Alexander LaPratt is among the most highly regarded wine experts in the world. He is one of less than 300 people to pass the Master Sommelier exam and is the co-owner of Atrium DUMBO restaurant in New York. He discusses his passion for wine and food with Filthy Lucre.
How did you become interested in wine?
My first fine dining job was working at a restaurant called Morels a Michigan Bistro in Michigan just outside Detroit. I was 19 and was the youngest person by far on the staff and also was the least versed in fine dinning and food. Little did I know after getting that job was that their corporate beverage director was the first female USA Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon, and her office happened to be just upstairs. She was the one that really inspired me and opened the door to this incredible world of wine.
Can you describe your pathway to becoming a sommelier?
Well it was basically working through restaurants from the age of 16, always trying to work at a nicer restaurant to make more money in gratuities. The real push came when I decided to make this my career and left Michigan State University. Then I just tried to work for the very best restaurants in the state of Michigan and finally got my big opportunity when I moved to California to work at the French Laundry. After that it was mostly working for the top restaurants in the country, studying all the time, taking the different exams and doing a lot of competitions.
What do you think is the most versatile wine?
I think the most versatile wine is Champagne. You can drink it with anything and there are so many different interpretations that it can be focused and light or rich and full or off dry or fruity and the list goes on and on…
What is the most expensive or exclusive wine you’ve ever had?
1875 Chateau Lafite.
What are a few good tips for selecting a great wine from an extensive list?
If it’s an extensive list, then chances are there is a sommelier on staff. I would ask to speak with them, describe in best detail what I was looking for and my price range and hear what they had to say.
Can you describe your process for recommending wine to customers?
I usually ask them if they had a flavor or style in mind or if they were looking for something to pair with a dish. After that I figure out sparkling, white or red, ask them if they prefer something fruit forward or earthy, light of full bodied and depending on the situation point to some price points to see where they are comfortable.
What is your favorite food and wine combination?
Northern Rhone Syrah and Smoked Duck.
Can you pick a wine for under $100 for a dinner party serving salmon?
I would pick a delicious rose Champagne. Everyone likes bubbles and it really helps to get the party started! Plus it is delicious with salmon as well.
What do you love most about your job?
Changing someones life with a single glass of wine.
What do you wish to accomplish as a sommelier?
I think I’ve done it. Now I just focus on sharing the joys of wine with others and encouraging younger sommeliers to study and share in the integrity of this industry.
What kinds of misconceptions do you encounter when you say you’re a sommelier?
All sorts but they’re easy enough to sort out. My biggest challenge is having to break down a barrier a guest has where they’ve had a bad experience with wine at a wine store or with someone at a restaurant that pushed them into a wine that was too expensive or made them feel ignorant. People can read if you’re genuine so I usually just introduce myself, I feel them putting the wall up, and then I give them space. Usually in a couple minutes they’re calling me back over to open a dialogue.
What’s your take on global warming’s impact on the wine world?
It’s a fact that we’re seeing regions that couldn’t make quality wine on a large scale a decade ago are starting to do quite well as the temperature warms up. Take a look at Southern England and their booming sparkling industry. It’s a large concern but I believe that wine is the least of our concerns when it comes to the state of our climate and especially to science deniers in this country.
Visit atriumbumbo.com to learn more about Alexander LaPratt and his restaurant Atrium DUMBO.