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We Dream in Red & White

Q&A with Master Sommelier Alpana Singh of The Boarding House

2013 December 9
by Curtis Dahl

Alpana pouring wineIn 2003, at just 26, American Alpana Singh became the world’s youngest female Master Sommelier. Singh is now co-owner of The Boarding House in Chicago and recently was awarded the Sommelier of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

She was kind enough to sit down a few moments and share stories about her life, wine, and of course her award winning restaurant.

Pour a glass, let’s chat with Alpana Singh.


Where did you grow up?
Monterey, CA but my family is from Fiji…they settled in the US in 1970 and began working in the restaurant industry. I grew up around the hospitality industry way before I ever got into wine.

How did you catch the wine bug?
My first job in Monterey at a restaurant…I first applied for the job and they turned me down because I didn’t know anything about wine…but I promised to learn and they took a flyer on me. William Shearer, who is now a Master Sommelier, was the wine director at that time. He had great classes – very engaging and fun – and I found myself paying more and more attention to it. I fell in love with it.Alpana looking through wine glasses

Tell me about the Air Force.
All of my cousins were in the Navy so I thought it would be a great way to see the world but at the last minute I was disqualified because of a hearing issue. I have great respect for the men and women who serve and it’s probably lucky for them I didn’t make it! 🙂

Tell me about The Master Sommelier.
I passed the advance level at 21 and the Masters at 26..I was one of 9 or 10 woman at that time. It was very hard but when your in the moment I was at the top of my game…flash cards, memory games etc…it was alot of information but I loved it.

Favorite winemakers?
Merry Edwards…love her Pinot and her approach to business. Also Laura Catena…she is a wonderful person.

Why did you move from Monterey to Chicago?
I took over the wine program at Everest with 1,300 selections which was a four-star restaurant at the age of 23 – How could Alpana SinghI say no to that!

What inspired you to open The Boarding House?
We found an incredible space and the rest is history! There’s really no good reason to open a restaurant…but I guess it’s in my blood!

Favorite Chicago restaurants?
Gibson’s and Publican

Person you would most like to have dinner with?
My great great Grandmother to find out more about why I am the way I am…and know what type of people they were like.

Hottest markets to keep an eye on?
The entire Balkan region. (Croatia,Turkey, and Chile will get better and better)

What’s the best-value region today?Alpana Singh in a cellar
Italy. I’m still discovering grape varieties from Italy – it has wines that are interesting and diverse. Spain has good values but can get too homogenous in the ripe fruit bombs.

Why is it important to cellar wine?
Wine is one of those great things where you can revisit pass moments…and I think when you cellar something your almost stopping time. It’s because it’s flavor and our sense of smell you can’t do that with a painting…cellaring wine allows us to connect with the past and go back in time…it’s the greatest form of time travel.

What’s your desert island wine?
Riesling! Because you’re going to be on the island a long time and it ages well. You could chill it in the water so it stays cold. There’s a lot of seafood and tropical fruit – it’s an island, right? You’ve got to think about food pairings with your desert-island wine.

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