A School for Sommeliers

Photo of Andrew Bell. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bell

Photo courtesy of Andrew Bell.

That Andrew Bell (B.A., '91), president and co-founder of American Sommelier, is making waves in the world of wine is an understatement. Not only does he head an organization which teaches students to become in-house restaurant wine experts (or just wine experts in general), he's also in charge of the Best Sommelier in America, a biannual competition whose winners go on to work in some of the best restaurants in the world.

Andrew Bell's Wine List 101

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. If your server can't help you, she or he will find the the wine director or the sommelier.
  • Bold, fruity, oaky, light, smoky, crisp ... Pick at least three adjectives that describe what you like in a wine and mention this to the sommelier or server.
  • When looking at the list or talking to the server or sommelier, initiate a price ceiling immediately.
  • Don't be intimidated by a hard-to pronounce grape or wine on the wine list. Point to it when ordering or ask a question about it.

For Bell, the grape seed was planted in the mid-'80s when he spent a day sampling vino and picnicking at Napa's V. Sattui winery. "It was like a proto farm-to-table experience," Bell says, referring to the current vogue of eating and drinking locally. "I then got a job at a restaurant in San Francisco, and that's when I really fell in love with wine."

At SF State, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology. "Psychology teaches you recall," he says. "If you don't have good recall, you'll never be a player in the wine business. You'll never be able to put together a good wine list for a restaurant."

Bell went on to own a wine retail store in Paris and then worked as a sommelier at the prestigious Guy Savoy restaurant in the French capital, which solidified his knowledge of wine.

Now ensconced in the wine world in New York, Bell has a bigger project he's trying to enact: social revolution (his words). "In class I ask what's the difference between tasting and drinking," he says. "Drinking is consumption without thought. Tasting is consumption with thought. In class you're not allowed to like or dislike a wine. Because if you like a wine, you'll stop thinking and start consuming."

And then he adds: "This is where the social revolution comes in -- wine review magazines just want you to know enough about wine so that you'll believe what they say. American Sommelier is about attempting to get people to think of themselves in the wine world."

Bell's time in France also helped to shape another goal he has -- to make wine drinking become part of the family meal.

"How do we keep our kids from killing themselves by overconsumption of alcohol? Expose them to wine in the context of a meal, demonstrating that wine is a food additive; it's a mealbased beverage. It's not about inebriation and partying."

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