Alice Achayo is on a mission to open our palates to new ways of tasting through the language of global gastronomy. As founder of The Wine Linguist, she wants to expand the language of wine, make it more accessible and inclusive, by exposing our palate to other cultures’ cuisines.
What got you interested in wine?
I signed up for what was then a new dual major, Eco-Gastronomy, or the ecology of food, at the University of New Hampshire in 2009. The program took us for a semester to study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont – where the Slow Food movement had started, and the motto “good, clean and fair” came to be.
Eco-Gastronomy emphasizes the importance of food in connecting us to one another, the land, and the ecosystem that sustains us. It highlights the importance of farmers as land stewards and fighters of climate change. We visited different producers and were taught the importance of seasonality and locality of food. I was born in South Sudan and grew up in Uganda before settling in the US with my family. Being in Italy, and seeing how much food brought people together, reminded me of my culture.
What career journey did this experience take you on?
I wanted to open a tiny bistro, to grow what I could and source the rest from local farmers and producers. I envisioned cooking everything from appetizer to dessert in a wood fired oven, and to bring people together over this concept of “good, clean and fair” food.
To learn how to use a wood fired oven, I did a bread baking apprenticeship in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. I then moved to Boston to bake at a well-known bakery, but after three years of waking up at two in the morning, I decided to pivot and went into wine. I figured that I would need to know wine for my bistro someday. And here I am seven years later.
What inspires you most about wine?
I’ve come to enjoy and be inspired by wines that tell stories of the people involved, the land they come from, and the ecosystem that make them unique – the same qualities that I look for in food.
Because I come from a farming family, I’m always going to be drawn to and grounded in agriculture. Wine is a product of an agricultural crop which means it’s always tied to land, people and cultures. As with food, when I drink wine that has been made with intention, a “good, clean and fair” wine, as it were, I feel nourished. Like food, wine has the ability to connect people from all walks of life, if we let it. That’s what I’m here to do.
How did you come to see food as a tool for change?
Food is a universal language, and that makes it a great vehicle for change. The wine language relies on our own sensory experiences and memories, which we acquire a lot of through the foods we have had. When you’re smelling a wine, the nuances that you get on the nose is entirely up to you.
However the wine language as we currently know it can be intimidating and not relatable. A small group dictates what we should be smelling and tasting in a wine; that there’s a right and wrong way to talk about wine, pair food with wine. While there is foundational knowledge that can be taught about wine, we can’t dictate what people should be smelling and tasting.
Why look to global gastronomy to explore the language of wine?
The demographic of wine drinkers is changing rapidly. And while we tend to focus on the millennials as the driver, we neglect to look further into the make-up of those wine consumers. What are their cultural backgrounds, what do they eat, what do they value? Looking globally, we see the spread of wine consumption outside of European countries.
Often when we talk about wine, it is in relation to what foods they go with, and the focus is often on pairing wine with western cuisines. In order for us to expand the wine language to become inclusive and relatable to more people from different backgrounds, we need to expand our food palate.
So, you’re saying an adventurous food palate can open our minds to exploring new wines?
Absolutely. Imagine that you never cared for a certain varietal but found that you enjoyed it when it was paired perfectly with a cuisine from another culture.