Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turkey Day Wine Pairings

It is that time of year...the holidays have snuck up on us again. Being new to Chicago, I am learning new traditions. Yesternight, we experienced the Festival of Lights for the first time. Let me paint the picture for you...people crowded in the streets waiting in anticipation to see Mickey Mouse, bundled up in many layers (you can see your breath it is so cold), fighting to get front row seats to the show, children screaming, most of which are on their parents shoulders, ambulances driving through the crowd every half hour, stepping over piles of horse manure. Every 10 minutes, a float would come by with a Disney character and the crowds would scream. Ending the spectacle with fireworks, officially announcing "let the shopping begin!"

Before the Black Friday and battle over who gets this years hot trend first commences, a pleasant holiday called Thanksgiving must pass. It is one of my favorite holidays because the sole purpose is to be thankful for what we have, express gratitude, and enjoy each others company. It does not revolve around the practice of giving, or in most cases taking, gifts. Even though we know that our stomach is the size of our fist, we manage to fit 2 or sometimes 3 platefuls of food in our bellies. Then wonder why we feel tired and blame it on the amino acid L-triptothen. Also blaming the lack of self control on adding a winter coat of fat layer to protect us from the cold. Before the fun begins, we must ask the most important questions of all... what wine pairs best with the Thanksgiving feast?

From the mouth of Terry Theise himself,
I’d suggest one of two things, and both together if you can manage it. First, the Champagne shouldn’t be too dry, and second, it should be mostly Pinot Noir. A great option (if you can find it) is Vilmart Cuvée Rubis (Rosé) or even harder to find, the vintage version of it. But really any Vilmart will work, as this vintner is sensible as regards dosage. His NV Grand Cellier has 12 grams/liter, and if I had to pick a single wine from my portfolio for that meal, this is the one. However, the best possible option is German Riesling with a certain sweetness. We ourselves will have a Pfalz wine, probably with 10-15 years bottle age, of Spätlese or even Auslese ripeness.
There you have it, ladies and gentleman, a perfect pairing! I remember the first time I tried Turkey with a Spätlese Riesling, it was life changing! We called it Mission Gobel Gobel. From the back of the employee entrance, we spotted it, a left over perfectly good turkey that was going to waste. As one of us watched the halls for security and loitering guests, the other went in for the goods. Moments later, we triumphed, glaoting over our turkey as it was being carved. Then we tasted it, a perfectly seasoned piece of turkey with a Donnhoff Spätlese Riesling, the usual suspect, to wash it down. It reminded me of the first time I had popcorn and chocolate together, an unlikely match, but as they say...opposites attract. After all these years of being fooled into thinking Pinot Noir was the ultimate wine for the Thanksgiving experience, I was missing out.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with loved ones, Turkey and Riesling and plenty of it!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Q & A

What is a Sommelier?

This is the most commonly asked question after I tell people what I do for a living.
It actually started in the days of the Pharaohs when there was constant rivalry for the throne and they needed someone to taste their food and drink before them to make sure it was not poisoned. It has, of course, developed since them into something more refined and civilized. It is in a way a form of artistic expression; pairing wine and food perfectly to balance flavor, acid and textures, performing decanting and Champagne through a restaurant service, being in tune with your senses to detect a flawed or corked wine ensuring it does not reach guests, having a keen skill of organizing to keep track of an extensive inventory and an extensive memory and knowledge base of wine regions and producers from around the world and communicating this to guests.

Does that mean you are from Somalia?
This one is my favorite and puts a smile on my face nearly every time.

How does one become a Sommelier?
The most well recognized program called the Court of Master Sommeliers and is based out of London. They proctor exams on a bi-weekly, monthly and annual basis depending on the level. There are 4 levels to the exam, the Introductory, the Certified, the Advanced and the Masters. There are only 171 Master Sommeliers in the world so it is an extremely prestigiuous title. The exams are based on 3 sections; blind tasting, service and theory. Training is all self taught, on site training and resources such as the Internet or textbooks like The World Atlas of Wine or Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia.

So you are saying I can become a Sommelier by drinking a lot?
This one is guaranteed to piss me off. It would be like me going up to a lawyer and saying, you mean I can become a lawyer by arguing a lot? Or going up to a psychologist and saying, you mean I can become a psychologist by listening to peoples problems? These are, of course, generalizations, but seriously? Wine is a lifestyle, not just a profession. It is a form of art, and just as the colloquialism of a starving artists, a Sommelier is starving until they have made a name for themselves. The amount of dedication, invested time and emotion that goes into studying for the exams cannot be described in words. Being a Sommelier is a career for people who want to continuously be humbled, challenged and learn something new, because the world of wine is always changing faster than you can possibly keep up with. So to reply to your question: you may see me in action for the most enticing part of my job, tasting your wine before you do. But do not assume that is all I do, you know what they say about assuming....

Le Premier

As I stare at a list of the 1855 Classifications of Bordeaux, I start to daydream a way to procrastinate studying. And it comes to me after watching the inspirational movie Julie and Julia,
I will start a blog telling the world about the curious profession that is wine. All the perks and benefits along with the frustrations and time invested.
So here I am. For some reason, when the pressure is on, I never fail to collapse. When I was younger and had a photo shoot the next week, that cookie all of the sudden looked more appealing. Or lounging on the couch was much more enticing than a run on the beach. For example, I currently have the Top Sommelier competition in January and the Advanced exam soon to follow and I am choosing to write a blog.

However, this time I am going to use my distraction to benefit my studies. My goal is to write about and regurgitate what I learn, teach and taste. I figure the key to memorization is repetition and this will instill it in my brain. Not to mention that I hope that writing daily about my journey will keep me in check to learn something new every day.

I am aware that most people who read this will either be related to me or a childhood friend. But I still choose to remain nameless, simply because I can. Let the journey begin!