Full-Bodied With Unexpected Hints of Metal
ANDY MYERS APPROACHES A TABLE OF FOUR on a busy Saturday night at CityZen, the four-star restaurant in Washington's stylish Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
"How may I be of service with your wine list?" the 36-year-old sommelier asks the two couples, who look to be about his age.
"We have a cheese course next," one of the men says, "and want a wine to go with it. Maybe something a little bit jammy."
This is an easy one for Myers. "The Primitivo is a great way to go," he says, pointing out a $12-by-the-glass Quota 29 Primitivo. "It's one of the parent grapes of zinfandel, with blueberries and blackberries -- like zin but with lower alcohol."
The man nods at Myers, who is a picture of professionalism in a classy navy pinstripe suit, glasses, a salt-and-pepper goatee. He's got a black cloth draped smoothly across his forearm. You'd have to look closely to notice the silver skull cufflinks -- an anniversary gift from his wife, Erin -- and the edges of the tattoos on his wrists. His body art extends from his knees to his elbows, depicting, among other things, a demon head, Captain America and, on his butt, a blowing wind. Myers is probably the only sommelier in Washington with such an ink spread, not to mention a lifelong passion for heavy-metal music. Under his suit, he's wearing a black T-shirt printed with the name of a band called Goat Whore, which he describes as an "extremely heavy death-metal band" with a penchant for satanic lyrics. "I love them," he says.
As unlikely as it may seem, Myers also boasts an encyclopedic knowledge about and utter reverence for wine. He oversees the vast wine list at CityZen, where the six-course tasting menu runs $110 per person. He acquired the restaurant's most expensive bottle of wine last month: a 2005 Domaine Romanee-Conti. Myers acknowledges such a wine should probably age 20 more years "if I had my druthers." But, he adds, "It's of incredible scarcity. People will get this just to have the experience of drinking it." The $6,400 bottle of wine sold within a week. The next most expensive wine, when it's available, is a $2,600 1994 Chateau Petrus that Myers says sells out fast because "it's freakishly good."
Myers is one of just a handful of wine experts in the Washington area who are even close to becoming certified as master sommeliers -- a rarified status bestowed by the London-based Court of Master Sommeliers after years of study and a series of grueling exams. He's living proof that someone who adores a band called Pig Destroyer and whose favorite adjective is "awesome" can reliably detect notes of sage and black pepper in a pinot noir.
TEN YEARS AGO, ANDY MYERS HAD TASTED, BY HIS COUNT, MAYBE 12 WINES IN HIS LIFE. He was raised in Olney by parents who had wine on the table -- always German Riesling -- only on Christmas and Thanksgiving. "My folks are from West Virginia, the first generation to go to college," Myers explains. "My mom was a great cook, but fancy for us was, like, Hawaiian chicken." He adds that his father "always drank nice beers: Lowenbrau, Genesee Cream Ale. As a kid, I would get the beer for him, and I was allowed to have the first sip. He still credits himself for making me a sommelier."
Doug Wandell, Myers's best friend since the age of 7, describes their youth as "utterly mundane." In reaction to their suburban ennui, they embraced hard rock around fifth grade, when Def Leppard's "Pyromania" was released. "That was the record that totally changed my life," Myers says. "It was our best chance for rebellion ever." Wandell calls the album "a gateway drug."
They listened to Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC and Myers's most-beloved, Iron Maiden. He was 12 when he was allowed to see the band at Merriweather Post Pavilion with his older sister, Amy. It was his first show and "still one of the best concerts I've ever seen," he says. "It was just a perfect night."
He relates this story at Brasserie Beck, one of his favorite restaurants, while sipping Belgian beers. At this point, he's interrupted by the bartender.
"Excuse me, what show are you talking about, sir?"