May Matta-Aliah

INTERVIEW WITH A WINE EXPERT

Ambassador. Educator. Consultant.

For close to 20 years, May’s had her finger on the pulse of the wine and spirits scene in New York City.

May represents wine and spirits regions and brands as their primary educator and ambassador. She has taught countless seminars to industry professionals and has presented at high visibility conferences such as Tales of the Cocktail, San Antonio Cocktail Classic, New York Wine Expo, Society of Wine Educator Annual Conference and the French Wine Society Annual Conference. May is also a long time instructor at the prestigious International Wine Center, where she has been teaching the classes of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and served as an adjunct professor at the City Tech, CUNY.

It is May’s ability to deliver messages that are keenly tailored to her audience that makes her a sought-after educator. Her ability to contextualise information and make it relatable to current market trends while delivering deep knowledge in an approachable manner; allows her to captivate her audience be they seasoned professionals looking for the differentiator or consumers looking to expand their horizons.

Tell us a little about your background – how did you first become interested in wine?

I was born in Lebanon and my earliest memories of wine were as a child, going with my family to visit wineries up in the Bekaa Valley at the end of each summer so they could buy their cases of wine for the winter. I loved walking into the cold cellars and smelling the recently fermented juice. As an adult I continued to enjoy wine as a hobby until I attended by first professional wine class. It opened my eyes to all that wine can be, and the possibility of working in wine professionally. I have not looked back since. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

I love so many things about my job – it’s what most people do for fun! I taste delicious wine, I eat amazing food, I meet passionate people that inspire me with what they do, and I get to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world, and I get to call all of this work!

May Matta Aliah
My earliest memories of wine were as a child, going with my family to visit wineries up in the Bekaa Valley at the end of each summer so they could buy their cases of wine for the winter. I loved walking into the cold cellars and smelling the recently fermented juice.

What wine do you think people should appreciate but don’t?

Fortified wines such as Sherry and Port, but especially Sherry, one of the most historic wines in the world, yet it is remains so misunderstood. While the sommelier community has started to embrace these wines, the wine drinking public has been slow to catch on. They are not the easiest wines to appreciate but they are amazing food wines. Give me a class of chilled Manzanilla with some prawns in olive oil or a glass of Amontillado with a rich wintery stew and I am happy as a clam. Let us not forget a class of aged Port with a ripe blue cheese, delicious!

What is your favourite expensive wine, and your favourite affordable wine?

For an expensive wine, here again I am drawn to fortified wines, and possibly one of my favorite expensive wines would be an old glass of Verdelho, from the island of Madeira. I am enchanted by the earthy, mushroom aromas along with savoury herbal notes and hints of caramel that leap out of each glass that are then mirrored on the palate. And while the wines are gently sweet, the acidity in this grape keeps them vibrant and fresh. If you have not had Madeira wines yet, you should. As for affordable wines, my husband would attest that I am a very disloyal wine drinker as I enjoy trying new wines all the time, but some classic go-to wines for me are Pinot Blancs from Alsace or Alto Adige, Beaujolais-Village with a light chill, a dry Riesling from Germany, and in the summer nothing beats a chilled glass of rosé from my favorite Lebanese winery, Domaine des Tourelles. 

May Matta Aliah

What wine fact can you share with our readers so they can impress their friends?

Some of the best and most expensive sweet wines in the world achieve their sweetness through grapes that are harvested when they are ravaged by a fungal rot that shrivels each berry into a dried-out purple-coloured raisin.

If you were hosting a dinner party, who would you invite (from anytime, anywhere)?

The first person would have to be David Bowie, he was more than just a talented musician, he was a ground-breaking performer, an entrepreneur and a creative genius. Mikhail Baryshnikov is another person that I greatly admire, not only is he one of the best classical ballet male dancers, he also transitioned to modern dance, he is a choreographer, an actor and later he founded his own company and eventually an arts center. I would love to invite Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, aka Veuve Clicquot who flouted every convention of the time to become the first woman to take over a champagne house, and introduced the process of riddling to clarify Champagne before releasing it on the market. Last but not least, I would invite Greta Thunberg, who in her brief 17 years, has done more to bring attention to climate change than scientists have managed to do in 30. Her courage, her conviction and her dedication have made an impact that I hope will effect meaningful change for years to come.  

What is your wine guilty pleasure?

On an overnight flight, I put all wine preferences aside and drink whatever is on the food cart to try to relax and get some sleep.  

MEET MAY AT AN UPCOMING EVENT

Now that you’ve learned a little more about May, find out how you can meet her – and others like her at our upcoming events! You can tap into May’s vast wine knowledge, as well as industry-leading business discussions, by signing up to our exclusive B2B virtual tasting experiences below.