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Michael Madrigale Discusses His No-Frills Approach to Tasting

The former Bar Boulud wine director always asks himself two key questions when evaluating wine

Michael Madrigale
Michael Madrigale.

In the SevenFifty Daily Supertasters video series, we choose the wines, then challenge some of the industry’s best palates to blind tastings in an effort to glean their extraordinary techniques.

Michael Madrigale is a sommelier and a partner in Grande Cuvée, an online sommelier service and app for consumers purchasing wine. He began his career in wine as a sales rep for importers. While he’s received many accolades, including America’s Best Blind Palate and more than one Sommelier of the Year title, he is perhaps best known for his role as the wine director at the Dinex Group’s Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud in New York City, where he worked under the tutelage of Daniel Boulud for eight years.

Madrigale takes pride in being a lover of good wine—no matter what it costs. “That mantra has been my guiding force for my entire professional career,” he says, “and it has taken me many places and given me great opportunities.” He is also a husband and the father of one-year-old twins, who, he says, make him smile every minute of the day. 

After shooting our Supertasters video with Madrigale, SevenFifty Daily spoke with him about his philosophy as a sommelier, his go-to wines—and beer—and Grand Cuvée’s e-commerce app.

SevenFifty Daily: What was the epiphany that got you interested in wine—or made you want to become a sommelier?

Michael Madrigale: It was at a cocktail party in StuyTown [Stuyvesant Town, a residential development in New York City] when I was 22. After finding myself bored with the attendees, I went over to the dining-room table, which was groaning from the weight of all the alcohol, and starting tasting the wines. They were all bad, but they had different names and stick-on price tags, and I immediately became curious about the differences. That experience set me off on the road to learning about wine.

What’s your philosophy as a sommelier?

When I evaluate wine, I always ask myself two questions: Is the wine good? Does it have a distinct expression? For me, neither the price of the wine nor the dogma that the winemaker adheres to makes a difference—my focus is on the quality and characteristics I detect when tasting.

What do you love most about your job?

The excitement of being an entrepreneur and all that goes with it, such as not being tethered to a restaurant or a desk 24/7. I also like having the opportunity to create something out of thin air and seeing it generate interest and revenue. And now that I’m no longer working nights on the floor, I’m enjoying being home to put my twins to bed every evening. 

What go-to bottle of wine—or other drink—are you most likely to open on a night off?

If it’s wine, it’s always white—something like Santorini or Fiano or Chablis. Otherwise, it’s a very, very cold pilsner-style beer, like Jever, which is my favorite beer of all time.

If you had to guess, about how many wines would you say you’ve blind-tasted and formally evaluated for professional purposes?

Easily in the tens of thousands. 

What was your most memorable blind tasting—good or bad?

It was when I won the America’s Best Blind Palate competition at Del Posto during the New York Food and Wine Fest in October 2010. It was a single-elimination tournament with 50 competitors and seven rounds of blind tasting. In the final round, I beat out Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey. I entered the contest on a whim, and after bull’s-eyeing the final wine—a 1999 Auguste Clape Cornas—I became the winner. It was surreal.

How does blind tasting help wine professionals better understand wine?

For me, it helps me focus on every detail of the wine. It’s like turning off all the sounds and distractions when I don’t know what a wine is.  

Do you apply any of the skills you’ve learned from blind tasting in your day-to-day work as a wine professional?

Again, I draw on that level of focus that I’ve learned from blind tasting. 

What’s your number one piece of advice for people who want to improve their blind-tasting skills?

Drink more wine! Also, trust your own palate. Group tasting, and the “group think” that comes along with it, can sometimes take you off your game. 

What’s been your most memorable wine experience?

Sneaking a bottle of ’85 DRC Montrachet to the top of the Eiffel Tower and drinking it. 

Tell us about Grande Cuvée.

Grande Cuvée offers consumers a sommelier-curated wine delivery service through a  location-based app that tells users what the best wines are in their local market. We literally review every wine at all the greatest shops throughout New York City and select the absolute best wines at the best prices, thus simplifying the buying experience for our users.

There are more than 500,000 different wines on the U.S. market today, and when shoppers are faced with hundreds of wines in a store—or thousands online—it can make the buying experience overwhelming. With Grande Cuvée, you just put in your location and swipe, and we give you a short list of just the very best wines and prices, along with short reviews. Then you can purchase the wines you want and get them delivered to your doorstep in as quick as an hour. It’s really an invaluable tool; plus, it’s easy to use and it’s free.

At press time, Grande Cuvée services northern Brooklyn and Long Island City with selections from 10 retail shops. Total coverage in New York City is coming soon, with select U.S. cities and selections from additional retail shops to follow.

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