Interview with Sommelier Doug Frost of Kansas City
Jim Clarke: You’re one of three people in the world to attain both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine certifications; what are the merits and disadvantages of the two programs?
Doug Frost, MW, MS: Both of them are great programs and offer gargantuan amounts of information and understanding to their students. I think the big warning sign I want to place on both is that you do this sort of thing for yourself, not because you think you’re going to get some great job because of them. Frankly, neither title is an automatic entry into an industry or position.
Both of them include exhaustive blind tasting segments, but the MS requires flawless table service of wine and all the other tasks that a sommelier could find him or herself doing on a Saturday night. The MW is far more technical and requires that someone write very well-thought-out essays about the wine industry in all its aspects. You have to be good at that.
JC: Whom are the two certifications most suited for?
DF: I usually tell people that if they’re very comfortable writing clearly and succinctly, then the MW could work for them. And if they’re the sort of people who are very fast on their feet and love the concept of true hospitality, then the MS could work for them.
JC: As a wine consultant for United Airlines, what differences are there in selecting in-flight wines versus selecting wines for a restaurant?
DF: You can’t filter information to someone sitting in an airplane seat. The wine has to announce itself as tasty from the first sniff. Wines are also a bit subdued by the dry atmosphere and so I need wines that have a big, fruity expression. I tend to select wines that are very cleanly made as well, because you find yourself choosing wines that may not be boarded on a plane for another year or so, so you’d better be sure they’ll taste as good then as they do now.
JC: You judge at a number of different wine competitions each year; what does a competition award tell the consumer browsing in a wine shop?
DF: If a wine won a gold medal somewhere, then a group of wine judges, usually three or four, really fell in love with that wine. That’s about all it tells you, but that’s a pretty good recommendation. If a wine won a sweepstakes award, or best Cabernet in Show, or some such top award, then it means that all the other judges were pretty excited by that wine too. That usually means that you’ll find that wine fun to drink too.
JC: You also direct the America’s Best Wine Lists competition; what makes for a winning wine list?
DF: I’m very frustrated by the current perception that a good list is a big list. That’s nonsense. It’s like those old Chinese menus with three hundred entrees; what are you supposed to do?
A good wine list communicates ideas about the food to its clientele. The wines should be selected to taste good with the food, to offer value at all price levels, and to appeal to all wine drinkers. In addition the wine list should be easy to read and informative, offering new discoveries alongside better known wines.
A bad wine list includes only expensive and/or famous wines that are the favorites of the owner or sommelier. You have to remember that you’re choosing for your guests, not for yourself.
JC: You’ve been a featured speaker at many Wines from Spain events; do you have a particular preference for or interest in Spanish wines?
DF: I love what’s happening in Spain today; it’s an explosion of new brands, new regions and even rediscovered (so new to some people) grapes. The values coming out of Spain today reflect the ubiquity of old, great vineyards, along with the fact that these are still unknown wines. For red wine, there is no better place to find exciting value.
JC: Do you have any interest in making wine yourself?
DF: Yes, but I don’t want anybody to know about it. Maybe someday...
JC: I understand you own a large collection of punk rock and unusual music; do you have any favorite songs about wine?
DF: No, not really, but every now and then Peter Granoff MS and I dream up stupid wine songs, with new words set to existing songs. I remember Paul Westerberg (of the Replacements) sang, “I ain’t no connoisseur cat; more like some kinda sewer rat.” Maybe that applies to your question.
JC: You’ve written about wine as well as food, art and film; what is it about wine that keeps you excited about it?
DF: There is definitely something hard-wired in me for wine. I’m not saying I’ve got a special palate because I don’t. It’s not that; it’s a brain thing. I am completely fascinated by this smell and taste thing that wine expresses. And we are still in the growth phase; there are new wines seemingly every day, not just every year. New regions, new grapes, new techniques; for a geek like me, it’s endlessly fun.