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VinePair Podcast: Can You Trust Somm-Centric Wine Clubs?VinePair

Wine clubs are becoming increasingly popular, with more sommeliers stepping into the game to provide curated, professional wine selections online. In this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the rise of somm-centric wine clubs and whether they’re worth joining.

Plus, join Geballe for an interview with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble. Cauble, who was featured in the hit 2013 “Somm” documentary, now has a wine club of his own, SommSelect. He discusses how he reaches consumers and curates his wine packages, along with how “Somm” has impacted his life and career.

Finally, in an all-new Friday tasting segment, Teeter, Sciarrino, and Geballe try Travis Scott’s Cacti for the first time. Join them as they give their live reactions and share thoughts on the agave hard seltzer.

Tune in and learn more about SommSelect at https://www.sommselect.com/.

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OR CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE

Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast,” Friday edition.

Z: This is the fun podcast.

J: That’s rude.

Z: The more fun one. I’m just saying. It’s Friday. Fun times.

A: No, he’s excited about this one because he’s the one who does the interview. So, whatever. Anyways, today, we’re going to chat a little bit about sommelier wine clubs. And, as a sommelier who has a wine club —

Z: I know. That’s why I’m really excited. More promotion.

A: I figured I can’t be too mean.

Z: You can be as mean as you want. No one can see me cry. This is an audio medium.

A: It does seem to be a trend that has grown over the past few years, somms starting wine clubs. Zach, I know you and I have talked about this, and we’ve wondered, at some point when you get to your level in your sommelier career, where do you go? A lot of somms have opened wine shops. Some somms then go on to become restaurateurs, like Bobby Stuckey. A lot do wine shops and some start wine clubs. I’ve always been a little bit skeptical of whether or not a sommelier-curated wine club is a hook for most consumers. I’m curious what Joanna thinks, because again, Zach, you have one. I want to be clear. I’m not saying that I think they’re not interesting. I’ve just always wondered how many American consumers understand and know somms.

Z: Yep.

J: I think that there are different levels of this. There are the more basic wine clubs that aren’t curated by somms. I think people who drink wine are attracted to those. It seems like it’s a lower barrier for entry there. Then, I think there are people and consumers who are interested in wine, and who care what pros are drinking. They want that curation and will spend the money for it. There are different segments of the wine-drinking population and a certain part of it cares about somms curating the wine that they’re drinking at home.

Z: Or just cares about somms, period.

A: My thing is that if you have consistency, if you’re able to pick wines that I ultimately wind up liking, I don’t care if you are a somm. I just happen to know that Zach knows good wine. If I joined Zach’s club, I would probably enjoy the wines he picked. I don’t know if Zach also being a somm would be a reason I’d sign up. I’d probably sign up because Zach’s a co-host of the “VinePair Podcast.” That’s right.

J: Isn’t there an assumption that the quality will be better? Is that wrong?

A: I think that there is an assumption. There’s at least an assumption that the somm must have access. I’m curious, Zach, do you think you have access to bottles other people wouldn’t have? Is that true?

Z: I think it’s basically two very similar thoughts. This is how I’ve always understood it. It’s basically what you just said, Adam. The assumption is that the sommelier maybe has a broader experience and has tasted a lot of wines. I think that is the general perception, that somms have tried many wines that are in the market and they have a finger on the pulse. That doesn’t necessarily set them apart from a good wine shop, but it is a thing that I think is broadly true if people are doing their job well. It is that thing of access, too. When you’re playing with the higher end and well-known sommeliers — like Ian Cauble, who I interview later on in the podcast, who is a Master Sommelier, who was in the “Somm” films, who is very well known — there’s an assumption, that I’m sure many of his subscribers believe, that he gets access to wine that some other wine club wouldn’t get in. I don’t know whether that’s true. I don’t know whether that’s whether the “access” is more about going out and finding stuff or people coming to somms with offers that they wouldn’t make to someone else. But there is the assumption that, through these kinds of clubs, you are getting access to the kinds of wines, stylistically and scarcity wise, that you would only be able to find in a great restaurant. I want to add one other piece to this. One thing that has, I think, contributed to the rise of these kinds of wine clubs is not just the rise in prominence of sommeliers. That is part of it, of course. Some of it is also just a shifting of how people want to buy wine. We’re still in a phase where a lot of people who consider themselves really dedicated wine drinkers buy a lot of their wine online or via delivery from wineries direct. They join a wine club. They go on a trip to Napa or Sonoma, and they subscribe. But, I think there’s a lot of people — whether they’re younger or they’ve just been doing that for a while — that have burned out on that model. You kind of get the same wines year in and year out. If you really love the winery, that’s fantastic. For a lot of people, they find after a couple of years, “Do I really need another case from this winery? We’re holding on to lots of it.” I know people I know who are like, “Tell me what you think of my cellar.” They have 500 bottles of wine, but they’re from six wineries. You’re like, “OK, that’s kind of cool. But, maybe you’d like some diversity. Maybe you want to have other things in your cellar that you have access to that go with different kinds of foods, moods, or seasons.” That is what, ostensibly, a sommelier-driven wine club purports to offer. It’s a broader range that reflects what you might find again on the list of a great restaurant and not necessarily what you would find on a “greatest hits of American wine tourism” list.

A: That makes sense. For me, what’s interesting about the sommelier-curated wine club is that, as you were saying, there does seem to be more thought put into it, as opposed to if I was to join Winc or something like that.

J: Right. Yeah.

Z: I would hope so.

A: I think that’s the draw. You’re showing people that there’s someone behind the wine club. So you’re doing this on your own, right? For your wine club, Zach, are you being clear with who the retailer is, or how does that work?

Z: We have a retail license.

A: Those, I understand. What’s always confusing to me is when a wine shop starts a wine club with another prominent person. For example, there’s a wine store here in New York that has just started a wine club with Victoria James and the somm team at Cote. That is interesting, but the wine shop is also pretty well known and has its own wine club. I’m wondering what the end game is for them to do this? Why are they outsourcing? I think what the majority of people are looking for is someone who is well known and they trust. I wonder if the shop thought this could be a secondary club for them. Maybe it’ll bring in new people for them? I do think that, overall, the appeal is that you know it’s a real person, and you hope that real person is sourcing better wines than you would get at a larger club.

J: I think it’s also interesting for the people who aren’t in places where you can get wines like that. Then, it’s really, really appealing. You don’t have access to restaurants or wine shops where you can get really great wines, but you can participate in these clubs.

Z: It’s definitely the case for a lot of people in parts of the country where access to wine is less robust or you really have to work hard to find a shop that might carry these things. Plus, the same wines are not available in all 50 states. There are many wines that are only available in a few states. Many of these clubs are understandably based in California or New York — states where almost every wine that’s in or imported to the U.S. is going to be available, at least in some quantity. For some people, they’re excited about wine. They’re interested in these wines. They’re interested in wines that sommeliers are excited about. Their point of access is these clubs. That may not be true for me in Seattle, and that may be true for you guys in New York, but it’s true for a lot of people. There’s also this other element of it. Adam, you or I might be very comfortable walking into a wine shop and saying, “Here’s what I’m looking for.” Maybe we have a specific kind of wine or a style that we’re interested in. We want to have that conversation with the owner or the person working there. We want that experience of having a conversation about it. There are a lot of people who love wine and want to try a lot of different wines, but that interaction either intimidates them or they don’t know where to go to have it. The idea of getting a cross-section of the wine world, being able to pick and choose when and where they’re interested in offers, and to have it come to them with more content and thought behind it is cool. They don’t have to do in-person interaction. I think that’s a big selling point. These are great for wine-loving introverts, which is not any of us, but they do exist, I promise.

A: Well, Zach, do you want to set up your conversation?

Z: Yeah. I chatted with Ian Cauble, who’s the founder of SommSelect, about everything involving the founding of the company and where it’s out now. We also talked, of course, about “Somm,” because it’s a movie that was rather important in his life.

A: Let’s do it.

A CONVERSATION WITH IAN CAUBLE, MASTER SOMMELIER AND SOMMSELECT FOUNDER

Z: Today, I have the privilege of speaking with Ian Cauble, who’s a Master Sommelier and the founder of SommSelect. Ian, thanks so much for your time.

Ian Cauble: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Z: Yeah, absolutely. We’re looking forward to this chat. Let’s start out with your beginnings in wine. When did you first get into wine and realize along the way that this was going to be your career?

I: I went to Sonoma State University. Both my sisters went there. I went and visited. I remember going to a farmer’s market and trying a tomato that completely changed my view of how good a tomato could be. It opened my mind up to flavor, taste, and how much pleasure I got from this trip up here. I remember going out to lunch and having Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc with goat cheese and a beautiful heirloom tomato with local olive oil. The amount of pleasure that I derived from that lunch was much different than growing up on tacos in Orange County and Jack in the Box after a surf session. I just really opened my mind to the potential of flavor and the enjoyment of life through your taste buds. I started tasting more things and, not just getting into wine, but getting into food, getting into cooking. I ended up getting accepted to Sonoma State shortly thereafter. I got on the tennis team. I drummed up quite an appetite. When I would get off the tennis courts or wherever we were traveling, I would watch Food Network. I started just acquiring knowledge about food. I found the show “Simply Wine with Andrea Immer.” It just opened up my mind to the whole world of beverage, farming, winemaking, and the process of food-wine pairings. It just inspired me to learn more. I ended up changing my major from pre-med to business and Spanish. I’d studied Spanish my whole life, so I was focusing on wine business and Spanish. I learned about the wine business program at Sonoma State. I ended up going to Chile for a month to get elective credits for Spanish and business. I learned about the international wine trade, and I got bit by the wine bug, bad.

Z: Cool.

I: I got back and accepted a job for $2 an hour working in the Douro Valley of Portugal. I moved there. I had some money saved from teaching tennis. I ended up traveling through North Africa, India, and Europe for the next year and a half. I came home broke, borrowed $150 from my dad to buy a suit, and then interviewed at The Wine Merchant of Beverly Hills. Shortly thereafter, I learned what a sommelier was, what they did, and I started drinking the great wines of the world and learning about them. I finally learned what a Master Sommelier was, and I followed that path.

Z: Yeah, absolutely. Listeners may be familiar with some elements of that. We’ll get to that. I want to talk to you about SommSelect and two pieces of it. Let’s start with this. What is it? How would you describe the business and how it functions? Then, I want to talk a little bit about when you founded it.

I: It’s an e-commerce wine company. The core of the company is a daily wine offer. It’s free to sign up. If you visit SommSelect.com, you put your email in and get two emails each day. There’s one in the morning about a $20 to $40 bottle of wine, maybe a daily drinker, something that might be a Cru Beaujolais or a great 10-year-old gran reserva Rioja for $38 that we think is special. The afternoon emails are more of a collectible. It could be a $250 bottle of grand cru Burgundy, Chablis, or whatever. It might be some old Bordeaux from the ’60s that we got a special price on. That’s one fraction of the company. We have a number of clubs. We have the Blind 6 tasting kit that’s a monthly blind tasting kit to teach people how to blind taste like a Master Sommelier. It basically helps them break down the wines in terms of fruits and flowers, as well as the tricks of the trade on how to break down one wine versus the other based on structure and different attributes of the wine. We have an Explore 4 club, which is $99 for four bottles every month. That’s our fastest growing part of the company because it’s a very accessible price point. We have a Somm 6. We have the Somm 6 reds. We have a number of clubs on top of it. We launched a store last year, when Covid hit, with about 300 selections. Then, we have our concierge department. We deal with the finest and rarest wines in the world. We have a team of people that are specialists in helping you fill your cellars with the best wines in the world — whether that might be a $75 bottle of Brunello or something else. We’ll find the best price to quality possible, come and help you fill your cellar with it, or ship it to your front door. Whatever you need, we can make it happen. The private client services division is another of our fastest-growing divisions because people have money. They want to spend it on wine because they get a lot of pleasure from it. People love food and wine. That’s one thing that I think we’ll get into, but the “Somm” documentaries definitely stimulated people’s interest in learning more about what is behind the label. They’re more curious in exploring what happened in the vineyard that created this flavor to be so impactful for your emotion and palate. We both know that great bottles of wine really change your pleasure at that moment in life, which is why we all do it.

Z: Yeah, absolutely. I want to talk a little bit about when you founded SommSelect in 2014 and what your vision was at the time. One of the things that’s always been interesting about it to me is that you’re obviously not the first online wine retailer. You’re not the first wine club. But, one thing that I’ve always found interesting about what you’ve done is that it seemed very intentional in literally the name and also in the conception of the business that it would aim to provide something like the kind of service you would expect from a sommelier in a great restaurant, but for people who were buying wine for home. They at least weren’t having to go to a restaurant or even a great wine shop. You could have that kind of experience without going anywhere.

I: That’s a good point. It was 2013 when we came up with the idea. I was working with Krug Champagne, which is amazing. I loved that job so much. One of my good college friends who had just graduated with his master’s in wine business said, Ian, I think I have a great idea. Let’s take your knowledge as a Master Sommelier and apply it to the daily offer wine business. I think we both know a lot of the companies that are selling $100 bottles of Napa Cab at 80 percent off. They’re largely the leftover wines of the market that are being heavily discounted at half of normal price. A lot of them are tired. A lot of them are selling what are basically the buffet items that are third day used. I’m just kidding. But, we tried to flip that daily offer on its head and say, “Instead of selling the leftovers of the market, the distressed inventory, why don’t we come with this tableside chat with a great sommelier at a restaurant?” If you go to a great restaurant, you have this engagement with the sommelier. They actually change your whole perception of that glass of wine, from the way it tastes, and why it pairs with certain things. Typically, you have to spend double to triple retail for that information. We decided to give that tableside chat and bring the sommelier experience home to a point where people could actually have access to this sommelier experience from your home, on your couch, like you were saying. You don’t necessarily need to go into a three-star Michelin restaurant to engage with that knowledge base. The thought was very simple. We started with one offer per day and talked about the things that I would teach a table that came into a restaurant that I was working at. We would talk about why we love the wine, a little bit about the history, the soil, the farming, the tasting notes, the fruits, the non-fruits, how much oak, the tasting ability, and how to properly enjoy the wine with the particular food and wine courses. Of course, Cabernet and oysters might not be a great pairing.

Z: I’ve served that one a few times.

I: Some people like it. That’s fine. If you enjoy it, you should do it, no matter what I say. Do what makes you happy. But, typically, Cabernet and a ribeye with sautéed chanterelles might be a better fit. With that said, the business started with the premise of bringing that sommelier experience to your home and computer so we could talk about glassware, service temperature, and decanting instructions. If you’re receiving our daily email, every offer comes with a specific pairing, with the recipe attached to the offer. If it’s a bottle of Beaujolais, we might include Zuni chicken from San Francisco, which is a three-day dry brine.

Z: Not exactly an easy recipe to complete.

I: Yes. It’s easy if you have time. Most people do. You cover kosher salt on chicken, put it on a plate for three days, and then you cook it. For the geeks out there like me and you, that’s what defines life. It’s those pleasurable moments. You have to put time into the ingredients and the bottles of wine you’re sourcing to really, for me, get the best out of life. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on wine or food to get great wine and food. You just have to buy smart from good growers. With that said, once we did the daily offer, we evolved into quickly adding numerous wine clubs, and everything evolved from there. It’s now seven years later. It’s been quite an adventure.

Z: I bet. I’m curious about some of the mechanics of the club, the offers, and all the different pieces. We’ve talked to a couple of other people who operate online clubs on this podcast. One of the challenges that they sometimes face is in regards to quantities and availability. There might be times when there’s a great wine that you really want to offer, and there’s just not enough of it for you to put that out there. Or, if you do put it out there, it’s got limited quantities. How do you handle that reality? With a lot of what you’re talking about that seems like small production or at least not huge quantities of wine imported into the U.S. How do you balance that?

I: It’s tough. It really comes down to the availability and price we can offer it for. To send an email to our list, which includes many thousands of people, we want to make sure that there’s enough that we aren’t going to sell out in 10 seconds. If I get six bottles of Jacques Carillon Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, it might make more sense for my concierge department or my private client services division to send an email to 10 of our top clients and give them each a bottle, whoever wants it. For example, we just directly imported 500 bottles of wine. It’s going to be $75 retail for an ’89 from a sick old-vine single vineyard. Those are the types of wines that I think define what SommSelect does. We spend a lot of time in Europe finding these things that, for some reason, are still in existence from very good vintages. We taste the wine. If it blows our minds to get an ’89 Cab Franc from the Loire that’s showing literally perfect right now, that’s an offer that’s coming up in three or four weeks. For those that are paying attention to the daily offers, there might be a few bottles. If not, it’s not something that we’re really working that hard to sell because these things will disappear within a few hours.

Z: Sure.

I: A lot of the people enjoy seeing the offers that we sell. There’s a lot of sommeliers and wine buyers around the world that don’t buy wine from us and can’t because they’re not in America, but they just are paying attention to what’s going on market, the prices, and all of that stuff. It’s definitely a challenge to find great wines in enough quantities that it makes business sense. If not, we’ll put it in the store. Say we get 12 bottles of a 1985 Rioja, those 12 bottles will either be sold by our private client team or go into the store and be quickly found by those people looking around. The challenge is not just sourcing wine, but the logistics of shipping wines. The logistics of getting wine safely to people in the summertime is definitely a big challenge for us. We have cold chain shipping solutions. It’s a perishable product. Probably the most challenging part of our business is the timing of when to ship a case of wine to middle America. I don’t know what’s going to go on in the next five to six days while the wine is in a cold refrigeration container, and then it shows up to a UPS hub to get shipped out and it might be 98 degrees. It’s a tough position to be in. The good thing is that 99.9 percent of our packages get to people’s homes safely and in good shape. We’re always taking care of people if they have wines that are not showing perfectly for heat exposure or whatever it might be. Our customer service is second to none.

Z: Very cool. I have one more question about the business, and then I want to talk a little bit about the “Somm” films. You and your team, presumably, are tasting lots of wine. You’re getting things offered to you from all quarters. At this point in the business, seven-odd years in, is it pretty instinctive to you when you taste something to know it’s going to work for your audience? Does your audience have a palate in that regard? Is it more that you want to give them a little bit of everything, so sometimes you’re going to pick wines that maybe aren’t your personal favorites. I’m sure, like anyone, you have styles and varieties that you like more than others. So, do the wines reflect you and the team’s personal choices? Or, do you pick things that you think are a great fit for the category but say, “Don’t ask me how I feel about it personally.”

I: I think every appellation in the world makes great wines for different reasons. There are certain styles that might be low-acid, highly oaked Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It might have gotten 100 points. We don’t sell wine with points, but I know certain people really love that style. We will offer these because we know that people love that big, rich, dense, high-scoring style of Cabernet. We make sure to accurately describe it. I personally like wines with more freshness, Mayacamas or Frog’s Leap Cabernet or Corison. There’s other, bigger producers that we talk about. This is a behemoth. This is a rich, dense wine that is going to appeal for those of you who like this style. We try to really clearly and concisely bring forward what you are to expect because everyone has different taste buds. It’s like music. If you’re at a music store, you shouldn’t not sell classical music because you don’t like it and you shouldn’t sell rap because you don’t like it. You should ideally have something for everyone. We really try to cover all bases. I’ll be honest, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and California Sauvignon Blanc are the two worst categories in terms of sales in this company. We’ll do a Sancerre offer on Sauvignon Blanc and we’ll sell X. If we do New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, even if I say it tastes like the best Sancerre, we will sell 10 percent of the amount because the New World appellations aren’t as sought after for a lot of our customer base. People love a lot of Oregon Pinot, a lot of Napa and Central Coast Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, even Mexico. It’s a challenge to get people to buy the things that are really available at a low price in their local Costco. You can get Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc at Costco for $10, and it’s solid. It’s not the greatest, but it’s definitely not bad. If I offer a $24 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that I say is great, people would rather just wait for the $29 Sancerre. I do love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, for the record. I think New Zealand Pinot Noir, the Syrahs from Gimblett Gravels, Central Otago Pinots, and Moonlight Race are all incredible wines. We do offer them. New Zealand Pinot does well from the right genres, made by the right people. It often does well when it tastes like Burgundy. As we both know, people want wines that taste like Burgundy because Burgundy is like saying a car drives like a Ferrari. There’s a reason why we love Burgundy. It’s because it’s one of the greatest expressions of Pinot Noir. If you’re emulating the greatness of Burgundy from Santa Cruz Mountains, Oregon, Canada, Okanagan Valley for example, Foxtrot’s a great example. Okanagan Valley, I think Naramata Bench, on the southeast side of Okanagan Lake. The wine is brilliant and tastes like great Burgundy. It’s $55 or $60 a bottle. We sell tons of it because people taste it, and it really is such a unique experience drinking Canadian Pinot that tastes like Burgundy, for example.

Z: You’re speaking my language. I love the Okanagan Valley, and I’m glad that the word is getting out.

I: Especially as places warm up for certain reasons. The more northern latitude you get, the more freshness we’re finding.

Z: For sure.

I: They’re doing testing in Burgundy with Syrah now because it’s getting so warm over the next 10 to 20 years that they’re not sure how the Pinot Noir is going to exist. People like Moet & Chandon are actually buying land in Sweden over the last 15 years to anticipate Champagne being too warm. Okanagan Valley is primed and ready, along with different areas of Ontario. They’re making exceptional wine. The particular Chardonnays I’ve tasted out of Canada can be really incredible.

Z: Very cool. So, let’s talk about the “Somm” films a little bit. I want to ask first, was there a moment after the movie came out or maybe before it came out, where you were like, “This is going to be a big deal for me?”

I: Yeah. First and foremost, I didn’t realize that I was going to be going through a lot of stress at the time. I also didn’t realize I was going to be edited down to such a serious character because we filmed for three years. They didn’t necessarily show my smiling times. With that said, I was very serious, and I was very stressed out about the test. They captured a part of me that I never saw in myself when the cameras were on. It’s very strange to watch yourself in a movie theater, watching a movie of a condensed version of some of the most stressful years of your life. It’s not something that many people get to experience. It was slightly uncomfortable, just watching the stress that I went through and reliving a lot of stressful periods in life. Most people don’t get to relive them on film. With that said, I think it was a great thing for my career. I didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was going to be until maybe three or four months afterwards. My Twitter followers started growing by 100 by the day. My friend requests on Facebook were over 5,000 within a few weeks of the movie hitting Netflix. It’s been quite an adventure and I definitely feel fortunate to be involved in it. The greatest part is that it helped elevate what a sommelier does. There’s so many people that work so hard to gain wine knowledge so that we can share it with people and enhance their life through beverage and wine experience. That’s one thing I’m really happy with about what the movie did. People sit down in a nice restaurant. They’ll ask for the sommelier and really want them to come to the table. Before, people maybe didn’t even know what the job was and were intimidated and thought this person was just trying to make them spend a lot of money on wine. That might be the truth in certain situations. Now that more and more kindred spirit types of people are gravitating towards the sommelier world, you get a lot of amazing people putting 100 percent of their effort into learning about the great wines of the world and learning about the art of the sommelier. They’re applying their social skills and things they’ve learned about wine to, hopefully, engage with a given table and help take them on a great adventure of food and wine. That’s the goal. That’s one thing. A lot of people now know what a sommelier does and they’re looking to engage with them to help increase the pleasure they derive from a given dining experience.

Z: Absolutely. As someone who was working in the restaurant industry when that movie came out, there was a big shift when I told people what I did. I used to tell people I was a sommelier and they said, “What?” Now they say, “Oh, like the movie.”

I: You’re not from Somalia. What are you talking about?

Z: Exactly. I have to explain, the movie captured a small part of what I do.

I: I agree with you. They didn’t really capture the service and the reality. They captured behind-the-scenes studying, the camaraderie of study groups, and things like that. The reality of our day-to-day life of showing up, until I was 32, I worked in restaurants 12 hours a day. There’s a lot of work that goes into it before your first guest sits at 6 p.m. and the last guest sits at 10 p.m. Fifty percent of the work is before and after. There’s a lot that goes into that role. It’s great that people are developing more respect for those people, just like they had for chefs. If people do love wine, you are going to want to engage with the sommelier, because the odds are that they’ve tasted 99 percent of the wines on the list. They know how to help you best spend your money and make a good bet that’s going to bring you pleasure based on your taste buds.

Z: The movie definitely didn’t capture some of the job, like inventory, say.

I: They really had to cut it down, or else it would have been a three-and-a-half-hour boring film.

Z: No one should watch inventory. It’s horrible. One last question for you in this vein. You mentioned the way that the “Somm” films and other things have brought the sommelier position and individual sommeliers into more prominence, analogous to chefs, as you mentioned. I’m wondering, has that been a good thing for sommeliers to be more prominent? Or, is it maybe more of a mixed bag?

I: I think it’s great for sommeliers. People who work hard want to be noticed and they want their skills to be utilized and enjoyed. That’s why people spend so much time learning about these wines, so they can share their knowledge and their experience without boring the hell out of people with a five-minute dialog on the sub-districts of Napa Valley and the difference of terroir. There’s ways of really coming into the dining experience and having that really positive impact on people’s experience. They know you’re a sommelier at a restaurant and that you’ve probably spent a lot of time curating an incredible selection of wines. We know that there’s 100 different types of sommeliers. For some people, it’s just a job. Some people take it very seriously and study every day. That’s the reality of the situation. Just like a chef. Some chefs work in a certain restaurant and it’s a job and some go to the farmer’s market and pick every single ingredient that’s going to go on their menu. It’s just the way it goes. There’s different types of people with every trade. The vast majority of sommeliers that I know really take it seriously. I think the fact is, now, a lot of people respect the work that goes into it, just like Food Network kind of brought a lot of respect to chefs putting their heart and soul into a particular dish.

Z: Absolutely. Well, Ian, if people are interested in SommSelect, how do they find it?

I: SommSelect.com. You can follow us at @SommSelect. You can follow me on Instagram @IanCauble. We are around. You can stay in touch. Just go to the website and sign up for free. Put your email in and you’re off to the races. It’s a great way for people to start to learn about the world of wine.

Z: Excellent. Well, Ian, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it and best of luck going forward.

I: Thank you, sir. Cheers to be here.

THE VINEPAIR TEAM TRIES TRAVIS SCOTT’S CACTI AGAVE SPIKED SELTZER

A: Well, that was fun. So, let’s drink something that a somm will never recommend. We’re going to start a new segment on Fridays where the three of us all drink an alcoholic beverage live and talk about it. Joanna suggested this, and it’s just brilliant. We’re going to try Cacti for the first time. I’ve never had it before.

J: Me neither.

Z: Me neither.

A: It’s made by Anheuser-Busch, but it is affiliated with a very famous individual whose name I forget.

Z: Travis Scott.

A: Yeah, sorry. It’s Travis Scott’s product. It is an agave spiked seltzer. On the can it reads, “Cacti is made from 100 percent premium blue agave from Mexico and natural flavors for a refreshing and bold taste.” To be clear, it uses agave as the sugar for actual brewing, because it is a malt beverage. It contains 1 percent juice. It’s gluten free. It’s 150 calories, which I’m actually pretty surprised about.

Z: I know. This was the thing I noticed, too.

A: Seltzer is supposed to be low-calorie. So that is interesting. It actually gave me hope that it might taste good because maybe there’s a little more flavor.

J: It’s 7 percent ABV.

A: Time to get lit. What flavors do we have? I have pineapple, strawberry, and lime.

Z: I’m drinking the pineapple because that’s all I could find.

J: I have lime and pineapple.

A: OK. We’re going to drink the pineapple together. If you check out beer Twitter, there’s a hot tip that I was given prior to the recording from VinePair’s very own Tim McKirdy. Beer Twitter believes that the pineapple flavor is the most consistent flavor in all hard seltzers. Tim strongly disagrees. He finds pineapple to be the most polarizing. It’s the flavor that he thinks a lot of brands don’t execute well, but some people think that pineapple’s done really well. Let’s crack this open and try it.

Z: No more talking. More drinking. Smells like pineapple. My goodness.

A: This is like Bud Light-flavored pineapple.

Z: It does not taste particularly like pineapple.

A: This is terrible.

J: It’s pretty bitter.

Z: It’s made with malted rice, which makes total sense being that it’s Anheuser-Busch. It does taste like Bud Light pineapple, which I didn’t know was a thing that existed.

J: I think it’s definitely more flavored than a White Claw.

Z: Does White Claw have a pineapple flavor?

J: I don’t know. I’ve never had it. I’m guessing they do.

Z: This is interesting. It’s not good. I don’t hate it. I ended up only being able to find a 25-ounce can, which I will definitely not be drinking all of. I might have a few more sips.

A: It’s just terrible. All I can think of is that it smells like the way a warm, flat Bud Light smells and then has been flavored with Dole pineapple juice. Not Dole’s pineapple juice. It’s like the throw-up that happened after you drank Dole pineapple. That’s what I’m getting from Cacti pineapple.

Z: Wow. Adam, you are describing my college years with eerie precision.

J: Do you guys drink a lot of pineapple juice when you drink?

A: No, but this is terrible. I’m moving on to lime.

Z: OK. You let me know if that’s any better. I have a question for the two of you. One of the things that’s fascinating to me when we talked about doing this — and we’ll do some more seltzers and other things and obviously would love feedback from you listeners on what else we should drink. We will reserve some editorial judgment on whether we’re willing to subject ourselves to it.

A: Lime is better. I don’t like it, but it’s better.

J: It tastes like a bad Margarita.

A: Yes. It’s like a bad Margarita. If you gave it to me I would choke it down, but I don’t like it either.

J: Maybe it’s like a Lime-a-Rita? I don’t know the last time I had a Lime-a-Rita.

A: At least it’s better. OK, I’m going to go triple-bonus round and drink the strawberry that you all don’t have.

Z: I also want you all to answer this question for me. Cacti had a bunch of buzz around it when it came out. I feel like it’s already essentially like —

A: Oh, god. That’s disgusting. That is the grossest thing I’ve ever had.

J: Cacti was huge out of the gate, and then it just dropped off.

A: Yeah, these are terrible.

J: You couldn’t even get this when it first launched.

A: I think it’s dropped off because it’s just not good.

Z: You also have this problem that you described, which is that it’s both not good taste-wise, and it’s also not low-calorie and low-carb in the way that other things are. Who is drinking this? Who is the audience? Maybe people who really believe in the power of agave?

A: The Cacti strawberry tastes like a strawberry Starburst that’s been soaked in seltzer water. Then you take the Starburst out. So, you just have pure seltzer water. Then you add Everclear, mix that in. Then, at the very end, you add just a little bit of rotten cheese, and that would be the strawberry.

J: And then you throw up.

Z: I would say that sounds actually better than the description of the pineapple. There’s no vomit.

A: These are terrible. Anyways. Zach and Joanna, it’s been a fun Friday. I hope we kicked off your Friday well, all you listeners. If you have something you think we should try next, shoot us an email podcast@vinepair.com. We’ll go out, grab it, and give it a go. Zach and Joanna, I’ll talk to you Monday.

J: Have a good one.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

The article VinePair Podcast: Can You Trust Somm-Centric Wine Clubs? appeared first on VinePair.

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