Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Sommelier Tanya McDonough of Straight Wharf and Ventuno – Nantucket, MA

by Antoinette Bruno
April 2014

Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start in wine?
Tanya McDonough: I’ve worked in restaurants since I graduated college. In one particular, Scott and Gabriel at Radius in Boston, as a bartender, that’s really where I started learning about wine. A restaurant I used to be at wanted me to do their wine program, but I wasn’t qualified, so they sent me to the wine program at Boston University. I realized I didn’t want to bartend for the rest of my life, so I took the opportunity, and I’m glad I did.

AB: How do you contribute to the larger food community?                                                         
Here on the island we’ll get together, a few of the somms weekly, and do blind tastings with different themes. We do it in the format of the Guild of Somms. We try to talk about why we think each wine is what it is. We do weekly wine class here at Ventuno and at StraightWharf, as well.

AB:What has been the hardest thing you’ve done in your career so far?                                                      
Doing all Italian wines here at Ventuno. Every list I’ve worked with before was a teeny portion Italian, so having the task of an all Italian list was pretty scary. At Straight Wharf, [the hardest thing is] having to learn about all the different crus of old Burgundies. People who come to Nantucket are pretty wine savvy, so you can’t really BS them. They really know French and American wines, but they don’t know Italian so much, so it’s fun to have the upper hand.

AB: Who are your mentors?                                                                                                     
Scott Fraley, one of the owners here, has been a huge mentor for me. I don’t know anyone who has his palate. He’s amazing at explaining why pairings work or don’t. Alex DeWinter in Boston, at Grill 23, who got me interested in Italian wines is also a mentor.

AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?                                                                                 
I used to want to open my own restaurant, not sure I’d want to do it now. It would have to be with the right people. I guess I would like to have my own something, like a wine shop that does specialty foods and small bites. I would like to have something where I’m not working six nights a week. It’d be nice to be a partner in something fun, a wine driven restaurant or store.