I did not have much time for blogging this summer, because I was so busy preparing for my Certified Sommelier Examination. All of my studying paid off, and I did it! I am officially a certified sommelier!!! Now, you might be wondering – what does it take to become a certified sommelier? Well… the examination is conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers and consists of three parts: a blind tasting, a theory test, and a mock service exercise.
- Blind Tasting: Upon arrival in the examination room, each desk has four glasses of wine: 2 white, 2 red. The candidates fill out tasting grids to identify key features of each wine through sight, smell, and taste. Points are earned for the accurate identification of the various characteristics, and the grid also guides the candidates toward their final conclusion of grape, country, and estimated vintage.
- Theory Test: This portion of the exam tests the candidates’ knowledge of wine theory through 45 short answer questions. The topics vary across all aspects of wine theory, such as information about grape varieties, wine making techniques, the history/geography of wine regions around the world, etc.
- Mock Service: This final part of the exam allows the candidates to demonstrate their ability to safely open a bottle of sparkling wine or decant an aged bottle of wine, all while being a graceful, charming, and knowledgable server. The Court sets up an imaginary restaurant and places an examiner at each table. The candidates are each assigned to a table, and then they approach their “guests”. The guest will place an order, and while the wine is being opened and served, the candidate will be grilled with various questions about wine pairings and/ cocktail and/or beer recommendations.
Candidates must pass all three portions of the exam to earn their certification. It’s a stressful and rigorous process, but the Court aims to establish a high standard for beverage knowledge and service in restaurants around the world.
Learning about wine is a bit like learning a new language, and when learning a new language there’s bound to be some points of confusion or “false friends“. Here are a few wine terms that are easily mistaken.
Claret vs Clairette
- Claret is a British term for red wine from Bordeaux, France.
- Clairette is a white grape used in winemaking in the Rhône Valley in France
Muscat vs. Muscadet vs. Muscadelle
- Muscat is a family of grapes that has varieties used in wine making and for eating. In Italy, the sparking wine Moscato is made from the the Muscat grape. In France and Spain, Muscat grapes are often used to make fortified wines.
- Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley from the grape called Melon de Bourgogne. It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and Pinot blanc.
- Muscadelle is another white grape that is used for blending in the Bordeaux region in France. It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and an unidentified grape variety.
Syrah and Petit Sirah
- Syrah is a red wine grape originating from France. Syrah is known as Shiraz, in Australia.
- Petit Sirah is a red wine grape that resulted from a crossing of Syrah and Peloursin Grapes. Petit Sirah is also known as Durif.
Pouilly-Fumé vs. Pouilly-Fuissé
- Pouilly-Fumé is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
- Pouilly-Fuissé is a wine region in Burgundy, France that is known for its Chardonnay wines.
VDN vs. VDL
- VDN stands for vins doux naturel. VDNs are fortified wines, common in the south of France, where brandy is added to the wine to stop the fermentation.
- VDL stands for vin de liquer. VDLs are also fortified wines; however, the brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made in the region of Abruzzo, from the Montepulciano grapes.
- Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is made in the town of Montepulciano, from Sangiovese grapes.
We all know that food and wine were meant to be together, but not all combinations are ideal. It can be quite daunting to try to find that “perfect pair”, but here are some basics guidelines:
Match the overall quality and intensity of the food and wine
Decide whether to complement or contrast the flavors
- Wine and food from the same region are usually complementary
Acidity in wine can cut through fatty foods and balance out saltiness
- High tannin wines can over power delicate flavors, but also cuts through fatty foods
- Spicy food can be alleviated with a sweet wine, while high tannins will increase the heat sensation
I was able to put these ideas to the test the other night in my sommelier class with seven different pairings.
- Goat Cheese with 2015 Cailbourdin Pouilly Fumé, AOC Loire Valley, France
- This pairing neutralizes some of the acidity in both the cheese and the wine, making the cheese seem even creamier.
- Grilled Chicken with 2013 Faiveley Mercurey, AOC Blanc Clos Rochette, France
- The light oak on this Chardonnay accentuates the grilled flavor on the chicken.
- Duck Breast with 2014 Lynmar Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA, California
- The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the duck and the earthiness of the Pinot complements the gamey flavor of the duck.
- Roast Pork with 2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy
- The fruit in the wine brought out some nice flavor in the pork.
- Seared Ham with 2015 J.H. Selbach Riesling Spätlese, QmP Mosel, Germany
- The subtle sweetness of the wine was delicious with the salty ham.
- Foie Gras with 2009 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes, AOC Bordeaux, France
- This sweet wine brings out some of the saltiness of the foie, and the foie balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
- Roquefort NV Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Port, Porto DOC, Portugal
- Another sweet-salty combination, that smoothed out the blue cheese and highlighted the richness of the port.
Overall, each person has slightly different tastes, but when you do find a “perfect pair”, it is delicious.
The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc day, so here’s a little background to help you prepare for the festivities.
Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that originated in France, where it is still widely planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux . However, it has also become popular in many New World wine regions, such as Chile, South Africa, and California, but especially New Zealand, where it has become their most widely planted grape.
Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine, with high acidity. It is often described as crisp and refreshing, and it is one of my favorite wines for summer. I find Sauvignon Blanc easy to drink on its own, but with its herbal and mineral qualities, it also makes an excellent pairing for fresh vegetables, salads, fish/seafood, sushi, and raw oysters.
Common fruit flavors for Sauvignon Blanc are lime (and other citrus), honeydew melon, green apple, and peach. Additionally, Sauvignon Blanc is known for strong non-fruit flavors such as fresh grass, bell pepper, and chalky minerals.
Besides helping with the harvest at Viña Alpa, I took advantage of my time in Chile to visit several other wineries: Viña Cousiño Macul, Concha y Toro, and Kingston Family Vineyards. The first two were just outside of Santiago in the Maipo Valley, and the third was in the Casablanca Valley. The Maipo Valley was one of the first wine regions in Chile, and it is known for Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the specialty of Cousiño Macul, and their Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded throughout the world.
Both Cousiño Macul and Concha y Toro are old vineyards that were started in the 1800s and have continued to grow and expand. Today, Concha y Toro is the largest wine producer in Chile and is actually one of the largest in the world. I visited the original Maipo facility, but they now have vineyards throughout Chile.
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
The third vineyard, Kingston Family Vineyard, is a much smaller vineyard in the Casablanca Valley that has only been in the wine business since the late 1990s. The Casablanca Valley had been established as a wine region for white grapes, especially Sauvignon Blanc, but Kingston partnered with some Californian vineyards and brought Pinot Noir to the region.
These three vineyards were all quite different and provided a nice intro to the breadth of the Chilean wine industry. Chile has 12 wine regions, with a huge variation in climate and soil, so there is still so much more to see, and I need to plan another trip someday . . .
Chile has a long history of wine production, dating back to the 16th century, when the Spanish colonists brought vitis vinifer. Later various French varieties were imported, and in the 20th century, Chile established itself as an important player in the global wine market. Vineyards can be found throughout the country, growing both red and white grapes. The most common varietals are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Noir
Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape, Carménère has become the signature grape of Chile. Originally a French variety, it was believed to have been lost during the phylloxera epidemic in Europe, but was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s. You can read more about Carménère in last year’s April Grape of the Month post.
For more information about Chilean Wine…
Last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying a lovely tasting menu at Semilla, an 18 seat restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The food was vegetable focused and delightfully inventive. We added on the drink menu for the full experience. The wines were impressive in age, variety, and suitability for the meal. I was so busy enjoying the wonderful wine and food that I did not take adequate notes or pictures, but here are a few highlights…
I was thrilled to start the meal with a 27 year old German Riesling (Wallufer Oberberg Kabinett Halbtrocken, J.B. Becker, 1990, Rheingau, Germany). This is probably the oldest wine that I have drunk, and it was wonderful. The aging really mellowed the sweetness and added depth to the wine, so it was perfect for the subtle, earthy sweetness of the Beet Tartare. My favorite course of the evening was the salt-crusted sunchokes. These were served with a Chardonnay (Les Ammonites, Domaine Buronfosse, 2014, Jura, France). Although, I’m not always a fan of Chardonnay, this was unoaked and balanced out the saltiness of the dish quite nicely. The meal finished off with two lovely desserts (and who doesn’t want two desserts? ). I’ve included the full menu below and would highly recommend an evening at Semilla for a night of creative and delicious dishes.
Menu from 2/2/17
Apple & Smoked Mozzarella Soup
Beet Tartare with Pickled Chanterelles & Whole Wheat Crackers
Salt Crusted Sunchokes with Fermented Ramp Aioli
Rice & Peas with Crab & Bergamot
Butternut Squash with Za’atar & Squash Vinegar
Celeriac Tart with Pickled Okra & Green Coriander Vinaigrette
Burnt Cabbage Roll with Preserved Lemon & Coffee Jus
Sunflower Seed Ice Cream with Meyer Lemon & Flowers
Angelica Semifreddo with Hazelnuts & Pickled Blueberries