Miami native Lauren Samson graduated from Florida International University with a business major and a minor in hospitality. She started at The Blind Monk in West Palm Beach in 2013 and gradually worked her way up to wine director and sommelier. PBI recently caught up with her to discuss her background and thoughts on curating a beverage program.
PBI: Did you grow up in a wine-drinking family?
Samson: Not at all! Having a bottle of wine on the table was rare in my house. But when I was at FIU, I took a course called “Culture of Wine” taught by Bill Hebrank. I was amazed at his background and passion, at how widely he had traveled, and I was fascinated to learn about all the complexities that go into creating a bottle of wine. It was a turning point for me.
What’s your favorite wine region?
I’m obsessed with Greece because all the grape varieties are indigenous. There’s very little Chardonnay or Cabernet grown there, but the wines are amazing. Assyrtiko is one of my favorites; it’s a white wine booming with acidity and minerals, and you can almost taste the ocean when you sip it. Greece is just coming of age right now, so the emphasis is on value.
The Blind Monk is a small restaurant with a limited menu. Is that a challenge for wine pairing?
Not really. We do have a menu that changes with the seasons, and we offer a variety of tapas in addition to cheeses and charcuterie. Right now, we’re offering dishes such as yucca gnocchi, roasted cauliflower with Manchego cream, and a watermelon banh mi—items that go very well with unsung wines such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Our goal is to have wines that are high in acidity and food-friendly.
What’s the role of the cocktail or aperitif in opening the appetite?
We only serve beer and wine, but we’re developing a low-alcohol cocktail list around items such as Lillet, Manzanilla Sherry, and Cappelletti (similar to Aperol). They’re refreshing, aromatic, balanced, and perfect for the Florida climate. Unlike distilled spirits, you can start your evening with one of those and still be able to appreciate wine.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a female sommelier?
The wine industry has been male dominated for quite a while, and women only entered the work force recently. I think many customers perceive male sommeliers differently; when you see a man in a nice suit who seems to have an air of authority, you tend to trust him.
Things are turning around, though, and guests are more inclined to support women and minorities. There’s a theory that women are better tasters, which may or may not be true, but I think we tend to have a more complex way of thinking about wine.
What’s your philosophy of hospitality?
We try to hold to the highest standards of service, even though the restaurant is upscale casual. We want you to feel welcomed and relaxed. We’re not pretentious, but we’re here to help and direct you if that’s what you want.