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Chicago Somm Named 2016 Sommelier Of The Year

By John Lenart in Food on Mar 24, 2016 3:22PM

Rachael Lowe Photo Credit: Galdones Photography

Spiaggia sommelier and beverage director Rachael Lowe has been named one ofFood &Wine magazine's 2016 Sommeliers of the year.

Lowe was one of a dozen somms honored with the award.

“It is an amazing honor and beyond flattering to be recognized with such an amazing group of people. I am truly humbled,” says Lowe.

According to Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor at Food & Wine, the selection process for this honor is a rigorous one.

“We canvas nominations from a wide net of people in the restaurant and wine businesses; we also try to source the wine lists from every significant new opening around the country, and bring that into the mix; and we keep our eye on interesting, ambitious and ideally groundbreaking approaches to presenting wine in restaurants," he said. "Often—because there's so much talent out there—the key question is why now? Why this year for this person?"

This is far from Lowe's first award during her ten-year career as a sommelier—she won the 2010 Jean Banchet Best Sommelier award, among other honors. And when she took over the beverage program at Spiaggia in 2014, the restaurant was already in possession of an award winning wine list. So why Lowe now?

Isle explains: “We were impressed first by her reworking of the Spiaggia list—it's hard to take a wine program at a very well known, much loved restaurant that has always had a great wine program in the past, and re-envision it without losing the core identity of the restaurant. But also, we thought the emphasis she put on female winemakers and winery owners at Café Spiaggia was a wonderful direction to take."

"Wine has been very male-dominated in the past, but that's changing very quickly (particularly among the sommelier community, in fact) and to highlight that change is significant,” he added. That's well-deserved and high praise, coming from one of the country's leading wine journalists.

Tony Mantuano, chef/partner of Spiaggia, praised Lowe's role in his restaurant. “Rachael continues to teach all of us new things every day about wine, varietals and winemakers," he told Chicagoist. "I've tasted things I've never tasted before because of Rachael and what she contributes to Spiaggia. This award is such an honor, and such an incredible and deserved recognition. She can now cross this huge accomplishment off of her list as a Sommelier, and that makes all of us at Spiaggia very proud.”