Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment. Cheers! - Bethany

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Now we're gonna get serious about wine

Back to class tonight ... for the last time. Sommelier Advanced is the final step towards getting my pin and certification as an honest-to-goodness sommelier. Whoa. I'm stoked and scared out of my wits, all at the same time.

This is where things get serious. We're talking purchasing, marketing, establishing connections with wine agents and building a wine list. This is where you are evaluated table-side on whether you've got what it takes to present and pour like a pro. Already I've learned a few of the trade secrets, like the higher the price of a bottle, the lower the markup, so that you're sure to move it. Set it too high, and it sits in your cellar like a bump on a log.

With this class, we'll learn how to objectively identify a quality wine, regardless of whether you like it or not. Is it as good as it's worth? Is it food-friendly, or suited for a specific dish? And the most important rule of thumb: no matter how good you are as a sommelier, you can never tell someone what they like.

But NUMBERS, man. This class is all about numbers. Percentages, prices, mark-up. Isn't that why I went into journalism, why I became a writer? To get away from numbers? Somewhere, my Grade 12 math teacher is in hysterics over the irony.

Our instructor, Randy, a laid-back Newfoundlander who has a passion for food and a keen sense of how to sell, is the owner of Petit Bill's Bistro in Westboro. This is the guy who makes ordering something as basic as water sound like a gastronomic highlight: Would you care for sparkling, still or tap? San Pellegrino or Perrier? Flavoured or plain?

I like the way he analyzes a wine, paying particular attention to weight and mouth feel, and how it would pair with what food. I still feel like I didn’t get enough out of the school's Wine and Food class, so any opportunity to delve a little further into that mystical world of pairing is a good one.

We totally lucked out, as everything we tried was on the upcoming Vintages Release list. This is the first time I’ve taken part in a pre-release tasting; it’s nice to be able to head into the store having sampled some of the features. Hopefully, Randy will make this a regular part of the class.

Perrin et Fils 2006 Vinsobres Les Cornuds, Côtes-du-Rhône, France
($18.95 / 14 % abv)
There’s always one wine from class that gets the thumbs down from everyone in class ... except me. Although I didn’t think it would come up this early in the course, but there ya go. Violets, cassis and chocolate syrup on the nose. A spicy, dry texture with medium weight and good balance, followed by a sweet, tangy finish. This GSM (wine-speak for: grenache-syrah-mourvedre, the standard blend in Rhône wines) would go great with goose, venison tenderloin, or roasted veggies.

Chakana 2007 Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina
($13.95 / 13.8 % abv)
This could use a bit of decanting to open up all the aromas and flavours. As it was, the tight nose was full of mint, licorice, tobacco and stewed green vegetable (mmm, that sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? I mean that in a good way.) A solid, well-balanced mouthful, with chewy red fruit on the finish. I liked the class pairing suggestions on this one, particularly tapenade, spinach pie with Parmigiano-Reggiano, or a baked Brie with cranberry compote.

Salentein 2006 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
($17.95 / 14% abv)
Smells like violets, cherry, chocolate, cedar and alcohol. Striking warmth in the mouth, full-bodied with pleasant tannins and medium acid, with a flawlessly balanced finish.
Maybe my palate needs work, since everyone else was talking about pairing this with artisanal Quebec cheeses washed in dish soap, laced with woodstove ash, and buried in your backyard for a week … or something like that. Me? I could see this going well with an upscale croque monsieur, featuring quality Emmentaler and pepper-crusted Black Forest ham.

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