Four years before he could legally buy a bottle of wine, Brahm Callahan was working in a wine shop—hardly aware that his I-need-spending-money job at 17 ultimately would lead him deeper into the wine industry. Instead, he stayed with school, working in wine shops through college and while finishing his master’s degree. There was no denying he liked what he was selling, though—and his college friends were the lucky beneficiaries of quality vino at a time when cheap beer and shots were the preferred option.
Eventually, he began working as a sommelier while finishing his graduate work, which cemented his future. Today, at 32, he’s the beverage director for Boston-based Himmel Hospitality Group, overseeing the beverage programs at its three restaurants, and is one of only 230 people on planet Earth to hold the title Master Sommelier since testing began in 1969. Callahan’s carved out a strong reputation as a champion of small producers who make high-quality, terroir-driven wines — which is why he was an obvious fit to join the Ribera del Duero and Rueda team as a brand ambassador.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to get behind some regions I was excited about already,” Callahan says. “Spanish wines have always been part of our wine program. Ribera — they’ve got great wines competitively to their value, so there’s a lot of quality for what you get for a bottle.”
A recent trip to Ribera and Rueda convinced him of how much potential the regions possess. “One thing I found interesting about Rueda is, there’s a clear idea of what a clean expression of Verdejo is, but a lot of producers are experimenting to see what else you can do with it. They’re messing around with barrel contact and aging, even making a little sparkling, too. It’s cool to see they’re not just sticking with one style, but experimenting with other methods.”
Noting that both regions have grown rapidly in recent decades in terms of quality and recognition, Callahan think they’re ideally positioned to boom in the U.S. “I think the flavor profiles match the American palate quite a bit,” he says. “Ribera tends to be really clean; there’s fruit there and it tends to be more full-bodied and serve as a food-friendly, terroir-driven wine. Consumers are embracing that profile—the growth in that category has been exponential.”
Callahan notes that there are more than 20 bottles from Rueda and Ribera del Duero among Himmel Hospitality Group’s restaurants, and they were there before he joined forces with us.
“Because of the diverse range of styles produced in these regions, these wines have been great to pair with all the food on our menus,” he says, adding that grilled lamb is a natural fit with a bottle of Ribera del Duero, and that raw fish like ceviche is ideal with Rueda verdejo.
“It’s certainly an exciting part of this partnership that I can get other consumers to see these wine regions,” Callahan says. “The region’s grown up quickly in the last 30 years, jumping in quality and garnering international acclaim. For both areas to have figured out what they do really well, and to be growing in the market the way they are, is important and exciting.”