The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 32 of 136

32  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2015 I n this column I often allude to terroir. Wines that express places, not so much arbitrary conceptions of varietal character. Why? Because more than ever, sommeliers are seeking an authen- ticity in wines beyond what is usually presented to them as "classic," or for their high scores. Not every sommelier, of course. Many are still content to stock their wine lists with conventional selections. There's something to be said for sticking to wines that guests are more likely to recognize and appreciate. Sales are good. The boss is happy. Who am I to judge? To me, though, wine lists are like eating out. I enjoy coffee shop bacon and eggs, cheeseburgers for lunch, and spaghetti and meatballs on checkered oilcloths as much as anyone. But I also enjoy being wowed at New American restaurants, where chefs are proving their mettle with original dishes I've never experienced before. Hence, the premise: if you are a som- melier in a restaurant competing with the best, your wine list should probably rise to the occasion. To me, offering conventional wines with artistic, imagi- native dishes is like serving ketchup on the side. We love ketchup, but it has its place—not in cutting-edge restaurants. Which brings us to the question: What constitutes wines that rise to the occasion? Easy answer. You work in a restaurant and your wines are served with food. Ergo, wine lists should be cuisine-focused. The good news is that with the complex ways chefs are cooking today, dishes are as multi-wine- faceted as many of today's wines are multi-food-faceted. Plenty of ways to lick your wine-buying chops. I took my first full-time sommelier position in 1978. That was a while ago, when we had at our disposal easily less than 5% of the variety of wines from around the world that sommeliers have today. So, from my perspective, there is no excuse for pedestrian wine lists in today's top restaurants. This past year, under the auspices of our sister magazine The SOMM Journal, we have been hosting "SOMM Camps" about every other month. These three- day outings, co-sponsored by regional winery or grower groups, are exten- sions of what we once called "Terroir Experiences," when the magazine was known as Sommelier Journal. The objective has remained the same: to give working sommeliers opportunities to experience terroir-driven wines where they are made. Invariably, the experi- ences are eye-opening. This past September, for instance, 28 sommeliers from across the country walked through vineyards in the Lodi Viticultural Area for three days. Chuck Herrold of Loews Coronado Bay Resort admits that he had "preconceived notions" of Lodi prior to the trip, and was surprised to find "delicate, almost 'pretty' wines, expressing vineyards and subdued winemaker touches." Jordan Villareal of The Hobbit in Orange, CA has been talking about Lodi Native wines that "forever changed my percep- tion of Lodi Zinfandel . . . light, complex, showing finesse and beauty so refreshing to see." Lodi does not grow the best wines in the world. What it does produce are wines that are true to their Mediterranean climate, sandy soils and contemporary mix of adventur- ous vintners and families who have been farming there for as long as 150 years. There's a lot of there there. The Vinography blogger, Alder Yarrow, recently described Lodi Zinfandel as "among the most honest made in California." I, for one, will take honesty over 90–100 points or $500 "classics" any day. The wine world is crowded enough with wines that taste like they could come from anywhere, or are priced for the incurably spendthrift. We can do better than that—we're sommeliers. Lodi Native label: 2013 Marian's Vineyard. In Search of Honest Wines at Our Somm Camps Sommeliers field-sorting Lodi Zinfandel: Ivy Nagayama of Sansei Restaurant in Honolulu, HI and Marie Mertz of Todo un Poco in Elk Grove, CA. Robin Puricelli of Dolphin Bay Resort in Shell Beach, CA picking Lodi old-vine Zinfandel. Picking Lodi Zinfandel in Mohr-Fry Ranch: Seth Wilson of The Boarding House in Chicago and Miranda Elliot of Del Frisco's Double Eagle in Chicago. Jordan Villareal of The Hobbit in Orange, CA picking Lodi Zinfandel in Mohr-Fry Ranch. story and photos by Randy Caparoso

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - November 2015