MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 1 minute 07 November 2023

Alex Ring of Sepia is the MICHELIN Guide Chicago 2023 Sommelier Award Winner

The wine list at this One Star offers guests a crash-course on terroir and history.

wine Editor's Pick Sommelier Award Bib Gourmand Chicago

Congratulations to Alex Ring of One Star Sepia, the MICHELIN Guide Chicago 2023 Sommelier Award Winner, sponsored by Wine Access!

Besides stunning dishes like their floral-inspired Tête de Moine cheese course, Sepia is also home to a delicious menu of American hits filled with global influences, and an ever-changing roster of featured wines. 

The menu comes from chef Andrew Zimmerman’s culinary chaps, and takes inspiration from Southeast Asian, Korean, and Mediterranean cuisines. The wine list, on the other hand, is all thanks to Ring. With more than a decade of experience as a sommelier, the award winner's criteria for adding new wines revolve around supporting small businesses and good farming practices, and highlighting risk takers with big ideas. Cheers!

How were you introduced to the world of wine?

I was a server at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago right out of college, and the lobby had a wine bar with a big tome of a list. I was amazed by the older career servers who sold great wine and put on a great show doing it. I was fascinated by both the depth of knowledge required, and the sheer enthusiasm needed to bring it to life, so I dove in!

How has your relationship with wine changed?

I'm drinking less these days, and I'm feeling great! I'm sleeping better, and I feel like my palate is sharper. Plus, drinking less means I can afford to drink better.

What are you drinking these days?

I love Chardonnay. Chablis is great, and lately I've been really impressed with new-wave California producers making balanced wines that are neither too flabby nor too screechy. I also take every chance I get to drink and learn about sake.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink?

I've gotten really into oolong tea over the past few years. I'm still a neophyte (can't be a nerd about everything!), but I love the range of flavor profiles and aromatics in oolong. My afternoon tea routine before service really centers me.

What’s your ideal meal and pairing?

A parade of sushi, paired with a parade of sake and Champagne. The more the better!

Kinship Company/Sepia
Kinship Company/Sepia

What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general?

I find that one of the biggest misconceptions people have about wine is that you need to have a naturally sharp palate. I really think that with practice and an open mind, anyone can unlock its mysteries. Developing your own personal language to describe what you're tasting and smelling is tough at first, but it's one of wine's greatest joys, especially when you can share the experience with friends.

What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list?

There are so many good wines these days! Within a given category, there could be 5, 10, even 20 different bottles that could make it onto one of my lists. Good farming practices are an important factor, but at the end of the day, wine is just as much about people as it is grapes. I want a wine on my list to help me and my guests form personal connections, support small businesses, and highlight risk takers with big ideas.

Favorite wine-related film, book, magazine, etc?

I love Noble Rot magazine, a publication released by a great wine bar of the same name in London. The writing is so sharp, and they write from a perspective that really accounts for the whole world of wine. I've never been to one of their spots, but it'll be my first stop next time I make it across the pond.

Kinship Company/Sepia
Kinship Company/Sepia

Hero image: Courtesy of Sepia

MICHELIN Guide Ceremony

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