with Natalie Dulaney

Natalie Dulaney spent her formative years in snowy Aspen, where her wine education was honed at a variety of local eateries, including Il Mulino and Steak House No. 316. She worked her way up from bar- tender to wine director with several distinctions along the way. Dulaney is a certified Court of Master Sommelier and has traveled extensively.

What inspired your interest in wine? I was a bit of a late bloomer, actually. My passion for wine started more as a by-product of my passion for food and travel. It was not until I began working in a restaurant kitchen and befriended the sommelier that I truly began to enjoy and appreciate wine as something more than an accompaniment to dinner. He introduced me to the world of wine, the art of pairings, and the complex artistry that goes into every bottle. He showed me how wine was this complex blend of art and science, where geography, chemistry, geology, and agriculture combines with history, culture, and cuisine. It was a moment that truly opened my eyes, and I never looked back.

Any memorable trips to wine country? Every time I travel to a new wine region, not only is my passion for that region elevated, but also my interest in wine in general. By being able to see and touch the soil and vines, to meet the farmers who cultivated the grapes and the winemakers who craft the wine, only helps strengthen an appreciation of a place. My first visit to Napa Val- ley was a real turning point in my understanding of what goes into creating a wine.

Who do you most admire in the wine world and why? There are so many amazing trailblazers in the wine industry and icons in wine service, winemaking, and wine education that it’s impossible to choose just one. But on a personal level, it’s the mentors I have had along my journey as a sommelier that I most admire. Each took time out of their own busy lives to coach me and help me become a better sommelier, and I would not be where I am today without their help. This includes, but is not limited to, Dustin Wilson, Carlton McCoy, Sabato Sagaria, Jonathan Pullis, Rose Manzo, and Jay Fletcher. Every one of them a brilliant and inspiring member of the wine community.

Do you have a favorite bottle of wine? So many wines are memorable simply due to the circumstances, event, or the friends with whom you shared the wine, so it’s hard to choose. However, there are two wines that I can think of that were simply incredible. One was the 2005 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. It is a sauvignon blanc from the second label of First Growth Château Margaux. I never knew that sauvignon blanc could be that good! The other wine was a 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. Even after all these years, the wine was still fresh, fruity, and well balanced. It was simply amazing.

Do you have a go-to wine? I don’t necessarily have a “go-to- wine,” as much as some favorite regions and styles. When I am dining out, I more often take into account the preferences of my dining companions and the cuisine we are about to enjoy. Though, I do have what sommeliers jokingly call “desert island wines.” If I were on a desert island, I would either like to be “stuck” with Champagne, nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy, or syrah from the northern part of the Rhône Valley of France.

What wine region do you think is the next big thing? There are so many new wine regions popping up right now and, also, so many old, historic regions reemerging. Personally, the new region to watch out for is Washington State and the old region to revisit is Spain. The wines coming out of Washington State just keep getting better and better. It is still possible to get a great value out of Spain, who has been making great wines for centu- ries. The emergence of lesser-known regions, such as Bierzo, is making the rest of the country up the quality from their regions as well. The result is very classic wines for a relative value.

What are some of the most challenging and exciting aspects of your position? Everyone has their own way of describing wine, which can be a challenge for a sommelier when it comes to mak- ing recommendations. What I might perceive as fruit in a wine, a guest might describe as sweet. It is the sommelier’s job to truly listen to what the guest is asking for and to make recommenda- tions accordingly. What makes my job so gratifying is when the guest is truly happy and excited about the selection. When I am able to introduce a guest to a new wine and they love it, that is when I get excited about what I do.

What words of advice would you give an average wine drinker choosing a wine from one of your menus? Please don’t be intimidated by the wine list or the sommelier. The sommelier is there to help guide you through the list and ultimately find that wine to enjoy with your meal, which is going to make you happy.

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