Although the role of Sommelier involves endless hours of hard work and continuing education behind the scenes, it is that front-of-the-house guidance to an elegant and memorable meal that we all remember.
If you are not familiar with the rigorous testing required to become a Master Sommelier there is a movie called SOMM that gives you glimse into their world (or perhaps just watch the trailer). What we don’t often see in a restaurant is what the Sommelier does before and after the service begins.
Obviously, a Master Sommelier must be professional wine taster, but additionally they go over the wine list with the wait staff and kitchen personnel; take charge of purchasing the wines and creating the wine list based on the chef’s recipes; handle the wine inventory and cellaring; and then on their days off, they are expected to familiarize themself with new wines and even visit wineries for tastings. Hardly an entry-level occupation to make sure each and every patron receives the perfect recommendation to compliment their food and fit their budget.
To highlight this often under-appreciated role, Delta Airlines is hosting a series of Blind Tasting Competitions. The lastest of these events was at Flavor Napa hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson with fellow Master Sommeliers Ian Cauble of Somm Select, and Emily Papach of Jackson Family Wines, and Jay James of Chappellet Winery along with an impressive array of talented Sommeliers in the process of Master certification.
Flavor Napa is a dazzling array of Napa Valley’s master chefs and graduates of The Culinary Institute of America’s program creating heavenly epicurean delights to pair with the world-class wines of Napa Valley, but in no other Flavor Napa event is the Master Sommelier’s role highlighted as it is in the Blind Tasting Competition.
During Flavor Napa‘s Top Taster Blind Tasting Competition, it was impressive to watch the professionals demostrate their hard-earned skills. In under five minutes they could completely analyze a wine’s aroma, palate, structure, varietal, region of origin, and vintage. But this blind tasting was a little different – the Sommeliers used their background to educate those of us who are not as austute with wine instead of just to compete with each other.
As amateur blind tasters, we were given a practice wine (used for the Sommelier demonstration), then two white wines, and four red wines. We were told the wines could either be from the Napa Valley appellation or a classic old world wine. As we tasted through the wines, the Sommeliers walked through the group gently asking questions about what we were experiencing and expertly answering inquiries when we needed a little more guidance – to learn – to grow – and to enjoy the adventure of wine tasting without the intimidation of failure. In other words, they practiced many of the skills they use every day to gentle learn what we know, what we like, and how to make wine approachable for all of us.
The wines were excellent, but challenging – a white that I thought was a Viognier was a Chardonnay. But after we submitted our tasting forms, one of the Master Sommeliers walked through each wine with the other Sommeliers and we were able to witness them exploring their path through the clues of grape characteristics, winemaking techniques, and possible regions of production. From this I learned what parts I understood and what parts were opportunities to learn. We were then able to re-visit the wine and see it anew through this acquired knowledge. A great way to learn without intimidation or judgment.
During the red tasting, my tablemates, a wonderful couple from San Francisco, identified a Sangiovese and then realized it was old-world as they described it to the Sommelier through encouraging questions about what they were tasting. It was wonderful to see the light go on in their eyes as they found their own answer through an excellent educator.
In a restaurant too, a Sommelier can share information about wines – what are the characteristics of the dish you have selected – what are some possible wine selections that might enhance that dish within your budget – but most of all what a glorious avenue of discovery a new wine might be.
Sommeliers are our bridge between food and wine turning a dining experience into a treasured memory – that perfect bottle of wine – the one that made a glorious meal with family or friends an event that you talk about many years afterwards!
Next time you are in a restaurant with a good wine list and Sommelier, be kind enough to let them do their job and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised at the discoveries that await you in their knowledgeable hands. And the next time Flavor Napa comes around, be sure to visit our wonderful valley – they never disappoint either.
#FlavorNapa #NapaValley #Wine #Winetasting #Sommelier #MasterSommelier #WineEducation #BlindTasting #Event #Competition