Norman: I got my first serving position at a teahouse at sixteen years old. We had over 120 teas on the list. I had to guide guests to the right beverage based on variety, region, taste profile and personal preference; sound familiar? I always joke that I first started off as a tea sommelier and that’s why I’m so young in this industry. After getting hired at a small steakhouse at twenty years old, I was quickly promoted to lead server. I wanted to understand our wine list better, so I started reading books like “Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia” and “Zraly’s Windows on the World” which sparked a curiosity, which eventually set fire. About two weeks after my twenty-first birthday I took my level one sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers and passed. Six months later I passed level two, became a Certified Sommelier, and was hired at Spago Beverly Hills. Just to make sure I actually knew my stuff, I tested into WSET Level 3, Advanced Award in Wine and Spirits, and passed with Merit. I just came back from the Advanced Sommelier three-day course in Dallas by the Court of Master Sommeliers and should hopefully get to take the exam in 2018. I have a long way to go and a lot of studying to do, but being around Spago’s wine list of over three thousand selections and under the apprenticeship of Phillip Dunn and Rina Bussell, I’m confident I’ll get there.
This Girl: What was one biggest misconceptions you had about wine before you became an expert?
Norman: Before becoming a sommelier, I thought that wine became more expensive in correlation with the level of quality. What I find that I love most now isn’t the major producers and hyped up brands, although I do taste a lot of them where I work. I love wines that drink far above their price point. Value-wines are much more exciting to me.
This Girl: There stills seems to be a disproportionate number of male Somm's. would you agree with this and if so, why do you think this is?
Norman: Fortunately in Los Angeles, there are quite a few female sommeliers, but overall we are still a minority in the industry. I think that the stereotype of the sommelier is an older male, so it doesn’t occur to women right away that it’s a career option open to them; it definitely did not come to mind for me, until I was knee-deep in becoming certified. We are here though and if we continue to be present, provide leadership and mentorship in our community, our girl-power is only going to grow.
This Girl: What's your favorite wine region and why?
Norman: My favorite region right now is Piedmont. I didn’t have a taste for Italian wine for a really long time, definitely because I didn’t drink enough of it and the laws confused me, but I’m growing to love it. I’m especially loving Luigi Einaudi’s 2010 single vineyard Barolo “Terlo” as a more modern, approachable introduction of Barolo. Nebbiolo is so versatile and really allows each producer to express their vision.
This Girl: Which part of the world's wine country have you yet to explore and what makes your want to go there
Norman: I would love to visit the Mosel in Germany. I think the river lined with vineyards is just so beautiful, that’s definitely a dream destination.
This Girl: Do you believe in the ABC rule or is that just for "wine snobs"?
Norman: Are we talking about “Anything But Chardonnay”? I completely disagree with that. I think that oaked chardonnay from the US suits a particular taste; you either love it or you don’t. Unfortunately, I think that gives chardonnay a bad rap in other regions where it can have restrained oak-use or none at all, in a tastefully done and balanced way. I would not identify as a person that likes new oak on wine, however, when a wine is balanced it can blow you away. I had an 2002 Henri Boillot Grand Cru from Chassagne Montrachet last week that literally made me start dancing. It was that good. Did it have oak? Definitely. ABC is silly.
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