Wine had always been something Savannah Finney enjoyed, a glass of cabernet or pinot noir complementing her dinner.
But now? She and her fiance study regional variations, growing conditions, grape varieties - and they’ve expanded their palates to other types of French wines, not to mention Italian and Argentinian varieties. They’re even trying some whites - till now, never particularly their favorite.
But the South End couple didn’t expand their knowledge of wine through classes or books or even simple research. Instead, they hired a personal sommelier to come to their home to do tastings and instructional sessions.
“Some people are passionate about food, we’re passionate about wine,’’ said Finney, who works in business development for a small security company. “At this point, it’s more of an experimental thing, something we like to continue to learn about.’’
Few of us have the means to own a yacht, stay at the finest hotels the world over, or have an array of personal assistants. But some can, if they so choose, afford a personal sommelier for a few hours of wine instruction. Turns out, it’s one of the wine industry’s little-known but gradually growing services.
“It’s really for anybody who wants to further their knowledge but doesn’t want to do it in a classroom setting,’’ said Michael Meagher, New England luxury account manager for the Heirloom Wine Group, who also serves as a personal sommelier in various capacities through his Medford-based company, Sommelier On Demand. “Wine can be intimidating. The home is where you feel safest.’’
Services start at around a couple hundred dollars (depending on an instructor’s credentials and expertise). A sommelier will visit a home to consult on anything from cultivating a wine collection - from just a few bottles to a full, custom-built cellar - to the best wine and food pairings for an upcoming party. In other cases, they make themselves available for an event or dinner, to help guests pick the proper Burgundy, riesling, or pinot noir to go with their dish, to give presentations, or to pour and answer questions.
While the whole personal sommelier concept can sound like something suited for the 1 percent, it appeals to all manner of wine lovers.
Finney, for her part, hired Meagher initially for private wine tastings (or “date nights’’) for her and her husband-to-be, Henry Helgeson. Eventually, the couple branched out to hosting small gatherings with a handful of couples and tastings of eight to 10 varieties of wine.
“It’s a great excuse to get friends together,’’ said Finney, adding that a home wine tasting is both entertaining and instructive. “It’s history, geography, a great conversation piece.’’
And it needn’t be intimidating. As Boston Sommelier Society director Nick Daddona noted, the image of a sommelier as a snooty, dogmatic wine snob just isn’t accurate.
“Wine is something that needs to be enjoyed without pretension,’’ said Daddona, who is also the general manager and wine director of Les Zygomates. In hiring a sommelier, he said, you’re getting “somebody that’s really going to be there to add to the event you’re having.’’
Meagher, for his part, who is founder of the Boston Sommelier Society, has presided over informal tastings for small groups of couples, as well as bachelor and bachelorette parties, and has also done more intensive events for families traveling abroad and looking to become acquainted with the local vintages.
As he explained, the experience can be as simple or as complex as a client wants: Some are newbies just looking for a primer on what, exactly, distinguishes different types of wine, what grapes they’re made from, and where they’re produced; some are connoisseurs looking to explore Burgundy down to the village level. (Or they might just want to host a laid-back affair pairing wine with Chinese takeout. Yes, it can be done.)
“People are becoming more comfortable in bringing sommeliers out of the restaurant,’’ said Meagher. “We’re becoming more European in that we’re starting to understand wine. It’s not so much a luxury anymore as it is a lifestyle.’’