Young guns

Meet the new guard of twentysomething wine experts
By RUTH TOBIAS  |  October 30, 2006

Your average American oenophile, circa 1980: soon-to-be-dead white guy with Benjamins to burn on Bordeaux. Your average American oenophile today: actually, there’s no such thing. Demographics and statistics don’t seem to have much bearing on love for the grape these days. Thanks to both the dining public’s greater savvy and increasingly sexy marketing campaigns, wine has finally found real favor among much-younger drinkers.

Of course, the fact that some of these young imbibers go on to become young sommeliers and young wine retailers only adds to the appeal and comfort level of fledgling connoisseurs; hey, if they look like you and talk like you, they probably drink like you too. Well, except that they get to do it on and around the clock. Talk about a job perk.

Actually, glam perks, among other things, are exactly what we talked about with two of the city’s twentysomething wine wizards: wine director Matt Reiser of UpStairs on the Square (91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617.864.1933) and Kelly Coggins, associate of the Wine Bottega (341 Hanover Street, Boston, 617.227.6607) and  Adonna Imports (the importing and distributing company owned by Il Capriccio’s Jeannie Rogers). Read it and weep with jealousy (not to mention thirst).

Q: How did you get into the wine business? What is the defining moment of your career so far?
Kelly Coggins: I’ve been serious about wine for six years now. I fell in love with it when I started college [at the Culinary Institute of America]. Some friends and I got together at the end of the first week to have a small party; everyone brought a wine and a cheese. I still remember the first glass I had there — a Belinda NV prosecco. I started tasting everything I could, reading every book about wine I could find. For my 21st birthday, my parents paid for me to take the introductory test for the Court of Master Sommeliers. I passed and was certified a sommelier.

Then I moved to Boston to accept a job managing the Federalist. But, as you might expect, being a 21-year-old wine geek meant fighting an uphill battle with a clientele and a staff double my age. [Even now], being 24 and having a baby face are no great assets in the world of wine. I’ve fought hard to get where I am. I still get people asking me if I’m old enough to drink wine, let alone sell it. I guess they think I’m an idiot savant or just making up whatever I tell them.

Matt Reiser: For me, the defining moment was when I became a proud father of 2200 children — in the guise of bottles — from all around the world and at different stages of development. [UpStairs’s] prior wine director was moving on — and, unbeknownst to me, [owners Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes] were secretly grooming me for the position. I was utterly overwhelmed. But our chef at the time, Susan Regis [now of Pava], was my rock. She changed my life, gave me confidence. I guess I figured if Mary-Catherine, Deborah, and Susie thought I could do it, perhaps I could. And after a few get-to-know-you months in the wine cave, something just felt right about it. For once in my life, I didn’t have to question if this was for me. At the end of the day, there are people you can click with and those who “get” you — I happen to be lucky enough to have both. It’s a rich man’s headache.

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