Nathan Wing is no stranger to the Gaslamp Quarter.  He was the General Manager of Toscana Cafe for many years, and then became the General Manager of the fine dining restaurant, Blue Point Coastal Cuisine.  Mr. Wing  serves on the Board of Directors of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, and if that isn’t enough, after a lot of studying, tasting and testing he has the credential of “all things wine”…a Sommelier! 

What is a Sommelier?

A Sommelier is a wine professional. Traditionally it was a steward responsible for the wine cellar dealing with negociants and large oak barrels full of wine. Now the role has evolved into a professional within the hospitality industry who possesses a knowledge of all things wine.

What do you have to do to get that credential?

 It was a two day course covering how wine is produced from the vineyard to the bottle, different varietals, regions of the world and service of wine. This was then Followed by a written exam on the course.

Why did you want to pursue this?

While working in the Gaslamp, my coworkers and I would challenge each other with wine trivia, blind tasting or selling bottles. It seemed natural to challenge myself in a structured exam setting.

How many months of studying , planning did you do?

 It was about 4 months before I knew I would be taking the level 1 exam so I would say I concentrated a lot during those months. However I had been studying wine for about 3 years prior.  I was wait listed for my level 2 exam and only had about 2 months to really study for that exam. I spent a lot of days off in the library preparing for that!

Were there people in the Gaslamp Quarter who helped you with passing the tests?

 I’d say my first influence getting me into wine was Derek Monahan at Toscana Cafe, before him I didn’t know much beside red, white and bubbles. He helped me a lot with core training.

I also spent a lot of time studying with Reggie Robinson at Rustic Root. We were both taking our exam around the same time so we would go back and forth on wine theory. We must have traded each other’s books and flash cards once a week!

At Meze, Ben Silver was a huge help with my blind tasting. The week before my level 2 exam he set me up with 12 wines to blind taste with the intention of tricking me with each one. In the end, I surprised him and got most of them down to the varietal and region, that was a huge boost of confidence going into the exam.

My biggest influences came from Maurice Dimarino, beverage directory for the Cohn Restaurant Group and Charles Schmidt former GM at Blue Point. Maurice taught classes and passed on his knowledge to a lot of working for the Cohns. He invited me to his tasting group where I had the opportunity to meet with Master Sommeliers and learn from them. Charles Schmidt really pushed me to get to where I am today. While preparing for the exam I would go into work and he would quiz me. He kept me on my toes. We took the level 1 exam together and he was huge support getting ready for level 2. He also convinced David Cohn to sponsor me for both exams so I’m grateful for that.

 How does this help your career in hospitality?

Absolutely, people are always asking about different bottles, and what to pair with their meal. The more information you can give them the more they enjoy their experience. When I open a bottle of wine for my guest I like to give them a technical fact about the wine’s production and a fun fact about the vineyard, producer or varietal.

Are there many Sommeliers in the  Gaslamp Quarter?

There’s a handful in our district, I’ve shared a glass with at least a dozen of them. If you hang around the Wine Bank enough you’ll spot one going through the wines row by row.

How many levels are there?

 Four levels, Introductory, Certified, Advanced, and Master.

Do you want to get all of the levels?

Of course, I will say though the level 2 exam was one of the most grueling experiences of my life and the first drink I had after taking it was not wine!  Preparing for the exam takes a lot of your time and should not be taken lightly. Right now it’s nice to enjoy a glass of wine without having to completely destruct it’s flavor profile. That being said I’m not one to shy away from a challenge and will look to start my own tasting group soon!

Nate is the General Manager at Blue Point Coastal Cuisine.  For an amazing meal, great experience and a chance to meet Nate, get your reservations today!