Black sommeliers are among an elite group of professionals who are trained in all aspects of wine service, as well as wine and food pairings. Whether working in some of the world's top fine dining establishments or hosting exclusive private tastings, these men and women are helping to shift the way we all partake in our vino.
Of course, being a Black man or woman with such a prestigious certification is not an easy accomplishment. They must work their way through several levels of examinations while also navigating an industry, that although around for centuries, still lacks in its diversity efforts.
Here at EBONY, we're always looking to give flowers and recognition to those in our community doing extraordinary things. This is a curated list of the best sommeliers who are shifting the way the world views wine, while also educating Black and Brown communities and creating a safe space for them to enjoy it.
Below, check out the inaugural class—in no particular order—of the "Best Black Sommeliers" for the 2023 EBONY Food & Wine Honors.
One of the main faces in the effort to diversify the wine industry, sommelier Tahiirah Habibi is simply doing the work that needs to be done. As the creator and founder of The Hue Society—which prides itself on being an intersection of wine and culture—she advocates for more Black and Brown representation in the wine space while also hosting events around the country that expand the palettes of many who often don't have access to wine education. In 2022, Habibi's organization was named as Wine Enthusiast's Social Visionary Awardee. She also launched her inaugural Wine and Culture Fest, which was held in Atlanta.
André Hueston Mack
Not only is André Mack one of the most well-known Black sommeliers, but the New Jersey native is also a popular winemaker, author, and TV show host. Over the course of his storied career, he's earned several awards, including that of Best Young Sommelier in America by the highly regarded Chaine des Rotisseurs. In 2007, he launched his brand, Maison Noir Wines, which now features a portfolio of varietals that can be found in 45 states and 11 countries. You can also catch Mack merging wine and culture through Bon Appétit's series, "World of Wine with Andre Mack." Recently, he began curating wines for Club W, a wine club for a new generation of drinkers to continue his mission of making wine more accessible to all.
Sommelier Tonya Pitts earned the title of "Sommelier of the Year" in 2022, during Wine Enthusiast's Wine Star Awards. The San Francisco-based wine expert currently serves as wine director of the city's One Market, where she manages a list of more than 500 of the world's best varietals. But her work doesn't stop there. Pitts is a mentor through her founding role with Wine Unify, an organization devoted to bringing more diversity to the wine industry. She also advocates for marginalized communities within the hospitality sector.
Chris Gaither is currently only 1 of 4 Black Master Sommeliers. Yes, even in 2023, there are only 4 Black men and women who are recognized as mastering their knowledge of wine. Gaither achieved this feat in 2022—something that took him 10 years to do after failing the intense examination process seven times. It should be noted that only 5% of people who take the test, pass it. Now, the Morehouse College grad owns a restaurant, Grafted, in San Francisco, with his wife, who also holds the title of Master Sommelier. The two will soon open a second restaurant in San Francisco, Glu Glu, later this year.
Currently based in Paris, France, sommelier Tanisha Townsend is the Chief Wine Officer of her brand, Girl Meets Glass. With more than a decade in the wine space, Townsend spends her time educating tourists who visit the French city on the nuances of wine, especially varieties originating in that region. Additionally, she hosts a wine podcast, Wine School Dropout, and teaches wine courses at universities in Paris.
Recognized by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as a Top 40 Under 40 Tastemaker and one of Wine & Spirits Magazine's "Rising Black Voices in Wine," sommelier Cha McCoy is certainly making her mark on the industry. The New York native now splits her time between Portugal and Italy, where she works closely with chefs, winemakers, distillers, and hoteliers on ways to disrupt the hospitality industry by making the food, beverage, and tourism industry more accessible and accountable. Through her signature wine dinner series "The Communion," which she has hosted in 5 countries over 3 years, McCoy aims to dismantle what she calls palate discrimination in the food and beverage space. She is also the owner of The Communion Wine + Spirits shop.
Carlton McCoy, Jr.
The second Black American to achieve the title of Master sommelier, Carlton McCoy Jr. also earned the prestigious title at just 28 years old—making him one of the youngest people to do so. He is now the lead talent for CNN's original series, "NOMAD with Carlton McCoy." Through the show, cameras follow his journey of discovering some of the world's best wine, food, and art. In addition to his series, he is also the current CEO of five iconic and historic wineries based in Napa Valley.