Famous Somms Share Their Wine Guilty Pleasures

Ask any sommelier these days what the best value on the market is and chances are you’ll get one of the following responses: Loire Valley whites and reds, Beaujolais, German Riesling, Eastern European wine, Vinho Verde. The idea that wine price directly correlates to wine quality has been soundly debunked. We’ll freely admit to – and even encourage – drinking Muscadet (a wine once considered forgettable at best) and sherry (formerly relegated to grandma’s pantry). Beyond the realm of wine, there’s an interesting tendency among the wine cognoscenti for drinking cheap innocuous lagers – a trend that I suspect owes to their Zamboni-like effect for the palate after hours spent tasting complex, structured, tannic, or acidic wines.

Yet, there are still some categories that get a scowl of disapproval: industrial wine concocted in a marketing boardroom rather than in the vineyard; overripe, overoaked, bombastic wine that couldn’t possibly pair with food, forsaking all nuance; and sugary mixed beverages of the sort you might find in a spring break-themed chain restaurant, to name a few.

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Would a sommelier recommend one of these drinks of ill repute? Probably not. But will some happily drink them in the privacy of their own home – or even – enjoy a glass or two? We polled the country’s top wine pros for their “guilty pleasures.” Think of them as the wine world equivalents of a chef’s secret affinity for frozen pizza or an arthouse film director admitting to watching reality TV.

Joe Campanale, Beverage Director, dell’anima, L’Artusi,  Anfora, and L’Apicio, New York

“I really love Chianti, which sometimes gets a bad rap. Public perception is that they’re simple wines, but the good ones are world-class awesome. Forget Cabernet, it’s the best wine with steak, too. Another guilty pleasure? Sweet vermouth. I keep a bottle in the fridge and drink it on the rocks a lot. It’s like an insta-cocktail.”

 Matthew Kaner, Wine Director, Bar Covell and Augustine Wine Bar, Los Angeles

“Once in a while, as a reminder of what PEOPLE like, I will dive into a f@#$-off oaky-buttery Chardonnay. I won’t lie, when the weather is right and the moon is at a certain aspect in the sky, it tastes pretty damn good.”

Marika Vida-Arnold, Wine Director, The Ritz-Carlton, New York

Pinot Grigio, ice cold. And if it’s not, I’ll even put ice in it! Sometimes you just don’t want to think. If you’ve ever seen Project Runway, note how Michael Kors ALWAYS wore a black shirt even though he is a major designer. That’s what I’m talking about…”

Eric Clemons, Owner, Coeur Wine Co.

“Hands down for me it’s the rebujito, a cocktail that mixes sherry with lemon-lime soda. I first had it when I spent a semester in Sevilla during college and have been drinking them ever since. It’s absolutely amazing when it’s hot out: easy to make, super refreshing, a touch sweet, and low in alcohol. They can sneak up on you though as they’re dangerously easy to drink. I know you’re not usually supposed to mix wine and soda but in this case it’s a rule worth breaking. Second on the list would be frozen tropical drinks. I don’t care if it’s gross, I’m drinking a piña colada the minute I get to anything remotely resembling a tropical beach.”

Matty Colston, Beverage Director, Parachute, Chicago

“I gotta say a good sangria. The only thing about that is… I don’t feel all that guilty about it. Drink it with pride! I always like to follow the classic 1-2-3-4 ratio recipe: 1 sour, 2 sweet, 3 strong, 4 weak. And don’t forget, white and rosé definitely work, too, not just in the summer but year-round. Spice up the reds mulled wine-style in the winter.”

Tim Kweeder, General Manager, Kensington Quarters, Philadelphia

“Jason Malumed of MFW Imports once brought me a six-pack of Nicki Minaj’s Peach Moscato as a gag gift. I totally crushed two of them because it tasted like one of my favorite childhood candies: the peach ring.”

 Jill Zimorski, Wine Director, The Alinea Group, Chicago

“I will never turn away a swirly frozen margarita – the kind you get in pitchers at chain Tex-Mex places. I’ve also been known to sip DiSaronno Amaretto neat or with a couple of ice cubes. Looks the same as Bourbon, tastes like dessert.”

Christopher Bates MS, Owner, FLX Wienery and FLX Table; Winemaker, Element Winery

“My favorites that seem to bother others: High Life (my Champagne), Cristalino Cava (we go through around 10 cases per year in my house), boatloads of Muscadet, and of course consumers are always weirded-out by my appetite for Mosel Riesling.”

David Keck MS, Wine Director, The Camerata at Paulie’s, Houston

“I’m a total sucker for Moscato d’Asti. It’s sweet, it’s bubbly, it smells like flowers and tastes like candy. What’s not to like? Also, I always bad-mouthed high-octane Zinfandel (because that’s the cool sommelier thing to do), but have developed a real appreciation for some good ol’ American Zin. A 15+% ABV bottle of it will do just fine with that burger, thank you very much!”