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Q&A with Missa Capozzo

I’d like to introduce Missa Capozzo, Wine Educator and Sommelier. She has hosted many events in the past and hosted one with us at Rhythm Studio in November. Everyone had such an amazing experience with her I thought it would be a great opportunity to interview her!

So, how did she get started as a sommelier? Here’s everything Missa wanted to let us know! I came from an entirely different industry. I was in the fitness industry for almost two decades, owned a fitness studio for several of those years. In 2010, I was in a terrible diving accident and
broke my neck. Against all odds, I survived and made a miraculous recovery. During my recovery, however, I took some time to reassess my life. As much as I loved my studio and fitness in general, it consumed so much of my life, it was hard on my body, and it was just something I realized I didn’t want to do forever. Within a year of the accident, I decided to close my studio and find a new passion to create a career around. It took a few years to figure it all out, but one random winter evening I was relaxing by the fireplace with a glass of Justin Cab in my glass. I looked down at my glass and said out loud, “There has GOT to be a way I can make money sipping wine.” Half joking, I immediately took to Google and typed in “wine jobs Massachusetts” to see what was out there, Sure enough, I found a couple of jobs that required no experience where I could learn on the job. I immediately applied and got both jobs. One position was selling wine, the other was for a local winery pouring samples and promoting wine in retail outlets, fairs, and festivals. I absolutely fell in love with the industry and found myself yearning to learn more. I quickly became the company’s top salesperson in the entire nation, and decided this was it, my new passion. Within a year I took my first class with the Court of Master Sommeliers in Manhattan, and the rest is history!

How extensive was the training you had to complete?

When you decide to begin an educational journey in the world of wine, it never really ends. I’m ten years into my wine career and I am still furthering my education with specialty certifications (I’m currently pursuing the Master of Champagne certification, for instance). Depending on how deep you wish to go, one’s training can be just one or two of the major certifications, or it can be decades in the making. Becoming a certified Sommelier or Wine Educator does involve very
extensive training and a large degree of discipline, as a lot of it will require self-study.

What is your favorite part about your job when presenting?

I absolutely love seeing the look on my students’ faces when I see the lightbulb go off in their heads when walking them through demonstrations on wine and food pairing. I know at that moment; I have changed their lives forever when it comes to dining and drinking wine. Nothing brings me more joy when I mingle with my class, only to be told they learned more in my session than they have ever learned at a winery or wine tasting before. I then know I have opened an entire world for them to enjoy in a whole new way.

What steps or titles (if any) are there before becoming an official somm?

Even though there are many highly regarded certifications available, you technically don’t need any of them to be hired at any establishment with the title “sommelier.” Anyone can work as a somm with or without a certification. There are a variety of certification agencies and levels of certification. Sommeliers are very service based and typically work for upscale restaurants with extensive wine programs. The Court of Master Sommeliers is the most recognized sommelier certification agency in the world, offering four levels of certification: introductory, certified, advanced, and master. There have only been 273 Master Sommeliers in the entire world to earn the title since it was established in 1969. This is a brutally difficult and extensive title to achieve that takes many years and nothing short of an obsession. Other highly regarded certification agencies include the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust), which also offers four levels of certification (Levels 1, 2, 3 Advanced, and Diploma.) Once you achieve the Level 4 Diploma, you may be invited to become a Master of Wine (MW). Today, there are 416 Masters of Wine. Equally as difficult as the Court of Master Sommeliers,
the education is slightly different with the WSET, as it is more education based, whereas the Court is more service based. With intentions of being a wine educator and not wanting to work in the restaurant industry, my path began with the Court, but I continued on my advanced certifications with the WSET. The Society of Wine Educators is another highly regarded wine certification agency, offering the
Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS), Certified Wine Educator (CWE), and Certified Spirits Educator (CSE). Specialty certifications can be completed from a variety of accredited agencies and schools. Notably, the Wine Scholar Guild offers wonderful certification programs that dive very deep into a variety of regions. The WSG offers the French Wine Scholar (FWS), Italian Wine Scholar (IWS), Spanish Wine Scholar (SWS), and a variety of specialty certifications for regions, such as Master of Champagne, Master of Burgundy, Master of Bordeaux, and so on. Having certifications from every agency mentioned above, I typically suggest wine enthusiasts wanting to begin their education journey start with the WSET levels 1 and 2, then go from there. If they want to be educated without an emphasis on restaurant service, proceed with the CSW followed by the WSET3. If they wish to work toward the service based restaurant industry, pursue with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

What is the hardest part of being a sommelier? Easiest?

Preparing for and passing the exams is a lot. There is so much you are expected to know and be tested on. To me, that is the hardest part. In addition, the wine industry, and sommeliers in general, tends to be a “boys club”. Although women are making their mark in the industry, it has been a battle to get there with equal opportunity and respect. This is something I see changing before my eyes, thank goodness, but we still have a way to go.

The easiest part, for me anyway, is being in the field talking to the wine loving public, furthering their knowledge, and helping them make selections and decisions that will create wonderful experiences and memories. I don’t know a single somm who has gotten into this industry without an immense passion for wine, and it’s just wonderful being able to share that passion with others.

What is your favorite wine and food pairing?

That’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is. There are so many wonderful pairings! Some of my favorite pairings include Indian cuisine with an off-dry Riesling, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and pizza, a deep, jammy Lodi Zinfandel with dark chocolate raspberry Milano cookies, and Champagne with literally anything.

Did you always like wine?

My first sip of wine ever was Dom Perignon when I was 14 years old. I fell in LOVE! Of course I did, it was Dom! Although when I became legal drinking age and started drinking wine regularly, I began where many 21 year olds begin… with the inexpensive, sweet stuff. White Zin, Moscato, and sweeter styles of Riesling were my go-to wines back then. Over the years through my 20’s and 30’s as I grew older, my palate evolved to more serious wines.

Did it take a while for your palate to pick up on certain things or did you always have a gift for it?

Developing one’s palate is a skill that rarely comes naturally to someone, although I have met people that are naturally in tune with the nuances of wine. For me, it was a skill I had to develop, which meant lots of practice.

When tasting wine, what are the most important things to look for?

Is this wine enjoyable to you? That’s the most important thing to look for. It doesn’t matter what the price tag, the flavor profile, the complexity, or even the balance. If this wine is enjoyable to you, that is the only thing that matters.

Can you really be allergic to tannins?

Yes, there are some people who have sensitivities or allergies to tannins, although not super common. Tannins appear in many things other than wine, so anyone who has a tannin allergy would experience symptoms when consuming black coffee, tea, and even dark chocolate, some fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Does the glass size/shape matter?

More than you can imagine. I never put too much weight into this theory other than white wine vs. red wine glasses until I attended a workshop with Maximilian Riedel, current CEO of Riedel crystal. Riedel creates varietally specific glasses, so during this workshop, we experimented with glasses made specifically for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and standard glasses made for general white wine consumption. To say my mind was blown is an understatement. I truly could not believe how each glass’s specific shape and design truly brought out the nuances of the grape varietal it was created for more than any of the other glasses. It was one of the greatest workshops of my entire career.

Does the temperature of wine really make a difference?

Temperature is extremely important and can have a dramatic effect on how the wine tastes and is perceived. A wine served too cold than its ideal serving temperature can be perceived as bitter or highly acidic with muted fruit. A wine served too warm can be perceived as bitter and accentuate the alcohol. The proper temperature of the wine being served will bring out aroma, body, and flavor perfectly. Generally speaking, you want to serve red wines slightly cooler than room temperature, between 62–68 degrees F and white wines slightly warmer than refrigerator temperature, between 49-55 degrees F. Also as a general rule, sweeter wines can be served cooler than drier wines.

In your opinion, what is the most underrated wine, and why?

Not a specific wine, but a region of wine, I wholeheartedly believe the wines coming out of New England are incredibly underrated. When you talk about world renowned wine regions, no one would dare mention New England. We’re certainly not California or France. Having visited 65 New England and Finger Lakes region wineries in 2023 alone, I can say with great confidence that the wineries in New England are producing top notch wines I would put up there with the
gems coming out of the Finger Lakes region in NY any day of the week. New England may have difficulty growing grapes, but the winemaking talent here is exceptional. Many New England wineries will source their grapes from CA, Chile, South Africa, and other regions around the world, taking the difficult growing environment out of the equation, and make exceptional wines with these grapes from around the world. There was a time when the term “local wine” was
somewhat of a turnoff, people assuming it was nothing but sweet fruit wines. These days, that couldn’t be further from the truth. High quality, fine grape wines are coming out of our very own wineries here in each New England state. We are very fortunate to witness the growth of our own wine region.