On Friday, May 29, 2020, Kenton Embry will be working a shift with VinePair to answer any and all of your wine questions. No question is too simple or too advanced. Text a Somm is a fundraiser in partnership with The United Sommeliers Foundation to benefit the thousands of wine professionals whose careers have been put on hold during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to paying the sommelier for their shift, VinePair will be making a donation to the USF, and so can you by clicking here. Text your questions to Kenton from 7-10 PM ET on Friday, May 29 at (914) 580-4540.
Kenton Embry is the sommelier and restaurant manager at Union Common in Nashville, Tenn. In this intimate fine-dining restaurant, Embry curated a wine list that is both balanced and food-friendly. He takes pride in his strong service staff, excellent bar team, and the restaurant’s approachable presentation of wine.
Embry’s selections for the Union Common wine list include about 150 producers, offering a wide variety of wines including vertical selections. For those eager to explore, Embry believes that on this multifaceted list there truly are options for every type of wine drinker. Below, Embry delves into his love of wine, jazz, and chatting with restaurant guests to ensure they have an elevated experience.
1. What are you drinking the most in quarantine?
Campari. I absolutely love the stuff and drink it neat. Also, water! You’ve got to stay hydrated, even if you’re stuck at home.
2. What is the most memorable bottle you’ve opened in quarantine?
I had potentially come into contact with Covid-19 and was starting to feel quite ill. I spent a night in the hospital getting checked out and self-quarantined for two weeks after to be safe. When I finished, I popped a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. I’ve had it before, but this time felt more significant. I put on some jazz records and made a night out of it. Sometimes that Billy just hits different, ya know?
One of the more interesting bottles, and inexpensive by comparison, that I’ve opened recently was a 2016 Descombes Côte du Py. It really changed my perspective on what Beaujolais can be. It was noticeably tannic and black fruit-driven, two things that really set it apart. I drank it with some fried chicken and it was stellar.
3. How do you make guests feel comfortable if they seem intimidated by you (in a restaurant)?
I think people sometimes get this impression of sommeliers as if we are these guardians of ancient wisdom, and shouldn’t be bothered unless you ordered something expensive. This is, of course, completely false, and anyone that makes you feel this way is doing the profession a disservice.
I go out of my way to make sure each table knows that I’m here to elevate their experience, not to up-sell wine. Some of my favorite guest interactions are when the table already knows what they want and would just like to have a fun conversation. Somms are just nerds with a wine tool instead of a pocket protector. Chat us up.
4. What’s the best wine you can get at the grocery or discount store?
Finger Lakes Riesling. Not enough people are talking about this. It’s so good, and so very affordable.
Raeburn makes a good grocery store Chardonnay, if you’re into that style. I saw a bottle of Marqués de Riscal the last time I went grocery shopping, and I’m a big fan of their wines.
5. What regions and styles of wines are you most interested in?
Burgundy will never not be fascinating to me. It’s my white whale; I’m always chasing it but can never quite catch it. I really like Greek wine, too, and I think it should have a bigger presence in the market. Xinomavro and Moschofilero are so unique and interesting. My heart is in Spain and Italy, though. Numanthia was my “ah-ha!” wine, and Amarone is, gun to my head, probably my favorite wine.
6. What’s the best way to ask for a budget-friendly bottle at a restaurant?
Just be honest. Nobody should ever feel ashamed of the wine they like or the amount they want to spend. I’d much rather you get a bottle of by-the-glass wine and enjoy your experience than spend an extra $50 on a bottle and fight about it on the way home.
7. Which regions offer the best value?
Bandol. Everyone knows Domaine Tempier, and they make great stuff. But there are other producers out there making wine just as good. Domaine de Terrebrune is one that comes to mind. So tasty.
Southern Italy has some fantastic wine for next to nothing. Negroamaro, specifically. Both Aglianico and Sagrantino make some serious wines that are very reasonably priced, considering the quality. The entire Murcia region in Spain makes some great value wines, too.
Also, in my opinion, Washington Cab doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. You can get some real winners in that $25-$35 range.
8. Where do you like to buy wine online (or which clubs do you recommend)?
This is a relatively new endeavor to me. I usually try to buy at local wine shops and support surrounding businesses, but seeing as that’s not possible now, I’ve had to change up my purchasing habits.
I’ve always been a fan of Ian Cauble’s Somm Select, and have used that for years. You can find some pretty awesome deals on there if you stay involved. They also provide a blind tasting flight, which is always valuable, especially at a time like this.
Ed note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.