Interviews

Know Your Sommeliers: Mark Gallagher

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12/03/2024 Mark Gallagher, the famous sommelier of La Grande Boucherie in Chicago, also a judge for the 2024 Sommelier Choice Awards. Mark's work reflects an exceptional dedication to service, rooted in his love for wines and extensive history in hospitality.

Mark Gallagher is a sommelier based in Chicago who currently works at La Grande Boucherie. Mark, who comes from a family of restaurateurs, began his career in hospitality in Boston during the booming food and wine scene of the 1980s and 1990s. His interest in wine brought him to Chicago, where he experienced the city's thriving restaurant business firsthand.

Mark's experience goes beyond sommelier duties; he has excelled in mixology and management, demonstrating his versatility alongside his dedication to service. His strong interest in experiences extends to his hobbies, which include photography, visual arts, and cuisine. 

Mark's path as a sommelier is inspired by the aesthetic intricacy and regional diversity of winemaking, reflecting his passion for the craft and community of wine enthusiasts. His approach focuses on humility, hustle, and heart, as he works to improve the visitor experience and increase wine sales through knowledge and attentive service.

Mark's career aim is to become a full-time food and wine writer, motivated by his experiences in Chicago's vibrant culinary scene. He believes in crafting wine programs that stress value, sustainability, and harmony while meeting the different demands of patrons.

Learn more about Mark's incredible journey and observations in the complete interview below.

Your current place of work.

La Grande Boucherie, Chicago

Image: La Grande Boucherie, Chicago

Tell us about yourself (please write min 50 words)

I had the great fortune of growing up in a restaurateur family and dining out as a young person in Boston as its food and wine scene blossomed in the eighties and nineties, and then fortuitously arriving in Chicago to find work when its restaurant scene was about to explode as well.

I am fascinated by wine and have enjoyed my professional mixology work as much as my Sommelier experience, and work as a service and General Manager. Given my interest in the aesthetics of sensory experience, I am a recreational photographer, visual artist, and home cook.

Why did you want to become a sommelier?

The aesthetic complexity and regional diversity of winemaking and the general loveliness of wine folk in general.

Questions you would ask a customer who doesn't know anything about wine?

What do they like to drink? Even if someone usually favors Sprite that still points to an enjoyment of the balance between acidity and sweetness.

What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier?

Humility, hustle, and heart.

What methods do you use to grow wine sales - top line? Please explain with examples.

Knowledge is power. The more team members can sell wine well, the more sales that become possible.

How do you self-learn and improve your skills?

The more you taste, and the more widely, the better aligned you are with the present moment in winemaking.

What's the best part of your job?

Making people happy!

How do you elevate the guest experience? Please give 4-5 examples and insights here.

Remember you are there to be of service. There should be no difference in execution in presenting the most or least expensive bottle, only details—whether to decant or not, keep on ice or not, utilize a cradle or not. You ask the right questions to delight the guest, not impose your taste. You are a helper first and an expert second.

Your favorite TV show right now?

Abbott Elementary

An unforgettable wine experience for you - tell us the whole story!

Sourcing and putting together the first Chicago wine dinner exclusively featuring wines of the American South, including methode champenoise sparkling wine from Lumpkin County, Georgia!

What are the biggest faux pas that customers tend to make when ordering and drinking wine?

Confusing price with quality.

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for drinks enthusiasts?

Alsace Gewürztraminer and pizza: sweet and salty heaven.

Your favorite book?

My Family and Other Animals

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What's your personal career goal? And how are you investing or planning to get there?

To write about food and wine full-time. I am grateful to have been on the ground floor of the Chicago food and wine scene’s explosion in growth, innovation, and commitment to sustainability and quality.

Give us one good story that you remember of a customer and you.

When SNL was casting in Chicago the team insisted Lorne Michaels try a particular bottle I had recommended to them on an earlier visit.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

By tailoring suggestions that make sense with our program.

Can you share with us an example of a solid wine program?

Pascaline Lepeltier’s list at Chambers, NYC.

What are the four main things you focus on daily?

Preparedness, hospitality, humility, and flexibility.

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

Value, Sustainability, and harmony with the overall program.

According to you, what makes a good sommelier, and what qualities do you look for when hiring a sommelier?

A good Sommelier reads between the lines and takes note of non-verbal cues—even if a guest offers a high price ceiling, you don’t need to hit it. The right wine for a particular occasion might be available in the mid-range

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of the wine program?

A wine program should take the possible needs of the full spectrum of its possible patrons into account like a great public library does.

The 2024 Sommeliers Choice Awards results are out! View the results here.