2015 New York Rising Star Sommelier Matthew Conway of Marc Forgione

2015 New York Rising Star Sommelier Matthew Conway of Marc Forgione
February 2015

Sommelier Matt Conway is among that next generation of sommeliers boldly asserting their expertise and personalities with their various programs and projects and expanding the very idea of what a somm can do. 

Conway holds certifications in viticulture, vinification, and blindtasting from the American Sommelier Association. He’s a veteran of Café Gray, where he served as sommelier and eventually beverage director and worked alongside Gray Kunz for more than three years. In 2008, he teamed up with Marc Forgione for the opening his eponymous flagship. There Conway helped earn the restaurant a place on Wine Enthusiast’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants in America” and five consecutive Michelin cocktail symbols.

Over the course of his career, Conway has rarely hesitated to take that next leap. In 2010, he joined the prestigious sommelier team at Taillevent in Paris, completing the rigorous three-month training program, and in 2012 he traveled to Avenches, Switzerland, where became a certified coffee sommelier. Back in New York and still at the beverage helm of Marc Forgione, Conway contributes regularly to industry publication The SOMM Journal, co-owns both Taquitoria restaurant and “Batch 22” bottled Bloody Mary mix—both projects launched with fellow team members from Marc Forgione—and was named to Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list.

Interview with New York Rising Star Sommelier Matthew Conway of Marc Forgione

Mary Choi: How did you first get into the industry?
Matthew Conway:
After I graduated from the American Sommelier Association, I was hired to work for Gray Kunz at Café Gray when I was 22 years old. I was there for about 4 years and I worked my way up to the beverage director position.

MC: Who would you say your most influential mentor has been?
Richard Hollocou. I worked under him at Café Gray during such a formative time in my life.

MC: What wine region are you most excited about?
Obviously the Loire Valley has been rising in popularity tremendously over that last few years. I’m very happy for the farmers there to get their respect among the greats in France and the world. I’ve been a big fan for years, so the excitement isn’t new. However, in this craze of Loire love I’ve found a deep love for the Saumur vineyard Brézé. I once thought it could only be had via the incredible and expensive Clos Rougeard. With more access to Guiberteau in the U.S., in the past 2 years, I’ve become extremely excited about this magical vineyard and its production of world class Grand Cru quality wine.

MC: How would you describe your pairing philosophy?
My philosophy is to try and bring an element to the food that enhances the flavors and refreshes the palate. We usually rely on contrasting profiles to counter the theme of the dish we’re working with. High acid wines with rich food and round wines with tart dishes, for instance. Most importantly, we always taste the dish with several different beverages before determining a pairing. We think outside the conventional boxes and think in terms of texture, temperature, and weight while tasting the dish. We often throw in a wild card because it’s just important to understand why things don’t work well together to truly understand why things do make a good match. Once all that is considered, we use our experience to decide the best pairing.

MC: What is the biggest challenge you face as a sommelier?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is trying to think and relate to the vast majority of people who don’t know anything about wine, except that they like to drink it. To be relevant to the bulk of my customers who pay the bills, including my paycheck! It’s very easy to put together a program that my peers and industry folk appreciate and respect. It’s much more challenging to appeal to them AND the 20 somethings with a $50 budget and the guy next to her trying to impress a group on an expense account that allows him $80 per bottle. Do we care as much about selecting our New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec listing as we do our red Burgundy page? That’s a difficult challenge!

Tips for the Sommelier by New York Rising Star Sommelier Matthew Conway of Marc Forgione

Work equally hard at all aspects of the job description. Managing numbers. Building strong relationships with suppliers and customers. Supporting and educating the staff. Working service, selling and pouring wine properly. Being a part of the team and helping service wherever needed.

Taste wine with food. Work with a chef or restaurant that wants a sommelier, not a wine buyer. Whether it’s a 20-course tasting menu or casual à la carte, it’s our job to lend our expertise tasting wine and food to help guests select the right choice for their experience.

Have something for everyone. It’s important to know a list shouldn’t be built around your palate’s preferences. Your palate should be used to selecting something quality from every region and price point that makes sense in your setting, with your cuisine and guests in mind.

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