Last week, I attended TexSom a unique wine education event (August 10-12, 2013) at Four Seasons Resort & Club in Las Colinas. TexSom was founded in 2005 by Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks.
Everything is bigger in Texas and in this two-day conference there were 31 Master Sommeliers, four Master of Wines and other wine experts leading the sessions and as judges. Below are my notes from a few of the sessions.
Traditional Method Sparkling Wines
Charles Curtis, MW
With a Sunday session on sparkling wines at 9:15 am, my brain was searching for orange juice for a mimosa. Instead of a mixed drink, Curtis led us through the different grapes, winemaking methods and styles in regions around the world for sparkling wines. Our tasting included Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, Franciacorta from Italy, Sekt from Austria, Cuvee from Tasmania, Vouvray from France, Cremant d’Alsace from France and Malbec from Argentina. Suggested pairings for these sparkling wines include salty foods, meat and cheese platters and roasted nuts.
My favorite quote from Charles Curtis was “My definition of a happy meal is an order of fries and a bottle of Champagne.”
Exploring Terroir of Bordeaux
Ronan Sayburn, MS
Sayburn described the terroir, climate, environment, viticulture and innovations in Bordeaux. He went beyond right bank versus left bank wines and dove into each region.
My favorite quote from Ronan Sayburn was “Bordeaux tastes like chewing pencils with wood and graphite.”
Varietal Focus: Merlot
Fred Dame, MS; Jay Fletcher, MS; Jay James, MS
The Master Sommeliers shared that Merlot is the most important varietal in Bordeaux. It is known as a “bailout grape” as it is an early ripening grape and if the rain is coming it can be ready to be picked fast. Our Merlots were from Napa, Sonoma, Chile, Washington and Bordeaux. From the knowledge of these greats and tastings, it became clear how challenging this varietal can be to taste blind. Unlike other varietals, Merlot does not have a distinguishing marker in the world. It does not have as high tannins as Cabernet Sauvignon, though it has high alcohol.
My favorite quote from Jay James was “Merlot shot in the temple by Sideways.”
Tasting Perspectives of Master Sommelier, Master of Wine, Certified Wine Educator
Peter Neptune, MS, AIWS, CWE and Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, CWE
For wine professionals, it can be difficult to determine which certification programs to pursue – best known are the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) with highest level a Master Sommelier, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) with highest level a Master of Wine and Society of Wine Educators with highest level a Certified Wine Educator. There are theory and tasting portions to all exams with additional portions in certifications: CMS – service, WSET – value of wine and CWE – wine faults.
As all three exams have a tasting portion there was much discussion about it. Peter Neptune shared, “Blind tasting shouldn’t be a parlor game.” It should be based on wines typical to variety and typical to region. Sherri Sauter Morano said, “Sometimes the most obvious wines can screw you over (in testing).” Blind tastings in exams are about characteristics of the wine and it’s not about getting the wine correct. When preparing for blind tastings look for fruit, earth, wood and winemaking.
My favorite quote from Peter Neptune was “Very few wine critics have initials after their name with the exception of Jancis Robinson.”
Tasting Focus: Elements of Perception and Style
Tim Gaiser, MS
Tim’s been working on a project essentially mapping the brain of how people taste wines. I’ve been fascinated by his project, following it for years and it’s incredible to see how it continues to develop. He’s modeling tasting strategies of top wine professionals. He shared his findings from his project sessions and the importance of a consistent starting place visually with a tasting sequence. He directed us to create a consistent starting point with our eyes in wine tasting, how to make an olfactory image connection, how to find images in our brain of what we smell or taste in our glass and finally how to use imagery to calibrate the structure of wine. As I’m only giving you a snapshot of the conference sessions, I’d highly suggest learning more about Tim’s project via his website with updates on his blog too.
My favorite quote from Tim Gaiser was “If you want to improve how many things you can detect by smelling a wine practice active inhalation at the same time.”
Varietal Focus: Tannat
Keith Goldston, MS and Wayne Belding, MS
Tannat is a great example of how there are always grapes to be discovered and regions of the world to still explore in tasting wine. This varietal was first mentioned in Madiran in southwestern France. It’s planted in France, Uruguay, California, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, British Columbia, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Australia, Switzerland, South Africa and Japan. We tasted Tannat from France, Texas, California, Argentina and Uruguay where we noted the finish similar to Nebbiolo with pepper and horseradish characteristics. It will be interesting to follow this varietal as it continues to develop in wine markets around the world.
My favorite quote from Keith Goldson was “Cafayate (near Salta, Argentina) reminds me of Palm Springs with vineyards.”
In addition to these sessions our lunches each day included wines highlighted from Paul Hobbs and the Chianti Classico region. The first evening of the conference there were receptions with wines from Texas, Washington and others represented by Texas distributors.
The grand tasting had Texas specialties of Chicken Fried Steak Lollipop with white gravy. In the 90 minutes I attended of the grand tasting, I tried 46 wines ranging from Opus One to new wineries in California to international wines.
Already I have added next year’s conference (August 9-11, 2014) to my calendar. I hope to see you there, if not before.
Yesterday a family was walking behind me and the dad shared there was a poster for a movie on wine. The little girl said, "Why would anyone want to watch a movie about wine?"
It's not just wine geeks or those in the industry that will enjoy the new wine documentary SOMM.
It's about four men in their final few weeks preparing for the most difficult wine test in the world to become a Master Sommelier.
With a pass rate of around 10%, the test requires an insane knowledge of service, theory and tasting. In the service portion, you may decant a wine; in theory portion, answer obscure wine questions on region, grapes, etc. (like what is Cabernet Moravia...a grape bred from Cabernet Franc & Zweigeltrebe from Czech Republic); and during the tasting portion, identify the grape varieties, district and appellation of origin, and vintage of six wines in 25 minutes.
SOMM’s director, Jason Wise describes the blind tasting as a “ballet without music.”
It is a beautiful documentary that shows the true experience as these four guys prepare for the exam. You see them beyond their professional settings, you get a glimpse as to why they want it for themselves and you see the impact their studies have on their personal lives.
It is truly a story of determination. If last month you found yourself cheering for Nik Wallenda the tightrope walker over the Grand Canyon; praying the kids in the Scripps Spelling Bee would spell a word correctly; or routing for an underdog athlete or sports team than this documentary is for you.
Different members of the audience at the screening at The Grand Del Mar cried, cheered and laughed as we watched these four men test themselves. If I shared if any of them are now part of the 201 Master Sommeliers around the world, it would be like telling you who the killer is at the end of a horror movie.
You can catch SOMM at a few theaters or you can download the movie on iTunes and create your own tasting party. Make some food and pair it with wine. Perhaps you might enjoy a sommelier’s favorite pairing of popcorn with a buttery Chardonnay from California.
Watch SOMM. Be inspired.