A Master Sommelier’s Retrospective

For the last 20 years of my life I have worked in restaurants. The last seven were mostly spent in high-end, fine dining restaurants. This past year, though, I decided to finally exit the restaurant world (at least for now) to start my own wine retail business. It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.

All that time working at the top of the wine pyramid, along with studying for the Master Sommelier exam along the way, really helped me to hone my palate and understand what makes great wine great. That said, even during all that time, the wines that I really liked to drink at home or in my spare time were not the high-end Grand Cru Burgundies or First Growth Bordeaux. My wine drinking habits outside of work were much more ‘humble’ to say the least.

Now that I’m in retail, I’ve made it my mission to discover the gems among the unsung varietals and regions of the world. It’s been a thrilling experience and has once again gotten me excited about new categories of wines. I want to show people that they don’t have to spend big to drink big. When you go outside of some of the ‘classic’ or more recognizable grapes and regions, there are so many great options out there to enjoy. This is where I spent the past year and here are some of the spots that have excited me the most.


First, I’ve been getting super jazzed about Italy, particularly Piedmont. I’m talking about lesser-known grapes like Friesa, Pelaverga and Grignolino. Or regions like Lessona, Ghemme or Coste della Sesia. These grapes and regions offer a ton of delicious wine-drinking pleasure but are also super approachable both to enjoy as well as on the wallet. Barbera is another grape that is a little more mainstream, but I don’t think it always gets the love it deserves. It can be lip smacking good!


Southern France has also emerged as a great area for fantastic wines that taste like they should be way more expensive than they are. Look out for areas like Corbieres, Faugeres and Cotes-du-Roussillon. There are producers in these areas that have the right touch, learned from some of the greats in more famous areas of France and relocated down here because land prices were better. The Languedoc-Roussillon area of France has long been known to produce mass market style wines and has contributed to the wine surplus in France, but certain wineries are making waves down there from old vine vineyards and sustainable techniques. If you like wines from places like the Rhone and/or grapes like Syrah (like I do), then these areas are worth checking out.


Lastly, I think that California is still proving itself to be one of the most dynamic wine areas of the world. What was once a
state that many believed only produced homogenous wines full of fruit and power but lacking elegance and finesse has been changing. It’s super exciting. I’m seeing new wines all the time that are using grapes like Gamay or Trousseau 
or Chenin Blanc or even Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. It’s not just about big, buttery Chardonnay and powerhouse Cabernet anymore. There is so much more to choose from in Cali nowadays. I highly recommend giving these new wines a shot!

I feel very lucky to have had the sommelier career that I did and been able to taste as much great wine as I have. Now, I feel even luckier to have this sense of discovery all over again with wines that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.

Cheers, Dustin 

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