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How much do you know about wine? Could you list every grape varietal grown in southeastern France or name every major wine village along the Rhine River? Eric Crane can—and on Monday, he passed the first segment of a 3-part test in his quest to become a master sommelier, a coveted certification that only 147 people have in the United States.
It’s 8:15 on a Tuesday morning, and I’m standing among 100 or so people swirling wine in a glass and holding a microphone in my other hand. Shoulders slouched back, eyes fighting to stay open, I mutter my best guess into the mic. “This wine is clear, bright, with a brick red core and a medium concentration. Medium plus viscosity.”
Justin Amick, the general manager and sommelier of the Spence in Midtown, remembers when, as a child, he ate in a different restaurant every night and stubbornly stuck to well-done hamburgers. They were cooked especially for him by the chefs working for his father, Robert Amick, a cofounder of the defunct Peasant Restaurants group that included the Pleasant Peasant and Mick’s. As a little boy with a loud voice and a fierce competitive streak (I first met him on the playground at the Paideia School, which my children also attended), the middle kid in the Amick family dreamed only of basketball, a sport that won him a full scholarship at Tulane. But after just two seasons as a point guard, he quit. “I discovered good food and good wine in New Orleans,” he told me, discussing his transition from athletics to the restaurant business by way of a short, unhappy stint in advertising on Wall Street. Love was an agent of change too: He married his college sweetheart, with whom he now has a toddler.
When I met Michael Bowden, I blurted out the same words to him that I often hear when people learn I’m a food critic: “Man, I want your job!” Bowden identifies himself as a “personal sommelier.” He manages the cellars of two wealthy oenophiles (who wish to remain anonymous), keeping track of 130,000 bottles of wine between them.