How to Buy Wine, According to Acclaimed Sommelier André Hueston Mack
After leaving an investing job to focus 100 percent on his love of wine and discovering little-known vineyards, André Hueston Mack, a New Jersey native, climbed the professional ranks in San Antonio, Texas. While there, he was named Best Young Sommelier in America by the prestigious gastronomy society Chaîne des Rotîsseurs. The accolade led to a post under master chef Thomas Keller at French Laundry, in Yountville, California, and then another as head sommelier at Keller's famed Per Se, in Manhattan. In 2007, he took on another dream title: winemaker, for his own Oregon-based label, Maison Noir. Today, he also owns & Sons Hospitality Group, a collection of restaurants and specialty shops in Brooklyn, with his wife, Phoebe Damrosch. And he recently wrote 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep's Guide to Life-Changing Wines ($24.99, amazon.com), a vibrantly illustrated, refreshingly approachable guide to wine, filled with rich stories about his career path. Here, he shares smart tips for buying and enjoying wine.
Make a Friend
Your local wine merchant is an excellent resource: "A great one will invoke conversation to understand your palate and what you like, which is invaluable," Mack says.
Buy in Bulk
"Stocking up for the holidays makes economic sense," since most wines cost less by the case. To make a big splurge last—for years, even—Mack suggests investing in a Coravin ($200, coravin.com), a needle-like tool you insert through the cork, so you can enjoy a glass or two without opening the bottle.
Let It Breathe
Decanting any bottle can improve its flavor: "It'll soften younger reds, remove sediment from older ones, and let whites get slightly warmer, so you can taste all the nuances," Mack explains.
Play with Volume
"Half-bottles of Champagne are great for a quarantine-style New Year's Eve celebration, since they hold about two glasses, and everybody can have their own," Mack says. For a larger bash (yes, we'll get there), go all out. "Nothing says 'I love you' like a magnum—that's my mantra!" he says of the 1.5-liter scene-stealers.
Try a Rare Sparkler
"I lean toward small Champagne producers who make 'farmer fizz,'" Mack shares. These growers bottle their own crop to make bubbly that expresses a unique terroir (the taste and flavor imparted by the environment where the grapes grow). A few of his favorites: Savart L'Ouverture ('L'Ouverture' Brut NV, $57, vervewine.com), Georges Laval (Champagne Cumières 1er Cru Brut Nature, $89, chambersstwines.com), and Egly-Ouriet (Brut Tradition Grand Cru, $79.99, wine.com).
Mack is a fan of online wine retailers—especially convenient now—and subscription clubs, through which you can try new bottles at a fixed price. (Martha, also a fan of this approach, started her own: Martha Stewart Wine Co.) Here, three suggestions.
First, Mack suggests Somm Select: "This club gives a sneak peek into top sommeliers' most intriguing wines," says Mack. The fee covers four to six bottles a month, and you can connect with the site's concierge for personalized picks. From $99 a month, sommselect.com.
Next up is Last Bottle Wines. According to Mack, you'll want to flag this Napa Valley–based virtual shop: Every day, it posts one great bottle for up to 70 percent off. "It's like a flash sale— you can score awesome wines at a discount," he says. You'll also find honest reviews and clear flavor descriptions.
Last but not least is Kelly Selects. Kelly Mitchell, former sommelier at the venerable James Beard House, handpicks six bottles each for her four seasonal shipments; you can peruse additional ones to order à la carte. $189 per shipment, wiredforwine.com.