While studying Hotel Administration at Cornell University, Catherine Fallis set out to explore the service industry in Europe. It was during these travels when she first experienced wine not as an elite beverage but as something interesting and accessible, and has maintained this approach to wine ever since.
After becoming Chef’s Apprentice at Chef Alain Sailhac’s famed Le Cirque Restaurant, she took a position with Leona Helmsley at the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York City, where she managed the award-winning restaurant Villard House. Kevin Zraly became an important mentor to Catherine, instructing her to take certain wine courses and keeping a close eye on her progress, eventually naming her Wine School Coordinator and Cellar Master.
In Hawaii, she began pursuing the exclusive Court of Master Sommelier designation with passion. Her journey took her to California, where she worked as Los Angeles area manager for Seagram Classics, wine buyer at Beltramo’s Wines & Spirits, and later served as sommelier and wine director at Michael Mina’s renowned restaurant Aqua in San Francisco.
Catherine passed the Masters exam in 1997 and became the fifth woman in the world to earn the title of Master Sommelier. At the same time, she joined the Master of Wine program and is now a second year Master of Wine candidate. She earned the title of Advanced Certified Wine Professional (ACWP) from the Culinary Institute of America in 2009, where she was adjunct faculty for eleven years, and is the only person in the world to be both a Master Sommelier and an ACWP. In 2011 she became a French Wine Scholar and in 2012 a California Wine Appellation Specialist, and is adjunct faculty at the San Francisco Wine School.
Fallis is the author of the grape goddess® guides to good living series and she is the Master Sommelier at Planet Grape® LLC, a wine consulting firm providing content, reviews, corporate & private tastings, restaurant wine program development, and speaking services.
What is your favorite wine region to visit?
Italy, but not just for the wine.
Why did you decide to become an instructor?
I wanted to be able to bring people into wine in a fun, non-threatening, engaging and down-to-earth manner the way my former boss, Kevin Zraly does. Especially after sitting in so many boring, stuffy, and pretentious presentations.
What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Getting everything done for my various clients. Keeping up with the ongoing updates and changes and harvests around the wine world.
What other passions beside wine do you have?
Volunteering at my son’s school. Working towards having permanent traffic safety installations implemented there that will save lives long after I am gone.
Name some recent wine discoveries that you find exciting.
2012 Fritz Willi Riesling Qualitatswein, Germany
2003 Krug Vintage Brut Champagne, France
2010 Vall Llach Porrera Vi de Vila DOQ Priorat, Spain
2011 Barrua Isola dei Nuraghi IGT Sardinia, Italy
2008 Donnafugata Mille e una Notte Contessa Entellina Rosso DOC Sicily, Italy
2012 Lodi Native Old Vine Single Vineyard Zinfandel Collection, Lodi, California
What do you think is the most unappreciated wine or region in the world?
Understanding Rioja is as easy as one, two, three.
1) There are three wine-growing regions—Rioja Alta, Alavesa, and Rioja Baja; three types of wine—white or “blanco,” rosé or “rosado,” and red or “tinto.”
Greece is home to some of the world’s most interesting grape varieties, yet the wines they produce have never received much fanfare. Even visitors to the country may not venture beyond a simple local white with a dish of freshly caught fish on a warm afternoon—or realize that there’s a diverse and serious industry here.
Winemakers around the globe look to France as the benchmark; Burgundy for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Rhone Valley for Syrah, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, the Loire Valley for Sauvignon Blanc, and Champagne. France encompasses an extraordinary range of terrain and weather patterns.
Finca Sandoval owner and journalist Victor de la Serna and Carlos Falcó Fernandez de Córdova, Marquis de Griñon, presented a selection of two white and six red single estate wines last month at Absinthe in San Francisco that was well-attended by Bay area wine trade and media.
A select group of sommeliers, wine merchants and journalists were invited to a presentation recently at St. Vincent Tavern & Wine Merchant in San Francisco honoring “The Ladies of Vino Nobile,” Virginie Saverys, the new owner of Avignonesi, and her winemaker Ashleigh Seymour.
Pinot Noir, “peeno nwaahhr”, is a favorite of sommeliers and winemakers alike. Why? First of all, this noble red variety from France's Burgundy region makes an intensely flavored, complex, high acid wine with incredible longevity. As the climate gets warmer, the fruit becomes riper and more obvious, and the acid softens a bit.
Wine and Dine Your Valentine
After New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day is the second worse night to dine out. Expectations are high, menus are fixed, everyone is rushed and stressed, and overall quality of food and experience is diminished. To make matters worse, this year it falls on a Saturday, already one of the busiest nights for many establishments.
The word “sommelier”, or wine waiter, may have stemmed from the old French words “sommerier”, “somier”, and “bête de somme”. In this old French language, a “bête de somme” was a “beast of burden” and the “sommelier” was its herdsman.
Here are my top spirit picks for this holiday season into the New Year: USA Menage a Trois Berry Vodka 750 ml $29.95. This delicious, delicately raspberry-flavored vodka is a fine cocktail base or sipper with a splash of sparkling water.
Part of the bounty of Northern California is its plethora of artisanal cheeses, which are featured proudly alongside the traditional European choices in shops and farmer’s markets. You might see the parallel with our local wines. Are the local cheeses better?
One of the more confounding elements in wine is minerality. Even in the more comprehensive, advanced-level wine tasting classes I often see blank stares when it comes to this topic.
The Champagne Bureau’s annual trade tasting took place October 21, 2014 at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco’s Union Square. With 37 brands represented, it was important to get there early and taste quickly as an hour in the room was packed and the noise level was like that of a cocktail party.
Sassicaia is a wine known and loved the world over. From a beautiful coastal hamlet in Tuscany, this Super Tuscan blend is hands down Italy’s most famous wine.
After a frenzy of new DOCG’s, many of them granted for less than serious wines in less than serious styles (think sweet, red and sparkling), Italy’s 74th DOCG, or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, has been announced. Piedmont’s Nizza DOCG is official.
Livermore Valley was once one of California’s prime sources of grapes. In 1882, Charles Wetmore planted cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from Chateau d’Yquem in his Cresta Blanca Vineyard.
Leland Stanford planted vineyards at Vina in Tehama County in the mid 1800’s, but it wasn’t until August 1, 2014 that the area was recognized as an official American viticultural area. The new AVA, Manton Valley, east of Redding and Mt. Lassen and overlapping Tehama and Shasta counties in northern California’s eastern foothills, is 11,178 acres, 200 of which are currently planted to varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
The 46 mile long and 8 mile wide Malibu Coast, with glitzy beachfront mansions and celebrity-filled Starbucks, is now an official American Viticultural Area, or American wine appellation. This is ironic in that the area is home to several low profile celebrity rehab facilities.
For lovers of Umbrian wines, the Sagrantino Umbrian Essence event, held on June 10th at San Francisco’s The Press Club, was a rare treat. Eight producers were on hand to showcase their wines, with an emphasis on the star of the region, Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Celebrating ten years, this weekend’s Zinfest kicked off with a casual outdoor dinner on the breezy shores of Lodi Lake. Wine lovers from as far as Vancouver and as near as Palo Alto and Sacramento and presenters including Fred Swan, Ellen Landis, and of course local Ambassador Randy Caparoso, joined local winemakers to honor the growers.
Dating from early Greek settlements here, Nero d’Avola is one of Italy’s top five grapes and the most noble of Sicily. It is still known as Calabrese, meaning “from Calabria”, or possibly even derived from its ancient vernacular name, Calaurisi, meaning “coming from Avola”.
Temperatures rose quickly in the tent at the Hotel Vitale’s Americano Restaurant last month, and not just because of the unseasonably warm San Francisco weather. Women were swooning over the charming and dapper Patrick Leflaive, of Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet.
I can hear a soulful Edith Piaf lamenting, “Mon Dieu”. With the French Paradox we learned that drinking wine in moderation, with even a rich meal, may be beneficial to our health and lower chances of coronary heart disease. With Mireille Giuliano’s book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, we learned that wine was not necessarily even fattening.
Have you tasted that amazing 98-point Cabernet from NextNewWinery? It was featured in Wine Speculator and Bob Park’s Wine No-Advertising.
On September 17th and again a week later, several of Chile’s prime agricultural zones were hit with severe frost, the worst in decades. The world will enjoy less of Chile’s fruit and wine as a result.
Champagne is going green. The CIVC has approved a new bottle (2 oz total weight) reducing the region’s CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons.
Cava is always a bargain, but the elegant, lemony and slightly yeasty Anna de Cordoniu Cava Brut nv $15 is especially a good deal. Ideal for showcasing delicate seafood and shellfish dishes, it also has the texture to match silky carpaccio.
From the hot, dry, challenging 2012 vintage across Italy’s south and islands, look for success stories including the 2012 Cusamano Benuara Sicilia IGT $18, Nero d’Avola with 30% Syrah, a nice crossover style for glass pours and the holiday table. The 2012 De Lucia Falanghina Sannio DOC $22 from Campania, is a round, creamy, softly-textured and citrusy wine with hints of yellow rose and Strega.
Toast to another great year with the tart strawberry, lemon peel, and Campari-esque nv Scharffenberger Brut Rosé Excellence Mendocino County $18. Despite unusually cool weather throughout much of the North Coast in August, particularly in Napa Valley, 2013 is looking similar to 2012 in both quantity and quality.
Twelve semi-finalists from different countries competed in Wines of South Africa’s Second Sommelier World Cup held October 12 at Franschhoek’s Grande Hotel. Three finalists were chosen; Anna Sviridenko of St. Petersburg’s Stroganoff Steak House, Morgan Harris of New York City’s Cork Buzz, and Canada’s Will Predhomme, Senior Sommelier at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant.
For many, the trip up Highway 29 ends at Calistoga. Yet if you continue about another 20 minutes up and over the grade, traversing Mt. St. Helena, you’ll end up in Middletown, at the base of Clear Lake.
Grape Variety Profile – Albariño
I like to say that Albariño is Miguel Migs. If you know music, you know this is the cool dude who mixes it up for the dance clubs in SoMa, San Francisco. With notes of apple, pear, lemon, lemon rind and toasted almond, tropical fruit, and occasionally, a vein of chalky minerality, this delicious, dry, hip, crisp and international white is best known as the wine of Rias Baixas, in Galicia, Spain. Rias Baixas is said to be it’s birthplace, and the grape thrives here, especially in vineyards with granite soil, where it produces wines of great structure.
The San Francisco Wine School is excited to announce the launch of its first online wine education program. The California Wine Appellation Specialist® This 9-week online certification program was developed by Master Sommelier, David Glancy.
Grape Variety Profile – Sauvignon Blanc
Along with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc is a member of the Bordeaux blanc family. They complement each other when blended together, but also make great wines on their own.
San Francisco Bay Area Summer Wine Events
Here are some of the hottest summer wine events taking place around the San Francisco Bay area:
I had the pleasure recently of joining the sommeliers of Redd, La Folie, and Boulevard, writers including Deborah Parker Wong of The Tasting Panel and Randy Caparoso of Sommelier Journal, and founders of a wine start-up, Block 122, at Lookout Ridge Winery, nestled atop the Mayacamas Mountains, for a sunset wine tasting. After twisting and turning up the mountain and driving on unpaved, rocky roads, I was yearning for the four-wheel drive SUV I used while working on vineyard mapping for Oz Clarke’s Wine Atlas.
On February 2, 2013, hundreds of press, trade, and then consumers filled San Francisco’s Concourse Pavilion for the 22nd Annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Festival. ZAP has other events, including one in Calgary in June, but this 4-day event in San Francisco is always their main event.
When thinking about selling wine to restaurants, try to remember who the customer is. In any sales position, good service goes a long way.
This is the third in a series of varietal profiles by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, presented to aid students in preparing for blind tasting exams and gaining a global view of many of the important grapes. Malbec, one of the five varieties used in red Bordeaux, is thought to have originated in South West France, though in Cahors, the appellation it is most famous for today, the local name is Auxerrois, suggesting origins in Northern Burgundy.
If you think the perfect stemware is a must-have for your wine of choice, think again. Every day wines taste great in the park, or at the beach, places where ideal glassware is not usually at hand.
This is the second in a series of varietal profiles by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, presented to aid students in preparing for blind tasting exams and gaining a global view of many of the important grapes. Muscat is an aromatic, highly perfumed and exotic grape that is popular in still, sparkling and sweet versions. It is the world’s oldest known grape variety, and probably originated in Greece, where it is still cultivated today.