For sommelier Ami Opisso, the road to wine was not straightforward, but it did start on a wine trail.
The Mattituck native, who worked in advertising and marketing in New York and Chicago after school, discovered her love of wine in 2010 after moving back to the North Fork and going wine tasting.
“I sort of fell in love with North Fork again,” Opisso said. “That was my introduction to this area as a legitimate wine trail. There was a little wine made out here when I was growing up, but it was still kind of starting up.”
Opisso saw how the North Fork wine industry was helping to evolve the area culturally, with new restaurants and businesses.
“I decided that I wanted to figure out how I could pursue working in this industry,” Opisso said.
She started as the tasting room manager at Sherwood House Vineyards in 2010 and learned on the job. “I was organized, but that was about it!” she said.
She learned from then-Sherwood House winemaker Gilles Martin, who is now at Sparkling Pointe, and also worked with Russell Hearn at Premium Wine Group. Hearn is now the winemaker at Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane, where Opisso works as general manager.
Opisso got her sommelier certification at the Sommelier Society of America in Manhattan.
“I always tell people that it was like studying for the hardest college exam you’ve ever taken,” she said. “The sheer volume of information you had to know and retain”
Clearly, Opisso passed the test.
In this series, we’re sitting down with sommeliers working across the North Fork to pick their brains and hope our readers will absorb some of what they know.
What’s a beginner-friendly varietal?
I kind of started with chardonnay and think it’s so well-known and widely made. I think for a super beginner, the best approach if they want to learn just a tiny bit about wine is to show them the difference between an oak chardonnay and an unoaked chardonnay, and that often is very enlightening.
Talk about that difference.
People think of chardonnay as buttery, kind of vanilla. But what’s so mind-blowing to that is that chardonnay is actually not that flavor at all. What a winemaker does to the chardonnay makes that flavor. So it’s enlightening to taste an unoaked chardonnay, because it might taste like a pinot grigio or something totally different than what they would expect from a chardonnay.
What’s a varietal that is more challenging?
A wine that a beginner might not appreciate right away would be a bordeaux or a cabernet sauvignon, which need a good amount of aging potential before they become pleasing to someone’s palate. I think there are a lot of beginner wine drinkers that think if they go and buy a $120 bottle of California cab, this will be the best wine they’ve ever had and then they drink it and [are disappointed]. Because they don’t know what to expect, that the wine probably needs to go in the cellar for another 10 or 15 years and that those wines are made in a way that they’re supposed to be really structured and complex and oftentimes only consumed with a meal or something to balance it out.
What are the hallmarks of a good dessert wine?
I always say our ice wine is the unsung hero of our portfolio. It’s a fantastic wine, but most consumers dismiss dessert wines as sweet and one-dimensional and won’t give it a chance. There are many experts who believe that dessert wines are the best wines made. I think what’s particularly challenging is that there’s a good amount of sugar and sweetness to it. The winemaker needs to make sure that it’s not overwhelming.
How do you pair food and wine together?
There’s a saying: what grows with it goes with it. There was a big section on food pairings for my certification. What you learn is that a special regional dish almost naturally pairs well with the wines in that region. What’s great about Long Island duck, for example, is that we also grow cabernet franc out here. That’s the perfect pairing with duck. It’s light enough to work with duck but has that nice berry fruitiness and also a little pepperiness that complements the way duck is often prepared. If you want to impress a foodie with a regional dish and standout wine for the region, duck and cab franc is a great pick.