This week’s spotlight shines on Dini Rao, head Curator and VP of Merchandise at Lot18.com. Rao holds her MBA from the Harvard Business School and her Diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. She has worked as a sommelier and as a specialist for Christie’s, where she evaluated the world’s finest wines for auction, including bottles dating back to the 1700s. Dini Rao is a candidate for the Masters of Wine, a distinction held by fewer than three dozen people in the U.S. In the spotlight interview we find out more about Lot18.com and just what makes this Master of Wine candidate tick. I present this week’s spotlight interviewee, Dini Rao.
South Florida Food and Wine: Many of us have heard about Lot18.com but might not fully understand the entire scope of the company past it being an online wine outlet, as an insider, tell us about Lot18.com.
Dini Rao: Well for starters, you can buy wine at Lot18 and have it delivered directly to your door. What’s great is that we source directly from boutique wineries around the world to bring you better value and help you discover new wines you wouldn’t find anywhere else. The wines on our site are from wineries that usually don’t spend a lot of money on marketing so you only pay for the quality, and we make sure to taste all the bad wines out there so you don’t have to. We stand by every bottle with our quality guarantee. Many times I source wine from old friends that I’ve been personally buying wine from for years.
South Florida Food and Wine: Tell us about your position at Lot18.com as lead Curator and Chief Merchandise Officer
Dini Rao: I have the greatest job on earth because I spend a lot of time tasting wines and thinking about how I can make wine buying less terrifying to customers. I’ve never understood how a product that brings so much pleasure when you consume it can cause so much anxiety when buying it. The best part of my job is working with some of the most talented people in the business: my friend Janine Lettieri, former sommelier at Le Bernardin, and Kevin Boyer, who has his own Napa wine project, Boyanci and was the VP of Beverage at Ruth’s Chris. We each have our own styles and preferences, so customers can follow whichever of us has tastes that mirror their own. (As a side note, several of us are studying together for the Master of Wine exam, so things can get pretty intense around the office with our wine geekiness.)
South Florida Food and Wine: As a Master of Wine candidate, what is your most memorable wine moment to date?
Dini Rao: Undoubtedly the 1921 Dom Perignon, the first vintage ever made. It was a wine from Doris Duke’s collection, and as such, it was pristinely stored. I was working at Christie’s auction house and at the time, just learning about how wines mature. I discovered not only that Champagne can age, but it can age for more than 80 years and still improve. It was an absolutely sublime experience because the bottle still had some effervescence and smelled like fresh ocean air and buttery biscuits, two of my favorite things. I had one of those ah-ha moments where I realized the incredible nature of wine: I was tasting history. (This all happened soon after I got married, and when I got home that night I told my new husband I’d just had the best day of my life! That didn’t go over too well.)
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the best wine advice you ever received?
Dini Rao: Aside from just enjoy it? Don’t drink your white wines too cold or you will miss the nuances.
South Florida Food and Wine: Your sense of taste and smell are crucial to your job, what if you lost your “senses”? What would be, your Plan B?
Dini Rao: I would be so sad not to be able to smell freshly baked bread! Well before I decided to become a sommelier at the age of 17, I’d dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. I’d start a company that somehow makes people’s lives better, a little more fun every day. Oh wait, I think I do that now…
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to share a bottle of wine with and why?
Dini Rao: None of my ancestors ever drank wine as my family is pretty religious, but my great-grandmother was quite the rebel of her time. She was the first woman in her Indian village to drive a car, she started a very successful line of beauty products still sold throughout India, and she had an incredible jewelry collection. I bet she’d have wild stories to tell once she had a glass or two!
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final quaff and meal be?
Dini Rao: Roast chicken with morel mushrooms and a bottle of truly great red Burgundy like the 1929 La Tâche will do. And I’d finish with some sherry and Marcona almonds. Not many people drink sherry, which is such a shame. But hey, that means more for me.
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