Andrea Robinson, one of only 34 female Master Sommeliers worldwide, was the first woman to be named Best Sommelier in the US and the first American woman to compete in the Sommelier World Championship. The author of four books on wine and food, she is a three-times James Beard Award winner, lifestyle TV host, and creator of The One wine glassware range. She has created award-winning wine and education programmes for fine-dining restaurants and Starwood Hotels, has curated Delta Air Lines’ wine programme since 2007 and consults to Norwegian Cruise Line.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Working with cruise lines and airlines, in hospitality, and in trade and consumer education means I connect with newbies, sophisticates and all consumers in between – across the gamut of wine regions, styles and price points. Decanting verticals of Penfolds Grange for a collector event and working on a Spanish blend for a retail chain are polar opposites, yet they’re both incredibly important to the industry. Connecting passionate winemakers from all over the world to their end consumer is a real honour.
And the worst?
Struggling to stay positive amid the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas’ tribulations over the past few years. The handling of the 2018 exam scandal, the Black Lives Matter disconnect and the sexual harassment maltreatment brought to light or caused trauma, suffering and unfairness that don’t align at all the hospitality, integrity and humility principles of our court’s mission.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
That I only ever drink world-class wines and look down on anything else. I would hate that! I sometimes imagine how amazing it would be to be a Burgundy or Champagne critic, but then I think – nah. I love giving friends (and sometimes strangers in the wine aisles) the license to spend what they’re comfortable with and know they have at least one pro’s blessing and advice.
What has been your greatest moment?
Re-opening Windows on the World in New York City at the former World Trade Center in 1996. We had gotten our cellar back after having to wipe off the smoke residue and store the bottles away after the first terrorist attack in 1993. Many of our former employees returned and it felt like a joyful reunion and rebirth. Since it has been gone again, forever, after 11 September 2001, the memories, including of colleagues we lost, are even more precious.
And your greatest mistake?
I feel I could have looked at the Master Sommelier credential as less of a title and more of a responsibility beyond my own professional realm.
How’s your work/life balance?
Living in Napa Valley means you’re still connected with wine luminaries at all the dance recitals and basketball games. Besides that, cooking with the family, and hot yoga and Pilates five times a week is a pretty good balance. Fly-fishing is what I will do a lot more of when the nest empties.
Which wine do you recommend most to friends?
I tell them to go deep(er) on sparkling wines from all over the world. I beg them to pair fizz with food, especially throughout multi-course meals. Sparkling wines are transformational, and the category really over-delivers in quality for the price.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
‘All you have is your honour’. That was from my former Windows on the World boss, mentor and friend, the great sommelier Kevin Zraly.