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People 2 minutes 03 May 2021

NY Sommelier Award 2021 Winner Miguel de Leon

A Q&A with Miguel de Leon, winner of the 2021 New York Sommelier Award presented by Wine Access

wine sommelier Sommelier Award

Congratulations to Miguel de Leon, the recipient of this year's New York Sommelier Award presented by Wine Access! When putting together the menu at MICHELIN Plate Pinch Chinese, de Leon chose a selection as intentional as it is affordable. Exciting, natural wines from surprising corners of the world form the bulk of the wine menu, with an entire section dedicated to female winemakers. He is equally active outside of the restaurant: his published works in food media cover critical topics such as climate change and wine, racism and equity in wine, and representation in wine. Here's de Leon on sushi paired with orange wine, charcuterie and Champagne, how traditional wine systems impact the environment. 

Variety of dishes at Pinch Chinese. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese
Variety of dishes at Pinch Chinese. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese

What are you drinking these days?
Right now in my fridge: fruity Italian pét-nat, crunchy Alpine white from the Savoie, eye-opening Riesling from California, and a flirty Pineau d'Aunis from the Loire. Not wine: cascara brew, homemade blood orange soda, cider that my friends made, and maple oat milk.

What’s your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
Lowbrow: Hawaiian Punch, ice cold. Highbrow: Proteau Ludlow Red, with a splash of sparkling water.

What’s the criteria for adding a new wine to your list?
One, it has to be good. Two, it has to speak well with our food. Three, and most importantly, it's humane. We can reckon with pricing and all other decisions but the wine has to be defensible at every turn before it gets to us. However indirectly, we have to be the one responsible for telling its story and representing it.

What's your favorite unexpected or surprising food and wine pairing?
Sushi and deep skin-contact orange wine aged in amphorae. So much umami, so little time...

Miguel de Leon. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese
Miguel de Leon. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese

What are your thoughts on natural wines?
I work almost exclusively with wines that would fit the perceived rubric of 'natural,' so I guess you can say I like them a lot! For us at Pinch, we want to amplify similar ideologies in our cuisine as some of the vineyard practices that produce flavors that celebrate natural cycles. We like saying that the wines on our list that are biodynamic are attuned to the lunar cycle that our Chinese cuisine has followed for over 5,000 years.

What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you’d like to dispel?
We know a lot but we don't know everything! There is way too much wine in the world for any one of us to have tasted it all. And if your perception of sommeliers is akin to that of car salespeople, then you've just met salespeople, not sommeliers. To be a sommelier is to understand that hospitality comes first.

What’s your ideal meal and wine to pair with it?
I'm a grazer, so a full charcuterie board picnic and Champagne or, to maximize nostalgia, a bowl of warm rice with curry pork katsu and a cool glass of syrah.

Pinch Chinese's xiaolongbao. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese
Pinch Chinese's xiaolongbao. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Pinch Chinese

What pandemic-era adaptations to wine service, restaurants, etc., do you want to see made permanent?
Speaking as someone who's devoted my whole life to service in New York City, seeing this much elbow room between tables isn't just refreshing, it's luxurious! I hope to see the continuation of takeaway drinks as part of a crucial lifeline to the success of restaurants and bars, and the ease of use of QR codes, to limit the use of paper and ink.

What wine industry or drinking trends do you see coming up?
Non-alcoholic versions of drinks, more boundary-pushing wines (both geopolitically and technically speaking), and single-serving portions.

Other goals for this year? 
I would like to emphasize more domestic wine, with a bigger emphasis on local wine (New York wine is not a trend!), and to address how our traditional wine systems impact the environment, from packaging to transport to recycling. Wine is a big system with lots of moving parts, and its future is incumbent on our acknowledgment of the fragile state of some of these parts.

Miguel de Leon. Photo by Michelin North America
Miguel de Leon. Photo by Michelin North America
Hero image. Miguel de Leon. Photo by Michelin North America
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Presented in partnership with Wine Access

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