Cocktail Corner: Test Your Taste Buds

Emily Johnston, General Manager and Advanced Sommelier for Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, courtesy photo.

Emily Johnston, General Manager and Advanced Sommelier for Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, courtesy photo.

A Spirited Toast to All Things Alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg  

Are you curious to learn all about the secrets behind recognizing a wine from just a glance and a taste? Next week, on Thursday, May 18, you can try your skills at blind tasting. Starting at 6 p.m. at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant (131 Anacapa St., Ste. B),  Advanced Sommelier Emily Johnston leads a fun, interactive event that is open to everyone at any level of wine knowledge.

Sommelier Secrets is a monthly series of SOMM-led tastings, and at $25 per person, it’s a fun way to deepen your general knowledge and also learn about new wines.

The SOMM tastings take place on the third Thursday of each month. They’re basically guided educational events hosted by Johnston and focused on understanding the nuances of a specific wine producing region or a particular grape. The tasting is comprised of flights of three or four wines to highlight classic styles and current trends.

This is an opportunity for wine lovers of all experience levels to learn more about wine in the most enjoyable way possible.

Les Marchands, photo by Rob Stark.

After the blind tasting on May 18, next up is a White Burgundy Tasting on June 15.

“Tasting wines that speak to a region is not only a key study tool of mine, it can also be a method of transport to another place or time,” states Johnston. “I’m looking forward to getting to know more wine lovers in our community and sharing this experience.”

Johnston’s early training includes interning at Brander Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley followed by wine sales for a small Italian wine import company in Santa Barbara. Thoroughly inspired, Johnston left for Italy to study as a sommelier at ALMA Scuola Internazionale di Cucina’s Wine Academy where she received the highest academic honors in her class

Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant

Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, courtesy photo.

and achievement in Italian fluency. She became a Certified Sommelier with the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers (AIS) in 2011 while working alongside AIS Master Sommelier, Roberto Jacquemod Pane.

She became a Certified Advanced Level Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2016. Before arriving at Les Marchands as General Manager in 2017, Johnston served as Wine Director/Sommelier for the Toscana Restaurant Group overseeing the wine programs at four operations–Toscana, Bar Toscana, S.Y. Kitchen and Nerano for four years.

At Les Marchands, she oversees the wine bar’s ever-changing menu of selections, educational programs and retail offerings. In 2015, she was awarded Zagat’s “30 Under 30” award for young talent to be watched in the hospitality industry.

For further information and to make reservations contact Les Marchands at 805/284-0380, email, or visit

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Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on May 12, 2017.