Fred Dexheimer's motto when it comes to wine is "you only live once, so try everything you can!" By doing so, he earned the prestigious and fairly rare title of Master Sommelier; in 2007, he become the 79th Master Sommelier in the United States. Despite the fancy title, Fred's easygoing, down-to-earth attitude allows him to spread the grape gospel to newbies and experts alike. Fred took some time to share his advice on how to learn about wine and the perfect pairing for a cheeseburger.
When did you first decide that you wanted to become a sommelier? Where were you in your career at that point? I was working at a restaurant in Vermont and realized that if I could sell more wine, I'd make more money. Simultaneously, my best friend suggested a get a wine book and go to Nantucket with him for the summer because of the concentration of high end restaurants. I took his advice... life has never been the same!
How does one become a Master Sommelier? The Court of Master Sommeliers are an examining body and offer 4 levels of course programs (Introductory, Certified, Advanced and Master) to achieve the title of Master Sommelier.
To achieve Master, it takes complete dedication to learning as much of the world of wine as one's brain can handle, constantly tasting and evaluating wines from around the world and practicing the fundamentals and mechanics of fine wine service. Simply put... read incessantly; taste, taste, taste; and practice service.
If you choose this path it is essential to find a mentor and tasting/study group. I highly recommend everyone to sign up for the Guild of Sommeliers and network within your community. Completely invaluable!
You have your own consulting company, Juiceman Consulting. What do you do as a consultant? That's a good question! When I started in 2009, I kind of threw as much spaghetti on the wall as I could. Fast forward two years and my business has really taken great shape. My main line of business is speaking and education. I work as the educator in the US for Wines of Chile, Vins de Sud Ouest France and D.O. Toro. My second line of income is from creating cocktail programs. I have worked on a diverse number of projects including Max Brenner, The Grand Hyatt and E11even in Toronto. The rest of it is really random, for example, I do a lot of private and corporate events, some writing for Athletes Quarterly and Sommelier Journal, I am in the process of creating a video series with my buddies at Lush Life called "Rock your Wine World." Every day is a new adventure!
You've put your services and experience to use for charity as well. Tell us a bit about that. Yes, I do quite a lot of charity work, and as I mentioned I just helped create a charity called Glass by Glass NYC, where 20 of NYC's finest sommeliers taught a blind tasting workshop. We raised $20,000 to support the NYU Reynolds Program for Social Entrepreneurship "Be a Changemaker Challenge"! In addition, every year I auction myself off to St. Jude Children's Hospital for a private tasting and have done charity work to support causes such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. I am in the works a starting a new charity called "Pour the Music" where musicians, sommeliers and chefs will host a fundraising event to support NYC schools whose music programs have been cut. I believe that music can change the world and can help keep communities together!
You're also a cocktail enthusiast and mixologist. Do you have a go-to cocktail? I have a couple of recipes that are my go-to for sure. I am definitely in the brown, bitter, and stirred camp and love me anything with Bourbon, Rye, Amaro and Herbal Liqueurs. When I want something a bitter fruitier, my go-to fruit is Tangerine and Mandarin Orange; can't get enough of cocktails with these citrus fruits!
Would you give Serious Eaters advice on how to take advantage of the expertise that sommeliers have to offer? Always find out if a restaurant has a sommelier and ask them questions. They are there to assist customers on their wine and beverage choices for the evening. Many people are afraid to speak with them, but they have the keys to all the fun stuff and can create truly memorable (or maybe not so rememberable) experiences. Sommeliers aren't just experts in wine, they usually purchase and are experts on the spirits, beers and other beverages in a restaurant.
Also, it's okay to tell a sommelier what you do and don't like in a wine and how much you want to spend. And if it's a date or a business dinner, it helps to try and get a copy of the list ahead of time so you can make your choices beforehand and not waste time pouring over the list and spend time with your guests.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start learning about wine? There are many great places that offer classes to curious and newbie wine aficionados; in New York, they include Astor Center and NY Wine Class. I teach occasionally at both. If they want more of a serious experience they could sign up for the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course. Books like Wines for Dummies, Windows on the World and the Wine Bible are great tools as well. If you have friends that are also into wine, it's fun to do wine get-togethers where you pick a theme (a grape, country, region, style etc) and taste with each other. Read, ask questions to retailers and sommeliers, and taste, taste, taste!
Do you have any favorite and/or no-fail food and wine pairings? Champagne and bubbles with fried foods and chilled seafood never fails! Cheeseburgers and Red Burgundy/Pinot Noir rocks the house, and sushi with German Riesling from the Mosel is sublime.
How do you approach wine lists when you go out to eat? I drink a cocktail first... then a beer... and let my guests or the sommelier choose depending upon what we are eating, what mood we are in and how much we want to spend. I do suggest asking the sommelier what new discoveries they have in the cellar that will work with the chef's food.
What do you think are some of the greatest values in wine right now? I think Chile has hit an incredible stride and is able to make wines that I feel way overdeliver for the price, plus there is a ton of different grapes and price ranges to choose from. Also, southwest France has always offered great values with wines that are made from interesting native grapes and wines that are made for food. I think everyone should drink bubbles, so it's great to see so many Proseccos and Cavas out there.
What do you wish more people knew about wine? I just wished that everyone was open to trying different wines on a more regular basis. I think many people get stuck in buying certain brands, grapes, styles or countries. There are thousands of grapes out there and thousands of wines to try. You only live once, so try everything you can!
What recent food and wine pairing really wowed you? I was at Spago in LA recently and the sommelier brought over a couple wines blind with Chef Puck's signature Veal "Wiener Schnitzel" one of which was a slightly off-dry Vouvray. It was a pretty impressive pairing. The Krug with the Smoked Salmon Pizza appetizer wasn't so bad either!
About the author: Laren Spirer is yet another lawyer (and freelance writer) obsessed with food and drink. When she's not eating, drinking, cooking, or thinking about what to eat, drink, or cook, she can often be found cycling, running, or swimming, likely in preparation for a triathlon. She also blogs at Sweet Blog o' Mine and tweets at @sweetblogomine.