Swish and Spit


An old Italian proverb says that one barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints. Doug Frost has certainly seen his share of wine-induced miracles — and embarrassments — over the past twenty years. Frost was a struggling young actor in Kansas City when he took a job as a waiter at a local restaurant and was immediately tapped to become wine steward.

“In those days,” Frost says, “if you knew Chablis from Chardonnay, you could be a wine steward.”

But Frost discovered that the more he served fine wines, the more interested he became in the tastes, the aromas, the histories and the magical fermentation process that turns grape juice into a rich Bordeaux or a bubbly champagne. Along the way, his passion changed from footlights to wine cellars.

“In fact, I never got a part in a Kansas City theater,” says Frost, who now writes, lectures and consults on all things connected to wine and spirits. “I still say I will, someday.”

But instead of winning an Oscar or a Tony award, Frost holds even rarer honors: He’s one of only three people in the world to hold the titles of both Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. The road that took him from a Kansas City steak joint to London, where he received his Masters of Wine diploma in 1993, was a circuitous one that included stints writing restaurant reviews for the Pitch in the 1980s (under the pseudonym D.M. Pasta), serving as wine sommelier for the American Restaurant and spending several years as a wine salesman for a major liquor distributor. Those roles ultimately led to his current standing as one of the country’s best-known wine experts. And Frost has distilled much of his knowledge into an easy-to-read, beautiful coffee-table book, On Wine: A Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Tells All (Rizzoli, $40).

The book’s title suggests that Frost — who is not by nature a gossip — has wine secrets to spill. “It’s true,” he says. “There’s a snobbery about fine wine that scares some people off from wanting to learn more. Especially if they’ve spent any time around some of the more insufferable wine lovers, who like to show off how much they know about wine to prove how hip they are.”

Frost wrote the book, which will be celebrated on Saturday with a wine reception at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, to “alleviate the mysteriousness” that surrounds wine and to make any reader just as wine-savvy as the pompous bore swirling the dregs of Lafite-Rothschild in his goblet at the neighborhood bistro.

“Wine is fun,” Frost says. “Everyone wants to be a wine expert, but just knowing what you like and dislike is half of it. Who cares about the tannin levels or the acidity levels? Is the wine bitter? Astringent? Robust? Developing one’s taste is more important than knowing all the geeky stuff.”