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How Does an Opera Singer Become a Sommelier?

Does the world of opera naturally lend itself to producing sommeliers? Certainly numerous people with creative backgrounds have come to not only love wine, but to make it their life's vocation. Jessica Certo, Sommelier at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in New York, shared her story during a recent chat over the phone. Here are some highlights:

If she had an "aha" wine moment that led her on the sommelier path: "Absoultely. As an opera singer here in New York you work as a waitress or a server as your day job to support your opera habit. I was working at Del Frisco's as a server and one of the sommeliers on staff sold Table 31 a Marcassin Blue Slide Pinot Noir, vintage 2004, and the bottle itself on the table wasn't significant until the end of the meal. When I took the bottle off the table there was a little wine left, and the gentleman (who was dining by himself, this was like six years ago) had offered a taste to the sommelier who, in turn, offered to taste me on it. I smelled the bottle and it smelled like...wild strawberry compote. It smelled better than anything I had smelled in a long time."

Regarding if being an opera singer helped her as a sommelier: "Of course. The language. Being an opera singer you have to be able to read and pronounce French, German, Italian....Transcibing that over to pronouncing [wine] names in French or names in German [has been helpful]. One of the big villages in the Mosel is Ürziger Würzgarten, which has like 35 letters and is daunting to anybody looking at it. There's so many consonants and dots over vowels, there's slashes over e's in French. And I'm familiar with a lot of those rules because I had to sing them. I had to know the words that I was singing, I had to know what they meant."

On what Wall Street power brokers, who frequent her restaurant, like to drink: "We are overwhelmingly new world focused. I feel like our wine list is really balanced, we have almost 2,000 selections, which is a lot. But I think over 600 of those selections are Caliornia Cabernet. That is definitely our focus. [But] we have great Bordeaux and great Burgundy and great Rhone Valley producers and Super Tuscans and the things that matter from the major regions of the world."

Pairing opera with wine: "It depends on what you're drinking. If you're drinking a big, bangin' Bordeaux, or a Cab, or something full-bodied, you have to listen to Puccini or Verde....They wrote the lyric melodies that kind of make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your heart beat a little faster. If you're listening to something sparkling like Mozart, Donizetti, with fast, high, precision singing, I would probably want to drink something more like Riesling or Chablis. Something with a little bit more liveliness to it."

Turn on the stereo and break out the corkscrew for these wines that you can pair with Jessica's opera selections.

Jameson Fink has been working in the wine industry and blogging about wine since 2004. Saveur Magazine nominated his site, jamesonfink.com, for a 2013 Best Food Blog Award in the Wine/Beer Category. He is a tireless advocate for year-round rosé consumption and enjoys a glass of Champagne alongside a bowl of popcorn.

the wines  
  • Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
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    Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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  • Chateau La Vieille Cure 2009
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    Chateau La Vieille Cure 2009

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  • Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatese Anrecht 2012
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    Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatese Anrecht 2012

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  • Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2012
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    Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2012

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Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Juicy with blackberry and plum fruit and complex with a mineral note and exquisite violet perfume. Bottle Price: $79.99 Read more
Winegrower Cathy Corison produces artisanal Cabernet Sauvignon that speaks of place, sourcing great benchland vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The Corison Winery, in its timeless Victorian-style barn, is situated in the heart of Cathy's beloved Kronos Vineyard. With eight acres planted exclusively to St. Georges rootstock, Kronos is a historic treasure. As one of the last old Cabernet Vineyards in the Napa Valley, it is one of the few vineyards to have produced world class fruit continuously for more than four decades. Farmed organically and growing on gravelly loam soils, the gnarly old veterans produce scant yields that result in wines of rare concentration and refinement. They are juicy with blackberry and plum fruit and complex with a mineral note and exquisite violet perfume. Cathy Corison's wines are noted for their consistency and impeccable balance. Powerful and elegant at the same time, they grace the table and enjoy a long, distinguished life. The 2012 harvest marks Cathy's 26th vintage of Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chateau La Vieille Cure 2009
Chateau La Vieille Cure 2009 Decanted briefly. Concentrated purple-garnet color. Reticent nose initially; blackberry, black plum, and graphite emerge in the decanter. Refined palate, medium- to full-bodied, nice concentration of ripe black fruit, silky mouthfeel, and a supportive late-palate steeped tea-like tannic backbone that, fortunately, isn't overbearing. This will be nice to follow over the next 10+ years. Bottle Price: $36.99 Read more
The 2009 is a charming, sexy, dense ruby/purple-colored offering displaying lots of ripe Merlot fruit intermixed with hints of charcoal, black raspberries, black currants, lead pencil shavings and truffles. This full-bodied, pure, nicely textured and layered Fronsac is a sleeper of the vintage that considerably over-performs for its modest price. Drink it over the next 15+ years. This is an obvious great value!
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatese Anrecht 2012
Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatese Anrecht 2012 "I don't know if I have ever had a wine with higher acidity. It's really a masterpiece, and has finish that lasts more than a minute." -Carl York, sommelier of Craigie on Main in Boston Bottle Price: $35.99 Read more
"I don't know if I have ever had a wine with higher acidity. It's really a masterpiece, and has finish that lasts more than a minute." -Carl York, sommelier of Craigie on Main in Boston
Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2012
Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2012 Universally regarded as one of the three rising stars of the new generation of Rheingauers (with Kunstler and Weil). The usual kirsch and lime flavors are now in the finest conceivable form: barely perceptibly sweet. Pointed yet creamy, salty and minty; animated and seductive and with all the density of `12. Bottle Price: $17.99 Read more
Universally regarded as one of the three rising stars of the new generation of Rheingauers (with Kunstler and Weil). They are a small estate of 5.8 hectares. Extraordinarily aromatic, vigorous wines from a vintner who grows more commanding each vintage. The soil is weathered slate. Almost none of their wines taste âsweet.â They have the coiled power of a tightly closed fist. They are intensely fragrant, as though they wished to convince you of something. They are like Wachau wines; they crave oxygen, and they do show their best ice cold. The usual kirsch and lime flavors are now in the finest conceivable form: barely perceptibly sweet. Pointed yet creamy, salty and minty; animated and seductive and with all the density of `12.


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