The Whet Palette

Food. Wine. Travel. Life.

SOMM LIKE IT HOT: Featuring Luis Martinez

We already know Miami is a hot zone for craft cocktails and beer. Know what else is happening? The wine scene! Follow along as I continue this blog section featuring some of South Florida’s buzziest swirlers, sniffers, and tasters.

Meet: Luis Angel Martinez

Title: GM & Wine Director at Alter

Previous notable position: Assistant F&B Director – COMO Hotels

What is the most rewarding part of your job? Seeing guests learn something new about wine, making their experience special (whether it is a birthday, anniversary, or a casual lunch), and knowing that I am leaving a life-lasting impression or memory on a few people every night. 

Any industry pet peeves? Sommeliers with inflated egos. This is a selfless industry, and we are here to provide a service and make someone’s wine experience special, nothing more, and nothing less.

What sparked your interest in wine? I had just turned 21 years old and went to NYC to visit a girlfriend who was there for a concert. I decided instead of joining her, to have dinner at Jungsik. I ended up having the full tasting menu with pairings (after saving a pretty penny), and one dish completely changed my perception of food/wine and how they pair.  It was a scallop and squid-ink crusted oyster dish, paired with a back-vintage Auslese German riesling. The incredible acid & sweetness rounded out the scallop dish so well, nothing else mattered at that moment. I was having a spiritual experience, that I wouldn’t understand the meaning of until much later.

What certification/education do you have as a sommelier? My Bachelor’s Degree in Food and Service Management helped me understand the fundamentals of wine, along with my Introductory to the Court of Master Sommeliers 

DSC_0432What does it take to learn to sniff and taste wine properly? The Court of Master Sommeliers has a great approach on understanding how to taste & sniff wine. It is a grid system that has all different categories of fruit, from dried to stewed to fresh. It helped me understand grape ripeness, and what regions are producing which style of wines.

What is a common wine myth you’d like dispelled? That all rieslings are sugary sweet. Some of the best rieslings I’ve ever had have been bone-dry.

Where would you steer a person wanting to learn more about wine? Start tasting more! The only way to understand wine is to drink it, pick a couple of varietals and focus on them until you understand their typicity.

What is a good starter wine? Pinot noir and chardonnay are the wines I believe have the most variance in style, and can show how many different factors can influence how a wine tastes (oak, cold or warm climate, winemaking style, malolactic fermentation, etc.). Not to mention the most important and historical region producing wine – Burgundy – is based around these two grape varietals. 

How do you feel about the current Miami wine scene overall? It’s booming. We have so many great wines being imported now to the sunshine state, that we never had access to before. There will be a lot of new wine-focused businesses opening up in the next few years. Millennials have really pushed the demand for cocktails as of recent, but the next trend will be wine. 

How does Miami as a whole fare in wine knowledge when compared to other cities such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco? We are definitely way behind the major food cities, but the gap is slowly closing. Miami is all about popping bottles of sparkly champagne, and drinking froze’ at your local brunch spot, but at the same time, we have restaurants now full with natural wine lists, and a lot of impressive cellars being built here. 

What do you wish every diner knew when ordering wine at a restaurant? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some wine lists can be intimidating; it’s the sommelier’s job to make it an easy and effortless process. It’s better to have the somm help you with a wine, than to order wine and get something you absolutely didn’t expect or want.

How do you feel about corkage fees at restaurants? A necessary evil, restaurants run on slim margins and need to be able to sell alcohol to make it there. If you bring your own wine, become a regular, or give the somm a glass, maybe the corkage might be somehow forgotten.

DSC_0415What wine trend do you think needs to go away? The extreme natural wine mindset. The term ‘natural’ can be so broad, just because it is not cloudy or doesn’t smell funky or yeasty doesn’t mean it isn’t natural. A lot of winemakers in classic growing regions have been making natural wines for decades. They just don’t feel the need to label them “natural”

What is on its way to becoming a trend? Natural wines have obviously spread like wildfire recently, but I think there will be even more focus on natural winemaking but in a refined way. 

How do you feel about orange wine? Like your first drink of strong alcohol, It takes time to adjust and understand the complexity behind it. But orange wine is one of the most interesting things to resurface in the industry and is making waves across the world. Orange wines introduce umami characteristics and fit in the middle in terms of body, where some whites can’t stand up to heavy dishes. Some reds are too powerful for lighter fare, orange wines find a way to work with almost anything. 

Where do you see yourself in five years? Working with Brad Kilgore these last two years, I have seen him go from cooking at Alter every night to now creating a brand and having his third restaurant, Ember. It is very exciting to be a part of the growth, and I plan on continuing to be a part of it. He is a creative genius, and I attribute a lot of my development as a sommelier to having him let me do my thing and push the boundaries on the wine program. 

What would customers be surprised to learn about you? I don’t drink very much at all. 95% of the time I am tasting or even drinking, I spit. My biggest interest besides wine is also bodybuilding, and alcohol is very detrimental to that.  

“Remember that we are all learning. Even the oldest Master Sommeliers are constantly learning and will admit they still don’t know enough about wine. The second you think you have learned it all is the moment you stop learning and fall behind. More importantly, wine is subjective. Don’t ever look down upon someone because they only drink Moscato, or they dislike oaky chardonnay. Everyone has their taste preferences, and it’s important to understand them.”


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