Martin Beally isn’t your average sommelier. A former classically trained French chef who was inspired to join the world of hospitality by reading Anthony Bourdain and watching Alton Brown’s “Good Eats,” Beally has always strived to make wine accessible to his consumers. It’s no surprise, then, that this Seattle-based somm was the inaugural winner of Le Best Somm Competition, a partnership between this publication, the French Ministry of Agriculture, and Taub Family Selections.
A search for the American somm able to make French wine accessible and relatable to consumers, Le Best Somm consisted of regional qualifiers in Washington, D.C., Seattle, and New York City, culminating in a finale at The Little Owl Townhouse in New York. The competition tested sommeliers from across the U.S. on their French wine theory, blind tasting, and ability to connect knowledge of French wine with consumers in an approachable manner by simulating a typical restaurant experience between the somms and a judging panel posing as a group of novice guests. Beally emerged as the clear winner.
“I love that there is always something to learn, a new place to visit, a new relationship to forge.” says Beally, “The world of wine is an endless journey; I want to know it all, and yet, at the same time, I know I’ll never know it all.”
Today, Beally works at Canlis, an iconic Seattle restaurant rooted in family heritage that boasts culinary accolades including the James Beard Award. Nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range, Canlis is a “must-visit” for its cuisine, scenic views, and, of course, the wine list.
Following the competition, VinePair caught up with the somm to discuss all things wine — from why he would drink Champagne for the rest of his life, to the best wine on his rack.
What’s the bottle that made you fall in love with French wine?
1978 Leroy Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru. You said fall in love, right? I had been working for a long time as the wine director for an Italian restaurant and this was the first French wine I had that made me turn my head from Barolo or Brunello. I had it for my birthday dinner with a few friends where we paired it with a coq au vin and boiled potatoes. The moment everyone had their first sip, there was a profound silence. The Pinot was still fresh and lively, but had an earthiness that sinuously melded with the coq au vin; we were all fighting for a second glass.
You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper wine?
Something simple and quaffable that would evoke memories of picnics with friends and fun summers. A Côtes de Gascogne blanc would be one of my top choices.
What are your 3 favorite French wine regions, and why?
For the wine nerd, Burgundy. No other region gives you a sense of terroir quite like the Côte d’Or. You can literally see why two crus express themselves so differently in your glass just by taking a stroll.
For eating, Alsace. Not only is Colmar a fantastic walking town, but there’s something about the pairings in the region that are magical, especially tarte flambée with a simple gentil blend.
For a sense of the scale of wine, Champagne. From national treasures like the caves of Ruinart to the cathedral of Reims, Champagne has grandeur in spades, but you can also visit the coolest little grower-producers, visit the grave of Dom Perignon, or grab a jambon-beurre and a cold bottle of bubbly and have a proper picnic while enjoying the view.
You can only drink one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
Champagne is the perfect accompaniment for every moment of life. Had a hard day at work? You could use a glass of Champagne. You just got engaged? Pop open the Champagne! Tuesday night? Definitely need some Champagne. I feel like I’m failing at being a somm if I don’t have a cold bottle in my fridge that’s ready to go.
What’s the best wine on your rack (or in your fridge) right now?
Hands down the best is a bottle of Château Rayas 2000. It’s the one house for which there is absolutely no substitute, and I’m saving that bottle for a very special day when I pass a six-wine flight.
What is the French grape varietal you can’t live without?
Chardonnay. There’s no way I’m going the rest of my life without white Burgundy or a proper blanc de blancs Champagne. There is something absolutely magical about properly aged white Burgundy that makes me do a little happy dance whenever I taste it. I remember being at a late-night tasting with some heavy-hitting wines and some cool pairings (83 Palmer with Dick’s cheeseburgers was heavenly) and I was the only person that kept on coming back to a nearly 20-year-old Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. I was one happy camper that night.
You can only drink at one wine bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
Vif Wine and Coffee in Fremont. It’s a regular meeting spot for many of my friends as we work towards wine certifications. The wine selections are thoughtful, and I always manage to find a new bottle to take home to try. But since we are usually there in the mornings to study, it doesn’t hurt that the coffee is fantastic and the baked goods are amazing, especially their French toast.
If you could no longer drink wine, what would be your beverage of choice?
Sour beer. I love it, but also find it odd because the same fermentation flavors that I enjoy in sour beer (especially the brett-fermented ones) I absolutely cannot stand in wine. And yet, I’m fascinated by how brewers coax so many flavors into a pint glass with so few ingredients. It’s exciting to see more sours on tap when I go out, and if I see it on your list, I’ll probably end up ordering it.
This article is sponsored by the French Ministry of Agriculture and leading wineries from across l’Hexagone: Domaine d’Aussières in Corbières, Légende in Bordeaux, Saget La Perrière in the Loire Valley, Trimbach in Alsace, Côté Mas in Languedoc, and the Rhône Valley’s Domaine Jean-Luc Colombo.