The casual enjoyment of wine is a beautiful thing. Enjoying the occasional glass during happy hour or with a meal keeps you very much in the spirit of what wine drinking is all about, and the only real definition of a “good” wine is “a wine that you like to drink.”
That said, some wine enthusiasts develop a genuine fascination with this beverage and seek to amplify their love of wine by learning as much as they can about its history, its different grape varietals, its key regions, and its many, many flavor profiles. Kayla Mensah, a certified sommelier who currently serves as a Sales & Operations Associate at renowned Washington, D.C. natural wine store Domestique, counts herself among this number.
“I fell in love with wine while working my way through college in a nondescript town in North Carolina,” Kayla told us when we asked how her wine career began. “I did my best to escape the grasp of wine and only keep it as a hobby, but failed quite spectacularly.” In addition to the opportunity to expand her knowledge base and to grow her personal wine palate, Kayla says that her study of wine helped her realize the ways in which wine can (and should) create communities (and the ways in which wine education and wine appreciation needs to strive for inclusiveness): “In my time as a hobbyist, one thing I always noticed was the inaccessibility and the lack of diversity [in the wine industry]. To me, wine is the combination of everything that I love: science, art, history, and community. But the community aspect always seemed to be missing when I attended events. The language describing wine was exclusionary, unnecessarily complicated and, to be frank, extremely boring. I built my career to help change that.”
Read on for Kayla’s favorite wine selections of the moment, which lean heavily in a French and Italian direction and feature plenty of variety, ranging from tannic dinnertime reds to light and airy warm-weather whites.
Favorite Bottle of All Time: Luigi Tecce ‘Poliphemo’ Taurasi 2014 ($90)
In terms of her all-time favorite bottle of wine, Kayla opts for a hearty red from the Campania region of Italy, which delivers high-to-moderate tannins and a bold blend of dark fruit, chocolate, and tobacco flavor notes. The grape used to make this wine, Aglianico, has been planted in Italy since ancient times and makes a perfect match for rich Italian meat dishes, salty cheeses, and spices. “This [is] Aglianico at its best. Full stop,” Kayla says of Luigi Tecce “Poliphemo” Taurasi 2014.
Favorite Value Bottle: Domaine de la Pepiere ‘Les Briords’ Muscadet 2019 ($22)
When we asked Kayla for her favorite budget bottle of wine, she had a clear answer for us: “Domaine de la Pepiere ‘Les Briords’ Muscadet 2019”. Domaine de la Pepiere releases a new version of their “Les Briords” wine on an annual basis, and it’s an event highly anticipated by fans of Muscadet, a dry, crisp white wine closely associated with the Loire Valley region of France. This particular Muscadet is celebrated for its bright fruit flavors, its pronounced acidity, its bready undertones, and its clean finish. “This bottle is proof that big things can come in small (or inexpensive) packages. It’s full of minerality, finesse and so much citrusy and lees-y goodness,” Kayla insists.
Favorite Bottle To Bring To A Party: Mosse ‘Moussamoussettes’ Pét-Nat ($23)
“I’m a huge fan of pét-nats for parties. Bubbly enough to be celebratory, and playful enough not to be taken too seriously!” Kayla raves about pétillant naturel (“pé-nat” for short), a very on-trend style of naturally-sparkling wine. Her specific recommendation? Mosse ‘Moussamoussettes’ Pét-Nat, a natural sparkling rosé made with a mixture of Grolleau Gris, Gamay, and Cabernet grapes. It’s a spring-perfect sparkler bursting with red berry notes, minerality, and just a hint of organic funk.
Favorite Bottle To Pair With Food: Vigneti Massa Derthona Timorasso 2017 ($35)
Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, Vigneti Massa Derthona Timorasso distinguishes itself as a white wine with more than enough texture and stage presence to work as a versatile “food wine”. Kayla tells us that “it’s weighty, floral, and [it’s] one of my favorite things to pair with Ghanaian food. It’s perfect with peanut soup, smoked fish and fufu.”
Favorite Seasonal Bottle For Spring: Ronchi di Cialla Friulano ($23)
Packed with flavors like pear, peach, and fresh herbs, this Italian white also benefits from a very floral bouquet, which drives home its status as an excellent wine choice for spring. “‘Ronchi di Cialla Friulano] is a beautifully-round white wine from Northern Italy. To me, it tastes like spring in a bottle,” says Kayla.
Taylor Tobin is a Brooklyn-based food, beverage, and lifestyle journalist with bylines at HuffPost, Insider, Wine Enthusiast, Observer, and Chilled Magazine, among others. When she isn’t eating, drinking, or writing, she enjoys riding her bike, hanging out with her dog Marty, and watching reality shows (the sillier, the better!). Twitter: @teetobes. Instagram: @tee_tobes