Amy Thurmond is the Head Sommelier and Wine Buyer for Leuca Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. Additionally, she serves as the New York ambassador for Conegliano Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. We spoke with her about her recent trip to Conegliano Valdobiaddene, her advice for young somms and other beverage professionals, and why she is so fond of Prosecco Superiore.
Tell us a little bit about how you first got interested in wine. How did you get your start in the industry?
I began working in the restaurant industry in New York City in 2012, as a waitress at Jackson Hole Diner on the Upper East Side. After a year at the diner, I began working at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, and that is truly what sparked my interest and passion in wine and this industry. Spice Market’s wine list was diverse and international, and had a lot of the benchmark wines from each region. It was there that I took an interest in wine and began making weekly trips to Chelsea Wine Vault to buy wine to drink at home. After working for a few years at Spice Market, I made the transition to Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant, Little Park. I began learning mixology and craft cocktail bartending from a mentor and friend, Anne Robinson. I also attended the Noho Wine and Spirits College that master sommelier Josh Nadel teaches. After that class I knew that I wanted to be a sommelier and learn as much about wine as I could.
In addition to being a Somm, you have a lot of experience in mixology and working behind a bar. Do any of those skills or experiences inform the work you do today as a Sommelier?
Bartending gave me a greater awareness of my palate. When I began learning to craft a cocktail I had to refine my palate. Crafting a drink you have to think about the essential components of the drink—acid, sweetness, bitterness. Those components are often in wine as well, and so bartending fine tuned my palate. I think as a beverage professional, it is always important to continue learning and educating oneself. Starting as a bartender and moving on to the floor to sell wine makes me well rounded. I’m always interested in learning more about spirits as well as wine and I have a deep respect for bartenders.
What one experience would you share from your recent trip to Conegliano Valdobiaddene that speaks to the character of the region?
First of all, the region is so breathtaking that I cannot go without mentioning that. My favorite experiences with visiting the region often include standing out looking out at the vines, because the region’s beauty speaks for itself. The steep slopes immediately convey the ‘heroic’ viticulture that happens there, and it is something that has to be seen. However, my favorite memories are in a place called Osteria Al Castelletto, a tiny trattoria where the Nonna always sits at the front table and the girarrosto is always aflame. Everything is comforting yet chic—from the ceramic painted bowls that the warm pasta is served in to the fresh hydrangeas that adorn the countertops. Drinking a bottle of still Glera Prosecco Superiore with a bowl of artichoke spaghetti was probably the highlight of my last visit.
In the competitive world of sparkling wine, why are you pro- Prosecco Superiore?
I think Prosecco Superiore is a great option for consumers—nowadays consumers are looking for high quality wines that won’t cost an arm and a leg. The Prosecco Superiore wines offer that, especially the Rive wines that are single vineyard. They show off the beautiful minerality and terroir that the DOCG is able to achieve, while still being incredibly affordable. Also, I think more and more consumers are drinking sparkling for the everyday as opposed to the celebration. Prosecco Superiore is wine that is easygoing yet still delicious, and can be wonderful for the backyard barbecue or the special occasion. One of my favorite DOCG pairings is Cartizze with spicy seafood dishes. In particular, my restaurant, Leuca, serves a spaghetti with clams and Calabrian chili, and the fruitiness of the wine really offsets the spice. I also am fond of red meat with the Extra Dry category, which has enough backbone and weight to stand up to proteins like lamb or pork.
What would you say is your most controversial wine opinion?
I think my most controversial wine opinion would be that I would rather have a guest come in and drink a $50 bottle of wine that they know nothing about, and become educated about that wine, than a guest spend $1000 on a bottle that they know everything about and select the bottle for the prestigious name. There are so many lovely producers out there that are smaller and making well crafted, interesting wines that I feel consumers should know about. The wine list at my restaurant is all Italian and leans towards mostly Southern Italy, which can be tricky because of its foreign nature to US consumers. Wine can be very intimidating, and I understand that people like to stay in the places that they are familiar with and make them feel safe. I believe it’s my job to try and expand guests’ horizons in a way that makes them feel heard and seen but also gets them to try something new and exciting.
Do you have an all time favorite wine or region?
I always dislike trying to chose a favorite because what I love to drink depends heavily on my mood and what I’m eating. For example, if it’s wintertime and I’m eating roast chicken, I want Gamay from Fleurie or Morgon. If it’s summertime and fish is on the menu, I love the whites of Campania or a white Burgundy. I think sparkling, in particular Prosecco Superiore, has lots of flexibility when it comes to pairing. I often enjoy it in my backyard with a cheese plate, but also love it paired with dessert. I do find myself coming back to Nebbiolo again and again, because of its versatility and complexity.
What advice would you give to people just starting out as a Somm?
My best advice to a new sommelier just starting out would be to be voracious in your learning. When I was starting off, it felt intimidating to have to learn so much, but I set aside a little bit of time to study each day, and I continue to push my knowledge constantly. The learning and sharing your knowledge is the best part of the job, so savor that. Taste as much as you can get your hands on. We’re lucky that we live in a time where wine can be delivered and more and more wine stores are carrying smaller family producers. If you have the privilege to visit wineries or wine regions, do so. My knowledge has best been cemented by physical memories of wine regions. It gives you an understanding that books cannot. My trip to the Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a perfect example of this—seeing the Rives or hamlets in person with their steep slopes, you get a sense of how this intense terroir influences the wine for the better.