Secrets of Star Sommeliers

Impress your friends. Order a bottle of wine for your table with these great tips.

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Haley Guild Moore

On childhood trips to Napa Valley, Haley Guild Moore’s father offered her cash prizes if she correctly guessed the wine varietals she tasted. But it was during her teen years, when her parents took her to Paris, that Moore’s American palate of hotdogs and mac & cheese was transformed forever. She experienced her first gourmet meal paired with wine, and “understood what dining was meant to be.”


Now she’s the Lead Sommelier at Spruce San Francisco. “The beauty of this business is that it attracts a very similar type of person: one who cares deeply about food and wine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, the people are the same, and it’s that passion that connects us.”

Photo Credit: Ed Anderson

Tip 1: Use Wine That is Slightly Sweeter Than the Dish

"It is important to remember that even savory food has varying degrees of sweetness. For example, there is a high sugar content in scallops. If you pair a bone dry white, it will make the wine seem austere and highly acidic."




Photo courtesy of svry/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of svry/

Tip 2: Regional Pairings Are Some of the Best

"If it grows together, it goes together!"


"Take white truffles from Alba and old Barolo or Muscadet and oysters. There is a reason that people have been enjoying these together for decades."




Photo courtesy of javarman/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of javarman/

Tip 3: German Riesling Goes with Everything

"With such an array of styles and sweetness levels, there is literally a Riesling for every dish."




Photo courtesy of photostockar/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of photostockar/

Tip 4: Pair Champagne and French Fries

"It's one of my guilty pleasures. Something that is brut or blanc de blancs is best."





Photo courtesy of Mariyana Misaleva/

Photo Credit: Mariyana Misaleva/

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan

While at a business lunch, management associate Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan enjoyed her crusted salmon paired with Sancerre so much she was inspired to sign up for a wine tasting class. Which led her to take more serious wine classes. Eventually she quit her six-figure job to become a sommelier.


Now she’s only the fourth woman in the United States to earn the Master of Wine title. “I tasted approximately 10,000 wines in preparation for the exam, and traveled to over 30 wine regions,” she said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan

Tip 1: Think Bold Meets Bold

"Try pairings like Massaman Curry and Moscato d’Asti. Both are highly aromatic with bold flavors. In this way, they match perfectly as one does not overpower the other. The sweetness of the wine, as well as its low acidity, offsets some of the spiciness of the dish."

Tip 2: Break the "White Wine with Fish" Rule

"For example, try prosciutto-wrapped scallops and Pinot Noir. The prosciutto adds richness and weight to your seafood dish, which allows for a red wine pairing."



Photo courtesy of Chiyacat/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chiyacat/

Tip 3: Break the Red Meat with Red Wine Rule

"For example, try Beef Tartare and California Chardonnay. Their textures match, and the flavor of the beef contrasts well with the apple fruit of the wine, making the flavor of both pop."


Photo courtesy of Kzenon/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kzenon/

Tip 4: Bubbles & Anything Fried

"The high acid of the champagne cuts through some of the richness of the oil from the frying."





Photo courtesy of PhotoBarmaley/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of PhotoBarmaley/

Emily Wines

While working in restaurants as a college student, art major Emily Wines felt she needed to know more about wine to be a better server. So she read books about wine, tasting each varietal as she went along, and eventually fell in love with the subject. “I still haven’t stopped studying it,” she said.


Now as a Master Sommelier and wine director for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, she trains staff on how to share their knowledge with customers. “I love to turn people onto wine in a way that demystifies it,” she said.

Photo Credit: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

Tip 1: Remember Wine Pairing Is Subjective

"If you love a specific wine—like Cabernet Sauvignon—it will probably taste pretty good with everything you eat, even delicate fish. It may not be the perfect pairing, but taste is subjective."




Photo courtesy of ferblues/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of ferblues/

Tip 2: Pair Young Reds with Fat

"If you have a big, over the top red that might be too young to drink (but you just can’t wait), then go for foods with a good fat content. Lamb chops or short ribs should do the trick. The fat in the meat coats your mouth and protects it from the harsh, drying effects of tannins."


Photo courtesy of Luiz Rocha/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Luiz Rocha/

Tip 3: Don't Forget About the Importance of Acidity in Food

"A bright citrusy wine that might otherwise just taste acidic next to some dishes bursts with flavor next to high-acid dishes like ceviche or vinaigrettes." 



Photo courtesy of Phatic-Photography/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Phatic-Photography/

Tip 4: Think Beyond Wine

"Sometimes the perfect pairing is a cocktail, beer or sake."




Photo courtesy of Deklofenak/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Deklofenak/

Leslee Miller

Leslee Miller was born into the hospitality industry: Her mom owned supper clubs in northern Wisconsin. Eventually Miller moved west to pursue her own hospitality career.


While teaching staff at the upscale restaurants she managed in Colorado, she became fascinated by wine. "Not just the taste of it, but who grew it, who touched it, how did it get these flavors?" she said.


Now a certified Sommelier, she owns Amusée, a wine-consulting firm based in Minneapolis. "I love watching the lights go on for people when they learn something new, while having fun with wine,” she said.

Photo Credit: Melanie Nashan

Tip 1: Go Outside Your Box

"Pick up a bottle from a region, grape or style you normally wouldn't and just try it. You might like it."



Photo courtesy of Wollertz/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wollertz/

Tip 2: Experiment

"Instead of selecting just one wine for your dinner party, open five or six bottles and let your guests decide which they like best. It will create a lot of great new conversation."



Photo courtesy of ol_vic/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of ol_vic/

Tip 3: Forget the Rules

"Try on any pairing. Pick up three wines to pair with your Easter Basket this April."  




Photo courtesy of Mariyana Misaleva/

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mariyana Misaleva/

Tip 4: When In Doubt, Reach for Champagne

"Bubbles are the answers to almost all the world's questions. Try a glass of Champagne paired with potato chips or a bowl of popcorn while watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy."




Photo courtesy of VikaChristy/






Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.

Related: Mardi Gras Recipes

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of VikaChristy/

First Published March 20, 2012

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