Jason Main - Certified Sommelier, The Wine Merchant Ltd.
How do you stay on top of everything that's out there? I taste, on average, about 60 different wines each week, both at the shop and in my local study groups. I travel to classic wine regions and major cities typically every few months. I just got back from Oregon Pinot Camp, where we tasted 300 plus Oregon wines. On top of that, I read everything I can find.
What do you see as the "next big thing" in wine? On the red front, I see Washington state surpassing Napa Valley both in quality and price point. For white wines, get ready for Greece to explode on the market in the next few years. And then you have Chablis, which is custom-made to withstand St. Louis summers.
How do you guide someone who is just getting into wine? Don't be afraid to like what you like! Liking dry wine doesn't automatically make you sophisticated; experiment with all styles of red and white. Read [the wine textbook] Windows on the World. With European wine and food, remember ... if it grows together, it goes together. Lastly, learn to serve all wines at the correct temperatures; it's a really, really big deal.
What are your favorite bargain picks for everyday drinking? Syrah, the underdog of the noble red grapes. 2009 in the Northern Rhône valley is the greatest vintage since 1976, and the only red grape allowed there is Syrah! Freshly cracked peppercorns, bacon fat and cut lavender. Delicious!
So how'd you get into wine? One of my first mentors was chef Ramon Cuffie. He exposed me to many food and wine pairings early on in my career. This really helped me avoid assumptions about certain wine styles, regions, etc. Additionally, he wouldn't allow for lazy pairing, which pushed me to learn more.
Would you ever want to own/run a vineyard and winery? I think most folks don't realize that winemaking is agribusiness, no different from farming apples. You just get a more prestigious end result. Go visit your favorite winery during a horrible vintage, right at harvest, and they'll most likely give it [the winery] to you!
What do you love most about your work? I'd have to say interacting with people. Taste and flavor are such subjective things that you never have the same experience with a customer twice. One week it's Champagne for a special night, next week cheap reds for a barbecue. To me, both are equally important requests.
What wine/food combinations do you crave the most? Spicy fried chicken with bone- dry fino, sweet Alsatian Pinot Gris with Mexican dishes and traditional Vietnamese cuisine with Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge.
What libation do you reach for at the end of a long day? For a really bad day, I love the Just for Mary [cocktail]: Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Lillet Blanc and Peter Heering Cherry Heering. Strong, simple and refreshing. Most of the time, I only want Champagne, preferably blanc de blancs. I've yet to find anything more complex and refreshing.
How about for a splurge? If the budget is out the window, then J.L. Chave Hermitage Blanc or a 2009 Pommard from Domaine de la Pousse d'Or.
What are some little-known gems that are incredibly good? One of my secret weapons would be the 2008 Kamiakin proprietary red blend. This is 100 percent estate fruit from the legendary Sheridan Vineyard in Washington state: $15.99 a bottle, and it drinks better than many $30-plus bottles out there.
The Wine Merchant, 20 S. Hanley Road, Clayton, winemerchantltd.com