Friday, September 4, 2015

Blind Tasting - Monday Study Group 1.1

To bring matters up to date, for a little over a year I have been meeting with a group of young Dallas sommeliers who are intent on achieving advanced levels of sommelier certification. To that end, we meet to study theory of wine involving intensive learning about winemaking and viticulture as well as tasting wines both to reinforce what we are studying and tasting and identifying these wines 'blind' in accordance with the blind tasting examination of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Our core group consists of three restaurant sommeliers, a salesman for a local supplier - all of whom are quite young - and myself, the grizzled geezer of the group, almost old enough to be their grandfather! They are patient and seem happy to put up with this old man.

In the world of these young Dallas somms, the year culminates in the TEXSOM Conference, a three day weekend full of workshops, tastings, a sommelier competition and testing conducted by the major somm accreditation programs. It's a big deal!

So getting together post TEXSOM is like starting the school year.

And so it is that we have some new faces in the group as well as the return of familiar but intermittent members from the past year all with good intentions of regular attendance and sticking with it. Our core group is back and looking forward to another year.

So far we've covered Europe from Germany and Austria to Spain and Portugal. Of course France and Italy required many weeks of study. So where do we go next?

Before the TEXSOM break, we were fortunate to have Master Sommelier Candidate Ben Roberts coach us through some blind tasting sessions. We thought we had been doing pretty good and making progress, but in fact we were babes in the woods. Ben was able to give us a new sense of perspective and focus to help us when we're blind tasting.

Blind tasting is like walking through a densely treed forest and it is easy to forget where you are. But if you combine the identity of the plants and trees with the geography, the geology, the climate, the position of the sun, the direction of the wind; all these points of data combine to define the notion of place. It's a deductive exercise that forces examination of all factors of the wine.

Critical tasting of wine often seems silly and is an easy target of jokes. But the rationale is simple. To develop a vocabulary that will make us more able to describe wine to customers whether in a restaurant or in a wine shop.

We all agreed that the primary focus of the groups needs to shift to blind tasting. And that means not just running willy nilly through tasting grids, but taking notes and holding each other accountable for making correct, non-contradictory calls, being more precise and eliminating ambiguity and to make our final identifications consistent with the descriptions we have called.

So this morning we concentrated on aromatic white wines whose primary flavor characteristics are driven by terpenes and we blind tasted:  2 Spanish Albarinos, 2 Alsatian Gewurztraminers, 1 Alsatian Riesling, 2 German Rieslings, a Gruner-Veltliner from Austria and a Napa Valley Viognier. Whew! A serious assault on tooth enamel.

So this post was written at Method Coffee, a new cafĂ© at the corner of Ross and Hall. Forty years ago I drove through this section every day on my way to work and it's just now finally showing signs of gentrification.

 I finished writing with two empty cups of the best espresso I have had in Dallas, a serious contender for top cup ever. The Kenyan beans yielded espresso with a deep, rich crema with a brilliant acidic flourish of baked Meyer lemons. Showy, spectacular stuff.

Not bad for a Monday.

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