Q&A with Master Sommelier Laura Maniec

master sommelier laura maniec at corkbuzz restaurant
Image from Corkbuzz website

Interview with Laura Maniec

I heard about CorkBuzz a few months ago when I first moved to Charlotte, NC. After drooling over every Instagram post, I signed up for a wine tasting class and booked a Valentine’s Day reservation in the same week – a four course meal with wine pairings (it was amazing).  My key takeaway from the Valentine’s Day meal was that this sparkling rosé is the most juicy, refreshing, yet dry sparkling wine I’ve had in a while.  It tastes like the color pink, but without the sweetness you might imagine.  10/10 recommend – check it out, forreal.  It’s only something like $20 a bottle, too.

Two days prior, however, I had my first CorkBuzz experience hosted by master sommelier and brains behind the restaurant and wine bar, Laura Maneic.  A summary post about the tasting (and a list of the wines so you too can compare Piedmont and Tuscany wines on your own) can be found here.

I didn’t know who Laura Maniec was when I signed up and once I googled her name, I immediately started fangirling.  At one point she was the youngest female master sommelier, and is still impressive simply by being one of the less than 15% female master sommeliers in the world. She’s appeared in the Netflix documentary series Somm (learn more here), and she now runs CorkBuzz in three locations: Charlotte, as well as Chelsea Market and Union Square in NYC.

I was beyond eager to get her insight about being a young female in the industry and tips on cultivating my own wine knowledge.

On gender disparity in the wine industry:

“I feel like people wanted me to have struggled [to make it as a woman in a male dominated industry], but I really didn’t,” Laura told me.  I was shocked, but of course pleased.  Laura explained that the numbers would make you believe that gender discrimination is strongly felt within the wine world, but in reality age discrimination is more likely to make other sommeliers doubt one’s competence.  No one belittled Laura for her opinion on wine because she was a woman, but rather older sommeliers were more likely to challenge her knowledge of wine because she was so young. 

That’s not to say the wine industry is entirely forgiving to gender and race – checkout last week’s podcast episode from Speaking Broadly by clicking here, featuring Cortney Burns, a black woman in the industry who calls out some pretty shocking behavior she has been subjected to while making a name for herself in the wine world.

On the negative side of the wine world:

“The excess,” Laura thought for a minute before coming up with her least favorite aspect about the wine industry.  Excess in wine can be seen in a variety of ways. There is a vast supply of lower quality wines that can be bought by anyone, anywhere that don’t showcase wine for what is can be.  Another form of excess could be seen by how people will drink wine quickly, rushing for another glass, and not even think about what they’re drinking or what went into it.

But there is a side to wine that only a rare few individuals get to witness first-hand.  Most people are aware of the extremely expensive and rare wines that are sold and bought by collectors for tens of thousands of dollars.  It would be assumed that these wines would be well maintained, aged, and consumed with focus and appreciation. 

This may be true for some, but unfortunately, there is such excess in the wine world that these bottles of wine are regularly drunk in such a casual manner – uncorked for no occasion at all, drunk late in the evening when the drinker is too buzzed to even taste it, and they’ll do it again tomorrow simply because they can.

On tips for getting started with studying wine:

Laura provided me with two crucial resources for getting involved and learning about wine, both of which I am presently looking into.

GuildSomm – a subscription membership service ($150/year) to give you access to information and forums with other oeneophiles and experts in the field

Tasting groups – whatever method you have of being able to join a tasting group, this is what is going to get your tasting skillset where it needs to be. CorkBuzz as well as many other wine bars (if you don’t live in Charlotte or NYC) are good places to start your hunt for a blind tasting group.  Granted, they can be hard to come by.

On what’s next:

Toying with the idea of a podcast, Laura wants to create a wine-focused podcast reminiscent of RadioLab.  Keep your eyes out!  (I’ll definitely be listening and posting about it if this dream of hers comes to fruition).

If you have a chance, I would definitely recommend hitting up CorkBuzz next time you have the opportunity – especially for a class hosted by Laura.  Her knowledgebase is insane and your jaw will drop when she starts talking details about the wines.  Share your experiences at CorkBuzz if you’ve gone, or your thoughts on the Speaking Broadly podcast linked above, or anything else(!) in the comments.

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