496: Sandy Block's Shot at Redemption

DEC 24, 202381 MIN
I'll Drink to That! Wine Talk

496: Sandy Block's Shot at Redemption

DEC 24, 202381 MIN


Sandy Block was a Master of Wine who was also the Vice President of Beverage at the Legal Sea Foods group of restaurants, and an Adjunct Professor at Boston University in Massachusetts. Sandy passed away in November of 2021.

Sandy talks about his rollercoaster relationship with academics: doing very well in school during some periods of his life, and almost flunking out of school during others. Sandy explains that he began working at a restaurant while working on his PhD dissertation. He would eventually abandon his dissertation, but pursue his interest in wine at the restaurant. He explains how he was given his first wine job in 1981. The only French speaker on the waitstaff, he was promoted to the sommelier role, although he did not know anything about wine. He looked for answers about wine in books that he would consult during his shifts. He found that the subject of wine encompassed many of the fields of study that he already had an interest in, such as geology and history.

During his first wine tasting trip to Europe in the 1980s, Sandy discovered that wine was made by farmers, and that those farmers didn't always live in elaborate palaces or chateaux. He came back to the States more energized about wine at the same time that there was a greater shift towards wine in the wider American culture. Customers were beginning to show more interest in wine at the restaurants, with the rise of varietal wines by the glass and an increase in interest in opting for wine instead of a cocktail. In the interview, Sandy discusses the character of the Boston wine trade in the 1980s and later.

Sandy talks about his experiences taking the Master of Wine exam. Having obtained his MW in 1992, Sandy was one of the first Americans to achieve that distinction. He talks about learning to pass the test, writing essays under time pressure, and honing his blind tasting skills. He remembers being tasked with describing one particular set of blind wines, which turned out to be Bulgarian. And Sandy discloses how he approached studying for the test in secret, among a small group of friends who divided the study responsibilities. He then discusses how that study regime was eventually developed into a curriculum that he taught about wine with some of his fellow test takers - Alex Murray and Bill Nesto - at Boston University in Massachusetts. Sandy divulges the typical student profile of a wine class. He speaks about having the context to understand what a good wine is, an emphasis on value wines, and having some resistance to the winemaking trends of the 1990s. Sandy describes a cultural history of wine where wine has been understood as a food much longer than it has been viewed as a connoisseur's beverage.

He discusses the rise of countries like Chile, Argentina, and Australia on the global wine market, the importation of Portuguese wines into the United States, and the difference between working in restaurants and working in wine distribution or import. He also addresses what qualities he used to evaluate potential hires at the restaurant group where he oversaw the beverage program. And he answers the questions frequently asked by his students, including "How does one get into the wine business?" and "How does one succeed in the wine business?" He also contrasts the interest shown in wine by young Americans today with that of their parents.

This episode features commentary from:

David Wrigley, MW

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