Wine specialist's calling came as a message in a bottle

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Like a proud father gazing upon his children, Anthony Riker faces a wall of chardonnays, merlots and pinot grigios.

"Choosing your favorite type of wine is kind of like picking a favorite child," said Riker, a wine specialist at Whole Foods Market in Tenleytown responsible for selecting which bottles make it to the store's shelves.

In 2000, fresh after graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in international relations, Riker found work at a nonprofit organization. "It wasn't for me," he said, adding that he felt as if he were among a herd of cattle being driven on and off the Metro every day.

Riker's true passion lives in a bottle. During a semester abroad in Scotland in his junior year at Georgetown, Riker discovered he had a knack for identifying and tasting wines.

"You do have to train your senses," he said. "You sort of get a good idea of what particular region the grape is from."

Hobby became career about six years ago when Riker quit his downtown job and began working for a small wine distributor in Rockville, where he learned the ropes of the business.

During off-hours, Riker continued to perfect his wine-tasting abilities, reading books about the trade, and of course, trying as many new wines as he could.

"I would spend an hour or two in bookstores thumbing through wine books," said Riker. "And then you sort of pair up that textbook knowledge with what you actually retain through tasting."

Riker is now in his fifth year at Whole Foods. He deals with distributors and vendors, manages six pallets of wine a week, helps build in-store displays and has traveled to Italy, Chile, Argentina and California in search of that new flavor.

-- Eric Athas

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