Many people in Wilton savor wine, rotating seasonal varieties throughout the year; few take it to an exceptional level. But it just may be your next door neighbor that works as an executive coach by day, and spends his off-hours as the local wine expert at Ancona’s teaching customers about the intricacies of a fine Syrah. That’s the case with Wilton resident Dr. Michael Crystal, who has turned his learned passion for wines into something he loves to share with others.
Crystal’s expertise in wine is born of passion and his signature curiosity. His commitment to learning and sharing his knowledge with others is characteristic of both his wine avocation and his professional career. This has served him well in his executive coaching career and has transformed his love of wine into expertise.
It was nearly 20 years ago when Crystal was out to dinner with an acquaintance enjoying wine that he realized they knew very little about it, “despite talking about it like we did.”
Shortly thereafter, he celebrated a milestone birthday in 2001 and was gifted with an eight-week wine course taught by the world famous wine educator Kevin Zraly, founder of the Windows on the World Wine School from the renowned restaurant at New York City’s World Trade Center. But the opportunity was delayed more than two years, as Zraly recovered from the tragedies of Sept. 11, before Crystal was finally able to take the course.
That’s when he was hooked, he explained. “There is so much to learn, so many vintages And everything is always changing.”
Since then, his passion for wine has only intensified. Though he prefers live classes, Crystal has taken both online and live courses offered by Wine Spectator, The Wine Education Trust, and The Guild of Sommeliers. In his opinion, “Classes are better live since there is experiential learning in the tastings.”
In addition to course study, Crystal has joined The Guild of Sommeliers, a nonprofit international membership organization that promotes wine education and offers members a choice of membership options that includes access to events and study guides among other resources.
Although this passion has remained purely a hobby, it has certainly enhanced his professional career as a Master Corporate Executive Coach. Crystal has integrated wine tastings at corporate team dinners and has even fielded off-hours phone calls from business clients looking for guidance. “I love the idea of buying wine. It leads to various paths. I have met wine enthusiasts like myself, and it has helped me help my clients.”
Crystal understands that selecting wine can be an overwhelming process for many people.
“It’s probably most intimidating due to the sheer volume of wines that are available today; furthermore, once you’ve learned what you can about the current year’s offerings you face the prospect of an entire new vintage arriving the next year–the learning never ends!”
That vintages are dynamic, however, is what keeps wine engaging for him. But for those who do not share the same confidence he offers simple, practical advice: “Write down what you like and take a picture of the bottle. Never buy on price. And do not be afraid to ask for help.”
Luckily for Wilton and area residents, Crystal can be found on hand to help at Ancona’s Wine and Liquors in the Wilton River Park shopping plaza about once a month where he hosts wine tastings. “I have been friends with Mitch Ancona for more than 20 years. I wanted to be involved and this gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge and enhance my learning.”
Crystal is eager to assist with any type of wine a customer is interested in, and likely to suggest buying a single type of wine from different regions and sampling them at home, taking note of what works for the individual. Encouragingly, “It’s a fallacy that you have to know wine jargon to buy wine you like. It’s all about trial and error.”
It is clear that giving personal guidance to others is an aspect of wine selection he enjoys very much. In addition to his monthly tastings at Ancona’s, Crystal has attended private dinner parties as a guest, helping the host pair wines with multi-course dinner menus and offering guests insights into the origination of vintages and why they were paired with the menu.
For anyone looking to learn more on their own, Crystal recommends Great Wines Made Simple by American Sommelier and James Beard awards winner Andrea Immer Robinson, as a great first book for any wine beginner. “Ms. Robinson dispels myths, uses jargon a lay person can read, understand and put into practice.”
But regardless of how much one knows about wine or how they are most comfortable approaching wine selection, there is a universal truth Crystal believes in for everyone: “Just have fun! Wine is intended to be fun.”