30-gallon white oak barrels for three years. The whiskey’s named after the date of Fort Worth’s birth: 1849.
Tours: Tours and tastings are, for now, on Saturdays only, at 2:30, 4, and 5:30 p.m. Those hours are subject to change due to whatever’s happening with COVID-19 that week. Cost is $25 per person and includes a flight of Silver Star’s four signature spirits, a tour of the facilities, which in itself is worth the $25, and a complimentary glass. The distillery’s bar is also open Saturdays, from 2 to 8 p.m.
Info: 1734 E. El Paso St., silverstarspirits.com
Recipe: Whiskey Smash
1 1/2 ounces
Silver Star Whiskey
1 mint leaf
Muddle these ingredients, then add:
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Add ice and shake,
garnish with blueberries.
Four of Our Fave Fort Worth Spots to Enjoy a Bite with Our Spirits
We all know you can find superb craft cocktails, often made with local spirits, at bars like the Usual, Proper, and Thompson’s. But what if you’re thirsty AND hungry? Some distilleries serve food, but most of it is of the grazing sort: charcuterie boards, chips and dips, and the like.
A handful of Fort Worth restaurants have outstanding selections of spirits. Here are four of our faves:
Heim BBQ: Home to some of the city’s best craft barbecue, Heim BBQ’s mothership location on Magnolia Avenue has a stellar collection of whiskeys — from Texas and elsewhere. A nice perk of sitting at Heim’s bar: They don’t mind if you eat there, and they’ll even take your food order. heimbbq.com
La Onda: Opened earlier this year on the east side, Fort Worth chef Victor Villareal’s Latin-tinged tribute to seafood has been a major hit with local foodies. Just as much thought is put into the drinks as the food, though, as the restaurant uses premium spirits, from near and far, for unique drinks such as a spiked Jamaica, boozed up with Fort Worth’s own Blackland gin, and its signature cocktail, Life’s a Risk Carnal, made with Xicaru mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico. facebook.com/LaOndaftw
Tinie’s Mexican Cuisine: Developed by local mixologist and spirits veteran Glen Keely, the drinks menu at this high-end Mexican restaurant on South Main highlights mezcal, an agave-based liquor in the same family as tequila. Keely puts his impressive collection of mezcals — and tequilas — to potent use on cocktails such as the Juan Valdez, a sweet drink made with chocolate bitters, and Tonico de Plantano, a sip-worthy concoction made with banana liqueur and cinnamon syrup. tiniesfw.com
Trinity College Irish Pub: Named one of Fort Worth Magazine’s best new restaurants last year, this Irish pub in the West Seventh area is one of the few places in Fort Worth that serves classic Irish cuisine like Scotch eggs and shepherd’s pie. It also has a robust Irish whiskey program, made up of nearly 40 varieties, from single malts to hard-to-find selections such as Midleton Rare. For anyone with an affinity for whiskey, Trinity College is a must. trinitycollegeirishpub.com
Lost Oak Winery
Spread out over 52 picturesque acres on the banks of Village Creek in Burleson, Lost Oak Winery is one of the state’s premier wineries. It’s somewhat of a rarity in North Texas — it has its own vineyard, and most of the wine production takes place on-site, often as wine fans watch.
The winery was founded by Gene Estes, who as a student at Grayson County College in Denison, studied viticulture. During his studies abroad, he snuck off to vineyards and wineries, developing a passion for wine — as both a consumer and a producer. It wasn’t until he retired in 2006 that his passion for wine was fully realized when he opened this winery in a sprawling, scenic area, dotted with oak trees, of course, between Interstate 35 and State Highway 174.
Today, Estes’ daughter, Roxanne Myers, runs the business, overseeing the production of the winery’s multitude of dry and sweet styles. She’s a firm believer that Texas wine is earning its place among the country’s best wines.
“You don’t have to be Napa,” she says. “You don’t have to have perfect climatic conditions to make good wine. As long as you have enough good weather — you need summer, you need winter. And you need good water. You need to get enough rain. When those elements come together, you can make great wine.”
Myers, who is also president of Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, points out that Texas is now the fifth largest wine-producing state next to California, Oregon, Washington, and New York. “Texas wineries contribute more than $13 billion of economic value to the state,” she says.
Five of Lost Oak’s wines have been awarded double gold medals, and more than 25 others have received gold medals from national wine-tasting competitions, including the San Francisco International Wine Competition and Texas International Wine Competition.
The winery offers tours, along with hiking trails, picnic areas, wine-making demos, and live music Thursday through Saturday.
Best bottles: Shiraz Reserve, a blend of three different harvests, from 2016, 2017, and 2018, come together for a flavor with soft oak notes and red berries; Viognier, one of the winery’s most awarded wines, similar to chardonnay; and Cabernet Franc, the fruit for which is grown locally in nearby Rendon.
Info: 8101 County Road 802, Burleson, lostoakwinery.com
Two Brothers Winery
The two bros behind this Old Town Keller winery are Brian and Eddie Kirkwood, who run the business with their wives, Stephanie and Donna, along with two pals, Greg and Stephanie Espinoza.
Opened in 2019, the winery was a direct response to Keller’s then-booming/still-booming restaurant scene. Plenty of places to eat were opening up but not a lot of places to drink.
The Kirkwoods produce their own wine on-site, using grapes from California. There are whites like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, along with a handful of red blends. Those into sweet wines will dig their wines flavored with peach, strawberry, raspberry, and apple.
The winery offers a small menu of small bites, from charcuterie boards to flatbread pizzas to dips and desserts. When the weather’s nice, you can sip and nibble on a lovely patio with a firepit cackling nearby.
Best bottles: A sweet tooth for sweet wines isn’t mandatory, but it’ll come in handy if you want to enjoy Two Brothers’ signature wines. Those include Runaway Razzberry, which the Kirkwoods describe as Sweet Tarts in a bottle. If savory is more your speed, indulge in their Whiskey Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, a cab sauv aged 60 days in a whiskey barrel.
Info: 110 Lamar St., Keller, twobrotherswinery.com
Silver Dollar Winery
The northeast Tarrant suburb of Bedford may be the last place you’d expect to find a good winery, but Richard and Melanie Bowen’s quaint spot on Bedford Road has been going strong now for six years.
One of the refreshing things about Silver Dollar is its refusal to take itself too seriously. The vibe at its combo winery/tasting room/café is laid-back and unpretentious, no doubt because the Bowens are, too. They’re avid motorcycle enthusiasts, somewhat of a rarity among wine snobs. And although they take their wines seriously, many of them have tongue-in-cheek names, an extension of their sense of humor — a quality most definitely lacking in the world of wine.
“We have a wine called IM’Peached, and everybody just assumes it’s named after Trump,” Melanie says. “But if you look at the label on the back, it says, ‘A bold peach flavor that admits it did have relations with that wine.’ Sometimes we have a little fun with politics to keep ourselves amused.”
Silver Dollar Winery features a tasting room, decked out with tables made of wine barrels, a shotgun bar festooned with silver dollars, flights of its more than 20 sweet and dry wines, and an impressively varied food menu consisting of charcuterie boards, salads, and pizzas; there’s live music, too.
Last year, the couple opened a second location, in the Hill Country on a 25-acre plot of land found two miles east of the town of Hye. That’s where most of their wine production takes place now. No easy task growing grapes in Bedford, so their vineyards for red wines/varietals are located in West Texas in the Brownfield area, and the vineyards for their white varietals are located near Bonham.
Best bottles: Chocolate Boot Scootin’ Boogie, a sweet red wine blend with dark and milk chocolate flavors; Pinot Noir Reserve, an all-Texas, fruit-forward pinot aged two years in French oak barrels; and their Silver Eagle Chardonnay, a crisp, unoaked chardonnay that won bronze, silver, and gold medals in 2017.
Info: 1937 Bedford Road, Bedford, silverdollarwinery.com
Messina Hof Winery
Founded more than four decades ago by Paul Vincent and Merrill Bonarrigo, and now owned by Paul Mitchell and Karen Bonarrigo, Messina Hof is not only one of the oldest wineries in the North Texas wine community, but also the most award-winning winery in the state.
The winery’s origin story is humble enough, starting when Paul and Merrill received a study on grape feasibility in Texas from a Texas A&M graduate student. With that data, they planted the first Messina Hof vineyard at their home in Bryan. The 1-acre experiment consisted of 50 varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc, and Lenoir.
Over the decades, the two became pioneers in Texas wine production, opening spinoff locations throughout the state, including Grapevine, winning awards for their bottles, and helping open the doors for other mom-and-pop wineries.
Messina Hof’s Grapevine location, situated in the city’s historic and always-bustling downtown area, consists of multiple tasting rooms, wines on tap, wine flights, and a small food menu.
Best bottles: The winery recently took home multiple awards at the largest wine competition in the U.S., the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which featured 2,601 entries from 18 countries. Messina Hof’s 2018 Private Reserve Tempranillo and 2019 Private Reserve Viognier both received Best of Class awards, the top in each category. Messina Hof won an additional six awards at the competition including a gold medal for Angel Late Harvest Riesling. Longtime Messina Hoff followers swear by their Sagrantino Reserva, a dry red wine that has also won numerous awards.
Info: 201 S. Main St., Grapevine, messinahoff.com
A Chat with Brian Ruby of Del Frisco’s
With more than 1,000 different bottles of wine available, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in downtown Fort Worth is still one of our city’s go-to restaurants for an evening of wining and dining. The restaurant’s longtime wine director Brian Ruby chatted with us about what makes Del Frisco’s award-winning wine program so special.
Fort Worth Magazine: What goes into developing a good wine program?
Brian Ruby: Our wine program has been built over the years by a number of talented people. We look to offer a broad range of wines from all over the world, representing all major varietals. We try to offer a balance of classic producers and exciting new wines. I feel it is important to have a selection of wines in all price ranges, too, allowing every guest to add the pleasures of wine to their dining experience.
FWM: Del Frisco’s offers wine classes to its employees. Talk a bit about the importance and significance of these classes.
BR: We want our servers to be able to answer basic wine questions. They also need to have a knowledge of varietals and growing regions so they can quickly navigate the wine list. We also use the wine classes to discuss whiskies, scotches, and tequilas. We also do a pairing class a couple times a year and show wine’s versatility with unexpected foods. Knowledge builds confidence.
FWM: When a guest asks a somm or server to recommend a bottle of wine, what are some of the questions a good somm will ask?
BR: Certainly, our somms will ask what foods they are having, are they celebrating, and perhaps get a feel for the guest’s level of wine knowledge and experience. A wine we suggest may check all the boxes for a great pairing, but if it doesn’t taste good to the guest, it can negatively impact the meal.
FWM: What are your top three personal favorite bottles of wine guests can order at Del Frisco’s?
BR: In no particular order, Massolino Barolo, Littorai Pinot Noir and Keenan Chardonnay.
Where Else to Wine in Fort WorthWhere Else to Wine in Fort Worth
Wine enthusiasts can never complain about the lack of places to enjoy a bottle or glass of wine in Fort Worth. Here are six suggestions to get your pinot on in FW:
38 & Vine: High-tech wine bar in The Foundry District utilizes state-of-the-art equipment to store — and pour — its wines. Wine dinners and live music, too. thirtyeightandvine.com
CRU Food & Wine Bar: Odd that food would come before wine in this national chain’s name; wine is definitely the centerpiece. Located at The Shops at Clearfork, CRU’s Fort Worth store features 30 wines by the glass and 300 by the bottle. It’s a boisterous little place, primarily made up of people celebrating this or toasting that. cruwinebar.com
Grand Cru Wine Bar: Housed in an historic building that dates back to the 1920s, Grand Cru is a family-owned wine bar and retail shop in the Near Southside area. It’s a small place with a big stock: The number of bottled wines available is well over 200. Grand Cru also offers what it calls “luxury wines” — that is, wines that are not exposed to oxygen until they’re poured into your glass. grandcrumagnolia.com
The Magnolia Wine Bar: Formerly Kent & Co Wines, this classy Near Southside wine bar and hangout is a luxe affair, with plush seating and a see-and-be-seen vibe. A thorough wine list zeroes in on cabs and cab blends but also offers a wide selection of merlots, new world reds, and plenty of bottles from Spain and Italy. themagnoliawinebar.com
WineHaus: After this local wine store and bar fell victim to COVID-19, frequent customer Robyn Davis came to the rescue, saving and reopening it. What its wine list lacks in numbers, it more than compensates for in terms of quality, with a clear focus on well-made, small, and/or limited production wines, many of which are hard to find. winehausfw.com
Winslow’s Wine Cafe: This long-running, upscale café on the city’s west side has an extensive wine list, made up of small production wines from all regions of the world, all of which are blind taste-tested by the restaurant’s wine director. Many of the restaurant’s wines are available for purchase next door at Winslow’s Wine Shop. winslowswinecafe.com
Somm of the South
Chelsea Monschein, a sommelier at one of Fort Worth’s top fine-dining restaurants, Grace, shares the secrets of being a good somm.
by Malcolm Mayhew
As any wine buff knows, sommeliers are the heart and soul of any restaurant wine program. These wine experts, who float from table to table assisting restaurant guests with their wine selections, can intelligentially, poetically describe wines, in most cases even more so than servers and the restaurant owners themselves. Wine plays such a crucial role in fine dining, somms are invaluable.
For our issue devoted to wine and spirits, we chatted with Chelsea Monschein, the 28-year-old sommelier at downtown Fort Worth’s fine-dining restaurant Grace. The Colorado native has been in the food and drink business for years and was just recently promoted to somm.
Fort Worth Magazine: How did you get into the wine business?
Chelsea Monschein: I was studying international business and marketing at Texas Tech when I started working at restaurants and bars to help make it through school. This led me to fine dining, which of course led me to wine. Eventually, I left school to study through The Court of Master Sommeliers, which is how many of us become certified somms.
One of the reasons I became a sommelier is because I fell in love with serving people, and I also have a huge obsession with cultures and traveling. When I discovered that wine is basically just alcohol and travel in a bottle, there was no looking back. One bottle says so much and has been touched by so many people, it’s truly incredible to see the final result opened on a table and people holding their glasses and laughing and toasting. It’s just an incredible feeling.
FW: Have you seen the movie “Somm”? Would you say it’s an accurate portrayal of the amount of work and intensity that goes into becoming a somm?
CM: Of course, things are usually glamorized in movies and on screen. It almost makes it seem like an unobtainable dream, though I think it’s very obtainable. But it does capture this dance we do on the floor — we want what we do to look nice and easy and comfortable. Behind the scenes, it’s not always an easy job, and I think the movie captured that very well. Being a somm means devoting a certain amount of your life and time to studying, to tasting, to learning about new wines, to knowing your vintages. Somms put in an incredible amount of hard work, but when we’re on the floor, we make it look easy.
FW: You’re working at one of Fort Worth’s top restaurants — a restaurant whose wine program has been awarded the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator 10 years in a row.
CM: I love our wine program because the focus isn’t on selling the most expensive bottle; it’s about getting the right bottle and creating an experience. We have plenty of nice, well-known wines on our list, and if people want them, that’s great. I love that. But we like to carry smaller, more niche brands that you can’t always get in grocery stores and ones that are not crazy expensive because of a name. That bottle might be less than they are willing to spend, but it’s the perfect bottle for them and creates an experience. And that’s one thing that is special about wine; it’s made to be shared and experienced.
FW: What are your three favorite bottles of wine on Grace’s wine list?
CM: My first favorite glass is the next one you’re going to have. As cheesy as it is, the next glass is always the best one. It’s what’s yet to come, and the experience to look forward to.
My second is a 2004 Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Columbia, Washington. I love this wine because it’s fun to move people who typically like California cabernets out of their comfort zone. It has great age on it for not an expensive price.
My third favorite is a personal bottle, a 1964 Barbaresco that I keep at the restaurant. One of the oldest bottles I’ve personally owned and one of the oldest in the restaurant. One that just makes me happy because it amazes people and is rare to see such an old bottle kept so well.
FW: What is it that drives you as a somm? I’m sure there’s good money in it, but there has to be another force that goes beyond money.
CM: If I were in it for the money, I would have stayed in business school [laughs]. It’s different for everybody. For me, it’s really just about talking to people and hearing their stories and finding a bottle or glass or even a cocktail for them — that’s just the icing on top. For me, it truly is bringing people a drink that impresses them or makes them happy — it’s addicting. I’ll never forget some of the bottles of wine I’ve had, not just because they were delicious but because of the whole moment, because whatever else was happening. I want to create that with everyone I talk to.
FW: Any sage advice for those wanting to become somms?
CM: One, never stop studying — the more you learn, the less you know. Two, the time is now. This is a quick-growing industry that is becoming more well known. The sooner you get a foot in a door, the better. There’s only going up from the first step, and with more people entering this field, the competition is increasing. Three, don’t be afraid to be wrong or not know. Wine and alcohol are so expansive, even the greatest sommelier doesn’t know half of everything. It’s a very humbling field. And finally, four, with great work is great reward. You’ll only get as far in this field as you are willing to work.
Grace, 777 Main St., gracefortworth.com