Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon for Wine Speak 2020.
Madeline Triffon is a legend in the world of Master Sommeliers and an icon in the field of skilled wine service.
We are blessed to have Madeline join Wine Speak 2020 and helm our seminar titled “Dream Big—Wine from A Different Perspective.”
Dream Big Darling is really about inspiring others. We therefore spend quite a bit of time finding professionals who will inspire. In the world of sommeliers, one of the truly inspirational “Hall of Fame” icons is Madeline Triffon of Southgate, Michigan. She passed the rigorous Master Sommelier exam in 1987, becoming the first female American Master (and becoming only the second female Master Sommelier in the world). She persevered through all of the challenges (especially in a then very male dominated fine dining industry) and rose to the very top of the profession through her hard work, true graciousness and genuine hospitality. She is and has been a TRUE inspiration & exemplary to the profession and I only hope you take the opportunity to hear the insights, wisdom and experiences from this legend which I believe will greatly inspire & help you moving forward.
Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with her to talk about her journey—and what inspires her most:
What was it about wine that first attracted you? It didn’t! I was hired as a sommelier in a French dining room because I had a good French accent, and I did the best I could to educate myself with the resources available to me so I could do a credible job.
Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?
Zelma Long and Jean-Pierre Moueix. I heard both of them speak, Zelma to a small room of trade people and Mr. Moueix at an early Wine Experience, to hundreds. They both did an extraordinary thing: they touched everyone in the room and covered their subject, using inclusive simple language. Wow.
Professionally what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry so much! Do your very best, and let it go, sleep peacefully. Don’t be quite so hard on yourself.
What values are important in our industry that need to be discussed more?
The joy of hard work, and how fulfilling service is! A lot of people speak “service”, and yet how often do you experience active eye contact and a responsive (not reactive) culture in restaurants? I see it more in humble places.
What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?
- Ridge Monte Bello at a vertical blind tasting against/with Chateau Latour. The winemaker and Robert Parker couldn’t pick them out 100%
- Ramey Chardonnay, and hearing David Ramey speak at length to the subject of making Chardonnay, in the early days of Ramey Cellars.
- Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet, 1984, 85, 86, 87. Stunning fruit.
What were a few wines from throughout the world and why?
- Recently, Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Riserva – perfect balance. This wine hides in plain sight.
- Mt. Etna Rosso and Bianco, various cuvees – thrilled at the prospect of watching Nerello Mascalese and Carricante flower in the years to come
- Prager Riesling, more than one cuvee – the nose alone was a revelation of Austrian Riesling.
- Dominique Lafon’s wine in the Maconnais – the mouthfeel is satin.
Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?
The colleagues I grew up with in the business – at the risk of forgetting someone, Claudia Tyagi, Evan Goldstein, Fran Kysela, Nunzio Alioto, Chuck Furuya, Tim Gaiser, Wayne Belding, Peter Granoff, Sally Mohr, Larry Stone, Brian Julyan – all master sommeliers today. What touches me deeply is how very different we all were and are, and how honest we were with each other in serving the same purposes. They taught me how ego can be parked in the interest of the greater good.
And, great servers have always inspired me! I learned service working alongside terrific career service professionals, wine was just my specific specialty in the dining room. I love recognizing a great server, just experienced one at a new Detroit restaurant. Her decisions and actions were based on the pure intent of exceeding my expectations and making me happy and comfortable. Bliss.