The Master Sommelier Redefining Senior Living

Wine is a living liquid. Unlike distilled spirits, whose flavors are frozen at the moment of bottling, wine evolves. Tannins mellow and compounds mature, revealing layers of complexity. Like wisdom, a good bottle builds over time.

In the context of senior living, life’s pleasures continue to inspire at every age. Like a peak vintage, the lens of time should only add to the appreciation.

To curate an extensive collection of vintages that appeals to both seasoned palates and the occasional, “one glass with dinner” drinker, Coterie has partnered with Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji.

Kemiji’s expertise has been recognized throughout a career that spans decades. Not only is he one of a select group of wine experts globally to pass the arduous Master Sommelier exam—Kemiji did so on his first try. He has won numerous awards and was the wine and spirit director at Ritz-Carlton for over a decade.

He recently spoke with Coterie about his experience, his philosophy on selecting wines and wineries, and his excitement for new partnerships, like the one with the Coterie community.

Crafting a wine program, I imagine, is a bit like staring at a blank canvas. How do you go about creating a well-rounded menu when the options are seemingly endless?

 

You absolutely have to cater to the clientele you are consulting with. First, it’s learning about the philosophy of the client, then the food, then the demographic. Based on those elements, I can start putting something together. For Coterie, I understand that residents are likely wine-savvy and perhaps have traveled some in the past, so that goes into my consideration.

At the same time, this is their everyday place. This is their home. They should feel comfortable with the food and the drink of their home.

 

Is there a figure in your past, someone from a previous generation, who was instrumental in introducing you to this world?

 

Definitely. Darrell Corti. He’s in Sacramento and he runs the wine department for Corti Brothers, which is a family enterprise. It’s been a grocery business, I believe, since 1947 in Sacramento. Pound for pound, nobody knows more about food and wine than Darrell.

After I graduated, I went to work for Darrell for a year and that was probably the experience that taught me the most. It taught me my general philosophy behind choosing wineries: Look for people that wake up in the morning wanting to make a difference with their life. No matter where you go in the world, even if you go to an area that’s not particularly known for great wines, there’s always one man or one woman that does care about what they do and is passionate about what they do. That’s where you find those hidden gems.

Over your career, have you found that your palate has changed at all? Or do you evaluate wines in the same way as when you first fell in love with this field?

 

I think as you become more experienced you learn you have a greater, let’s say, library to go back into as far as judging the quality. When I first got into wine, it was all about California cabernet and chardonnay. As things progressed, I began to appreciate more subtlety. Somebody asked me not too long ago, “Where do your favorite wines come from?” Right off the bat I said Burgundy, Piedmont, and Priorat. Why those three? Well, because those wines speak to me more of a place than other wines. Even without being there, it’s a way to connect to those places.

Are you a believer in white or red wine benefits for health?

 

Yes. Some years ago I wrote an article for a wine magazine, and it gave me the chance to really investigate and delve into the different theories of wine and its benefits. There’s no doubt that, overall, wine is very beneficial to health. The main ailment in the United States is heart disease, while in western Europe, and especially in southern Europe, the incidence of heart disease is considerably lower. Some of that is attributable to not just diet but one of the principle factors in those diets, which is wine. Now, there’s no doubt that drinking too much is perilous to your health, but as with most things, moderation is the key.

Can you single out a specific bottle that Coterie residents should look out for, one they shouldn’t miss from your program?

 

Oh, yes. We have a Barbera from La Pineta, which is a producer in the Piedmont area, that is just a stunning wine. It embodies what I try to do with a wine list. It’s a wine from a small producer, not necessarily well-known, and a variety not necessarily well-known. It’s just a stunning wine of incredible quality.

Learn more about the Coterie dining experience.

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