An Interview with Doug Frost, MS,
Frost MS, MW
By Jim Clarke
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
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
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
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
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
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
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