I am at The Four Seasons Resort and Club in Irving attending a day of pre-program events centered around TexSom. TexSom is the best DFW-area wine conference of the year. TexSom Conference and the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition were founded by James Tidwell MS, CWE, Beverage Manager at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in La Colinas; Drew Hendricks MS, CWE, Director of Beverage Education for Pappas Restaurants in Houston; and Guy Stout MS, CWE, with Glazer’s Distributors.
Next to me is a guy who works in wine retail who has come in all the way from Sylmar, California. On the stage is a speaker from New Zealand and two others from New York. The latter pair are with the Culinary Institute of America, so they are expert teachers as well as knowing their subject matter.
We are doing a three-hour session on tasting wine. We are being taught the method taught to candidates for the Master Sommelier exam of The Court of Master Sommeliers CMS. That is the highest qualification for wine service and increasingly requested in positions in the wine trade. It is amazing how involved the tasting process is at this level.
We will taste some 16 wines in the course of the tasting. For each, we will use the CMS approach and then hope to guess the correct wine at the end. After our guesses, the identity of the wine is revealed. Since 80% of the attendees are in the trade, this is a zero-bull* tasting. No florid prose about the bouquet making one want to dance on the beach at midnight, etc. Rather, does this wine taste of dark fruits or red fruits? Which ones? Was it aged in oak? French or American? Those are the kinds of questions our teachers, who become our interrogateurs, pepper us with.
The wines, all donated by members of the trade for educational purposes, are carefully matched to the profile expected for that type of wine. For example, as an example of aged Napa Cabernet Sauvignon we are given what turns out to be a 20-year old Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. It is faded, dried out, just a shadow of its former self, but still unmistakably the flavor profile of Napa Cabernet, the sweet formidable tannins of Napa Cabernet, the cigar box and hints of green pepper of Napa Cabernet. Likewise, lots of participants guessed the last wine, a Nebbiolo from the Piedmonte region of Italy, by its red fruit flavors and high acid.
Our instructors throw out all kinds of interesting facts. For example, achieve the MS certification (the top level of the CMS classification) and you can still easily be fooled by wines that are made in an atypical style or are flawed for some reason. Or your palate can simply be ‘off’ on a certain day. He jokes that holding the MS award means that you had a great palate on the right day, the day of the tasting test.
I also learn that about 90% of wines are ‘doctored’ in some way. Meaning, that they have something added from outside the fermenting grapes and yeast. Most likely sugar or acid as these levels are crucial determinants of the flavor of the final wine. For example, if the weather is cooler than normal, photosynthesis in the vineyard generates less sugar than normal. Since fermentation is the conversion of sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide this would imply a low alcohol wine lacking in ripe fruit. The winemaker can add sugar at the fermentation phase to boost the alcohol level. Likewise, an overly hot harvest can result in acid levels collapsing. The winemaker can add acid during the fermentation to make levels approximate more normal weather conditions. The problem with this is that the results are often not pretty. We tried a Miner Viognier from California where the acid, rather than being an integrated part of the taste of the wine, stood apart from it like a ball of astringency separate from the main body of the wine in the mouth.
More seminars take place later today and tomorrow the real show begins at 9am with a discussion of the wines of Bordeaux.