There’s something wonderful about the sound of wine being poured into a clean glass from just the right height.
It could be just before it’s perfectly paired with your dinner. It might be as soon as you get home, after a long workday, before you even take time to let the dogs out. Or it might be the start of a good time with friends.
For Melissa Monosoff, it’s a passion and part of the job.
“The most important thing for people to do is drink what they like,” she says. “But it's neat to see people who will read about a region or visit a region and want to try something new from there.”
That’s part of why this master sommelier doesn’t necessarily have go-to bottles of wine to recommend.
“I always drink something different,” she says.
Monosoff, 41, says she was the 17th woman to pass the master of sommelier test when she earned the designation in 2010, after she had spent time working in restaurants. The exam process is one that frequently takes multiple attempts.
“Ironically, it was the service aspect that held me up. I passed the tasting and the theory the first time,” she says. "I was always so nervous something would go wrong. It took three times to pass the service element, which is completely the opposite of everyone."
Though fewer than 20 women had the master certification before Monosoff earned hers, she says she believes there have been at least 16 more since.
“The increase of women just goes up and up every year,” she says. “That notion that it's a male-dominated thing is just a thing of the past; women work in restaurants just as much as men do, they’re drawn to wine just as much as men are.”
Monosoff moved to Dallas in 2012 and in 2013 started working at the court of master sommeliers, where she is now the director of education.
She knows her wine, but she isn’t swirling it in a glass and tasting all day. The East Dallas resident is also a competitive cyclist, and her latest focus of study is another kind of beverage: beer.
“The hilarious thing is even though my job is in the wine field, beer is my focus these days,” she says.
Monosoff learned about beer when she was developing the beverage program at a restaurant in Philadelphia. “Philadelphia is one of the top beer cities in America," she says. "When you’re developing a program for a restaurant, wine is important, of course, but you just can’t get away without having a good beer program. So I had to learn a lot quickly.”
She says she loves when wine pairs perfectly with a meal. But at that particular restaurant, there were a few dishes on the menu for which finding the right pairing was elusive.
“Long story short, we had a restaurant reviewer in from Esquire, and I was about to pour the wine," she says. "Then it just kind of dawned on me on what the right pairing was at that very moment. And it was not wine, it was beer.
“Just to have my mind open up to the idea that wine isn’t always the answer or the perfect pairing, that just blew my mind."
Monosoff is now a certified cicerone and is working on the advanced level of the beer sales and service certification.
The importance of her sommelier education will never be lost on her, though.
“The great sommeliers really listen to what the guests want and have to say,” she says. "Of course, they can intersect their opinions, but you have to remove yourself from the picture ... really be listening to things [customers] like.”
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For some of us, working with a sommelier can be awkward, especially when looking at a list and realizing the priority is suddenly the price tag.
“Most good sommeliers, and there are a lot of really good ones here in Dallas, should know how to deal with that because that is a very sensitive thing,” Monosoff says.
One method, she explains, is telling the sommelier that you like a certain type of wine, say a California pinot noir, then when looking at the list with him or her (and not the rest of the table), point to an appropriate price point for yourself and say, “Something like this.” You could be pointing to a price for a $50 German Riesling, but the sommelier will then help you find a wine that’s similar to a $50 California pinot.
“Don’t be afraid of your sommelier,” Monosoff says. “That idea of that snooty, stodgy guy in the tuxedo is a thing of the past. You’ve got cool people who want to help people drink great wine."