Local Legend: Master Sommelier Alpana Singh



alpana Chicago is full of individuals who inspire, and that's never more true than in the city's food and wine scene. Today, we're chatting with a woman we've looked up to for quite awhile, Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier and proprietor of the soon-to-open The Boarding House in River North. She's the youngest woman ever to achieve the rank of Master Sommelier (she was in her early twenties, guys), and ever since she's been schooling wine appreciators and diners through Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and as the host of Check Please! on PBS. We'll let Alpana's accomplishments speak for themselves, but if you want to know more about this local legend, read on, and prepare to want a new BFF.

What do you love most about living in Chicago?
"Chicago is a true, global American city and there are so many things to love – our groundbreaking architecture, the arts and culture programs, our beautiful lakefront and parks, and the friendliness and charm of our residents…but, if I had to select my favorite aspect about living in Chicago, I would have to say the diversity of our dining scene. Whether you’re craving Latin, Asian, Italian, Eastern European, African, Indian...and everything in between, Chicago has something for everyone."

What kind of an impact has Chicago had on your professional goals?
I moved to Chicago from Northern California in 2000 to take on the wine program at Everest and the professionalism, skill, and talent level of my fellow sommeliers and wine professionals in this city immediately impressed me. They inspired me to strive to the next level and to work harder — the bar had been raised."

We have to ask, what is your favorite place to enjoy a glass of wine in Chicago?
"Anyone who lives in Chicago knows that you try to make the most of the warmer months as our winters can be long and brutal. There’s nothing like enjoying a refreshing glass of wine outdoors on a beautiful warm night in our city. I try to take advantage of patio dining or will bring a bottle (when allowed) to an outdoor concert or a picnic in the park. Sometimes, I’ll just go to my rooftop and enjoy the best of an endless summer night with a delicious rose or a slightly chilled lighter red such as Pinot Noir."

What basic wine tip is essential to know before dining out?
"Restaurants are getting better about posting their wine selections online and keeping the list updated. Just as you would peruse the menu, I would suggest scoping out the wine list to see if anything piques your interest. You can also take the opportunity to research the winery or learn more about the grape variety. Narrow it down to a few options; When you get to the restaurant select based on what you’re enjoying for dinner or what you and your fellow diners are most in the mood for."

What wine mistake should we all stop making, immediately?
"Stop saying you don’t know anything about wine. Whether it’s something that is sweet, dry, light, smooth, spicy, big, or bold - you know what you like and this is what matters most. Trust your palate, keep track of wines that you’ve really enjoyed – a good tip is to keep a record in your smartphone – and use them as examples to springboard newer experiences."

If we want to impress a friend with a great hostess gift, what bottle (or wine accessory) should we give her?
"I always say you can’t go wrong with a bottle of sparkling wine. For the occasional imbiber to the seasoned aficionado, a bottle of bubbly is always a welcome gift. Champagne is always nice, but for more budget friendly options, consider Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, or sparkling wine from California or the Pacific Northwest."

If we want to drink good wine, without spending a ton of money, what should we look for?
"To find a deal, point your compass south. Great values can be had with lesser known grape varietals that are indigenous to certain areas, especially southern regions. Examples include Carignan from Southern France, Primitivo or Nero d’Avola from Southern Italy, or Monastrell from Southern Spain. Southern hemisphere regions can also be chalk full of bargains such as Bonarda from Argentina or Chenin Blanc from South Africa. The road less travelled can yield some interesting results."


Photo: Galdones Photography