Wine

A Master Sommelier's Wine Advice for Newbies

Rouge Tomate's Pascaline Lepeltier says you need $15 and persistence

Following a series of rigorous exams, Rouge Tomate wine director Pascaline Lepeltier recently earned her place in the Court of Master Sommeliers.

This summer, we're pleased to introduce her as Guest Curator of the Tasting Table Wine Cellar.

We were excited to work with Lepeltier for a number of reasons, starting with her infectious curiosity and her passion for wine, both in the vineyards and in the bottle. A former student of Greek philosophy, her approach is uniquely academic—and often just a bit romantic.

A well-known proponent of the movement towards low intervention wines, Lepeltier stocked the TT Wine Cellar with plenty of natural, organic and biodynamic picks with an eye for quality and approachability at a variety of price points.

We sat down with Lepeltier to ask her about her favorite wine regions, her thoughts on the natural wine debate and what advice she has to offer wine newbies.

What do you think is the best way to go about learning wine?
You need to drink! Go to a shop and say that you have 15 bucks to spend and ask what can they recommend. Take it home and taste it and take notes and then go back with another 15 bucks. One by one, you're going to start to taste.

It takes time, but it's awesome that it takes time! This is a life experience; I like to say that I'm at the beginning of mine. That's why I decided to be in wine—because I'm going to have years ahead of me to learn and because everyday I'm discovering something new.

What regions are you most excited about right now?
Every country! Really. I traveled to Australia not long ago and I'm going to Austria and New Zealand. I did a lot of tasting of South African wines, too. There are things that I would've never considered four years ago, but right now they're just fantastic.

Anything in particular?
Saying that I love the Loire is redundant, because the Loire is killing it right now, but if you look at the southwest of France and see what Bordeaux is doing or the Adelaide Hills and the Yarra Valley in Australia or Swartland in South Africa.

I realized when I forced myself to study these regions for the MS that I'd neglected some of the wines and right now I'm pouring crazy wines from Chile that I never guessed I would pour. And as for the U.S., the quality on the West Coast is insane and the quality on the Finger Lakes and Long Island is rising. There are new growers in Champagne every day!

Right now, every part of the world is being shaken by young growers and winemakers. They travel the world and are super open-minded, and there's no region that's not affected by that. So I'm curious about everything.

A few years ago, the debate began on the quality of natural wines. What are your thoughts on the debate as it stands now?
Well, the debate was, "Are they good or not?" But they're here. The question is more about how to serve them, how to understand them and what is our ability as tasters in determining what's good or not.

How should we be changing the conversation?
The question of winemaking and production is still a huge mystery, and I hope that one day we'll have a transparency about what is used to make a wine. I'd like people to keep on talking about the farming practices and understand why it's important today to understand how the plant is grown.

It's also important to move on and understand why we had such an intense backlash to the way that wines were made 10 years ago. And it's very subtle. What I'm tired of hearing is that this is black and white, because everything is gray. We tend to make it very simple when it's way more complex.

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