2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Sommelier Tanya McDonough of Straight Wharf

2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Sommelier Tanya McDonough of Straight Wharf
April 2014

Working at a restaurant in college isn’t a guarantee of a career in the industry, but it helps if you’re working at a restaurant like Radius in Boston, where Tanya McDonough started. She bartended, got her first meaningful taste of wine, and discovered a talent for it. So much so that another restaurant tried to poach her to run their wine program.

McDonough, a graduate of Boston University passed the Certified Sommelier Exam through the Guild of Sommeliers, and found herself at Grill 23, where her first mentor, Alex DeWinter, encouraged her passion for Italian varietals. That passion has served her well at Straight Wharf (where she pairs with the cuisine of Rising Star Chef Mayumi Hattori) and Ventuno, both restaurants helmed by Rising Star Chef Gabriel Frasca. McDonough now shares her wine enthusiasm and expertise with a savvy customer base while working with chefs who make the best possible use of Nantucket foodstuffs.

I Support: Lovin' Spoonfuls


Why: I support Lovin’ Spoonfuls because hunger isn’t just a problem in other countries; it is also in our own. This charity takes perfectly good, healthy, perishable food that would normally be thrown in the garbage and wasted and delivers it directly to community organizations where it has the most impact.

About: Boston-based Lovin’ Spoonfuls collects and distributes nutritious and healthy food that would otherwise be discarded to those in need.

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

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.

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