To Be Or Not To Be … A Wine Sommelier

I read somewhere recently that one should be proud of one’s choices…and not necessarily one’s talents.


Because choices involve working hard, and the achievements that follow are worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears you put into it.

Let’s just say for a moment you are lucky enough to have a gift, if you work hard, that gift will pay off. Left to its own devices, the gift will wither.

Passion is a gift. To have passion for something is exhilarating, exciting, and so fulfilling.

I didn’t find my passion until I was in my late 30s. Actually, I have two: writing and wine.

Now…the writing is a solitary existence…but wine…that’s a different story…

At Somm Time, I am so often reminded how much I love working with people who are as passionate about wine as I am…but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with more passion for or knowledge of wine that my colleague Ciprian Toma. His knowledge is encyclopedic: every time I suggest a little-known wine from a tiny winery tucked away behind the fields somewhere in deepest, darkest Andalucia, he’ll say, “Oh I know that wine…”


Or some obscure Cabernet from Georgia that he had me taste, matured in clay kvevris…or…well the list goes on and on.

I feel so privileged to work with someone like Cip because I learn something every single time. His way of talking about wine opens my mind and my palate beyond my personal likes and he does that with all the guests who come through the door. “Spend a little time with the wine,” he’ll say to someone who may be on the fence about a brand new orange wine…or an all-natural trousseau from the Jura in Eastern France. “You will love it, I promise.”

And when Cip likes a wine…it is a rather grand performance, worthy of a Shakespearian play. He walks around, gesturing, gesticulating, shaking his head, pacing the room, looking up at the sky, throwing his arms in the air…and no words…at least not until the second sip.

Clearly, he is not the stiff, pompous sommelier who takes himself overly seriously, of which there are so many running around New York City. One I recently met reminded me of Lurch Addams. It is wine after all…not brain surgery. And wine is meant to be a celebration, so go ahead…enjoy it…the Cip way!

Originally from Transylvania in central Romania, he started life as a political journalist, followed by public relations, finally finding his way to New York City, where he started tasting wines, mostly Italian and discovered he had a “thing” for wine…certainly a nose, a palate and a passion that led to a sommellerie diploma.

I feel a certain camaraderie with Cip, and even though I don’t know him very well, I know enough to realize that he is a serious fellow with a keen sense of humor and we have alot in common respective to the roads we have traveled, switching around before we got to where we were meant to be.

Nonetheless, I have huge respect and admiration for someone who has realized what he loves and goes for it, full throttle.

Once you figure out what you love, it really lights up your life and it will make it easier to succeed.

And one last thing…Cip really loves the desert!


Of Avatars Past

New York…my city, my home, my sanctuary. It’s where I’ve lived since 1982. 36 years, the better part of my life.

One of the reasons I love it is because here, I can be who I want to be. It is here that I have reinvented myself time and time again: going from journalist to flamenco dancer to wine sommelier and now, a writer.

The transition from one avatar to the other was seamless, the various worlds not really intruding on one another: friends and acquaintances changed, vistas changed and just like the city, I moved on. Until this week…:

Within the span of a few days, I bumped into two people I knew and worked with at CBS News.

“Kim…the couple at Table 42 wants to talk to the sommelier,” someone said to me as I walked into the dining room.

I nodded and headed over. As I approached the table, I looked at the couple. Sitting on the banquette, he looked very familiar. Just before I approached, I looked in the computer to see who it was. ‘Bill Whitaker.’ Good Lord, I thought. Bill Whitaker used to be a correspondent for the CBS Evening News based in Los Angeles during my tenure there and now a correspondent for CBS News’s 60 Minutes.

As we discussed the merits of a Chassagne Montrachet over a Puligny Montrachet and which would be better with a whole grilled branzino, I wondered if I ought to tell him who I was.

“We’ll try the Puligny,” his wife acquiesced to my suggestion. At which point, I introduced myself.

“Mr. Whitaker, if you would permit me a personal comment,” I started, and told him who I was.

At first, he looked shocked. But then suddenly, he bounced out of his chair and gave me a huge hug. “Well!” he said. “I can’t believe it! Kim Akhtar!”

We talked for a few and caught up quickly as I asked him for a few headlines on people we both knew.

Later that night, I dropped my iphone and cracked the screen. The following day, standing in line at the Apple Store, a woman looked at me, cocked her head and mouthed, “Kim?”

I nodded eagerly.

“Pat Shevlin!” I squealed and ran over to give her a huge hug. “What a wonderful surprise.”

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine…what about you?”

“I’ve retired,” she said to me.

We talked for several minutes promising to have a reunion of sorts over the summer.

I walked out of the store and as I walked up Park Avenue, I got to wondering: I hadn’t seen Pat or Bill in over a decade and then suddenly I see them both within a week…and it really was wonderful to see them. Apart from all three of us looking older, in the short time we had together, we picked up from where we left off and brought our acquaintance into the present. And it was lovely to see them.

And that is what is amazing about New York…you just never know what’s around the corner…it could be a sliver of your past or a glimpse of your future.