As testament to its purportedly growing to 500 attendees, for the first time in its history TexSom scheduled concurrent sessions with four occurring at any given time. Leading off this edition was retired geologist Wayne Belding MS with his ‘Granite & Glacier, Fire & Ice’ session, asking that everyone sample a Snickers bite left at their seat to exemplify the differences of varying soil types and the phenomenon of weathering in likening the peanuts to rocks while delineating the link between a wine and the soil upon which it was grown. Comparing identical 85/15% blends of Pinot noir and Chardonnay between Fleury and Iron Horse cuvées, he noted that even with this factor there are too many variables to make a scientific and therefore definitive comparison to determine the effects of soils upon wines. “There’s meaning to understanding the geology behind wine,” he concluded while admitting that in a ‘micro’ sense of analysis or enjoyment that geology is unimportant.
Belding’s former business partner Sally Mohr MS paired with the world’s only non-Japanese certified sake expert/assessor, John Gauntner, to highlight the uniqueness of eight Sakes, most of which are made not from special sake rice, such as those labeled ‘Daiginjo’, but rather from mundane table rice. No additives or preservatives are allowed in Sake once the grains have been pressed and proper storage of Sakes are similar to that of wine–cool and dark conditions should prevail. Umami’s presence is critical for the enjoyment of Sake with its sweetness soothing spice and salt. A critical point is to sell or consume a bottle no longer than 18 months following the date stamped on the label as it’s an indication of the shipping date applied to all better bottles.
Louisville MSs Brett Davis and Scott Harper provided an excellent Bourbon primer citing that regulations proscribed in the 1964 Congressional act making Bourbon the national drink of the US stipulated that it be 51% corn, the distillation not exceed 160 proof, be entered into charred new oak barrels at no more than 125 proof and aged a minimum of two years, that once spirit is dumped from barrel those barrels may not be used again for the production of Bourbon, and finally be bottled at no less than 80 proof with nothing added during its processing but pure water. Buyers and aficionados beware–no regulations exist concerning usage of the terms ‘Single Barrel’ or ‘Small Batch’. “There’s terroir in Bourbon based upon where in the rickhouse aging occurs,” claimed Harper, a phenomenon which may be applied to Scotches and other spirits which are aged in above-ground facilities.
At the first of two sessions on the state of the industry/sommelier roundtable writer Jordan Mackey moderated a discussion where Melissa Monosoff MS of the Court of Master Sommeliers said Napa Valley’s production has shifted from high-end Cabernets which few distributors are taking, to which Christy Canterbury MW countered “high-end wine hit a wall beginning 2009 but I think it’s now coming back”. “The challenge for sommeliers is to embrace that customers are open to trying new things,” said John Ragan MS of the Union Square Hospitality Group who also added his support for the ‘somm-ager’ concept as a way of making sommeliers more relevant to the business of running a restaurant rather than merely being glorified servers who bring little to a table. “I would invest more time in teaching a sommelier to manage,” rather than train a manager to learn wine added Rajat Parr of the Michael Mina Group. “I think every sommelier should start at the bottom.”
The final event, the Grand Tasting, was well-populated by consumers as well as the trade. Capping it was the announcement of the winner of the TexSom Sommelier Competition, manager at Austin’s Arro Scott Ota, who’d topped earlier this year at his native town’s Somms Under Fire competition.
More on TexSom may be found at its https://texsom.com/ website.
* What other educational forums are available to sommeliers?
* Is outside education more or less valuable then information garnered directly from wineries, distilleries, breweries?
* If you had a program to educate yourself or others, how would you design it?