Sommelier Isn’t French For Snob

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - November 30, 2011
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One of my friends just sent me a really cool article on about a new glass bottle replacement that is made out of paper! Isn’t that cool? It weighs only 50 grams in comparison to the 500 grams of a regular glass bottle. It is lined with a sealed foil bladder on the inside so that the wine is not in contact with the paper. You can imagine it is much more eco-friendly.

I thought this was way cool and am totally for it. But what got my panties in a bunch was the following line written by the author. “So an inventor has created a cheaper, greener alternative with a paper-based bottle that will probably have sommeliers turning their noses up at it.”

I’m not usually that sensitive, but I think sommeliers are getting a really bad rap. I know that in the past (and perhaps still) the sommelier was some type of guru that could be condescending and judgmental when it comes to wine. The image of a tuxedo-clad, usually whitehaired gentleman with the tastevin hanging around his neck is still what some people think of when they think of “sommelier.” Sure, some of them in the past probably mistreated guests and made them feel bad for their wine choices, or maybe even coerced them into buying something that they didn’t feel comfortable with. But today’s sommelier is a far cry from the wine curmudgeons of old.

Today’s sommelier is a new breed. Most of us are young and truly serviceoriented. None don the large silver cup around the neck with a long chain. The only inkling one might have, unless being told that the person is a sommelier, is perhaps a lapel pin with grapes or maybe even a “Court of Master Sommeliers” lapel pin. (The gold one is for Master Sommeliers.) A large number of them are women. Some are geeky, some debonair, but all are extremely passionate about wine and want everyone else to enjoy wine just as much as they do. This desire is at the root of the sommelier’s existence: to share the joy of wine.

And when it comes to advances in wine technology, production, storage, marketing and packaging, the “new” sommelier is at the forefront of it. We try it, test it, learn more about it and, in the end, possibly promote it or debunk it. I know several sommeliers who were the first to promote “screw cap” wines in the finest dining establishments on earth. I know one who created an entire wine program on wines bottled with anything but a cork. Some sommeliers are pioneers in importing, service and even making wines themselves.

The word “sommelier” doesn’t equate to snobbery. You can find snobbery in any way of life from art to physics and from religion to music. Wine is no different and perhaps there will be wine snobs for eternity. But to assume that sommeliers are not agents of change and are just rigid dinosaurs, that’s an idea not worth recycling.

Recommendations: 2010 Barnett Vineyards Chardonnay “Sangiacamo Vineyard” ($32) At a recent tasting of more than 30 different Chardonnays, this one stood out the most to me. It was wonderfully complex, bordering on tropical, and on the palate had this terrifically intense flavor and balance. 2007 Selene Cabernet Sauvignon “Dead Fred” ($49) This has to be one of the best Cabernets for under 50 bucks. Made by superstar winemaker Mia Klein, this wine has loads of blackberry and even blueberry fruit, seductive tannins and a lengthy floral vanillin finish.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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