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Tastings and Submodalities

Wine Tasting and Submodalities: A Breakthrough Discovery In November of 2009 I worked with world-renowned behavioral scientist, Tim Hallbom, at the Everyday Genius Institute. Tim Hallbom and I spent hours deconstructing my tasting process. Our goal was to really figure out how I recognize aromas and flavors and analyze wine. I have always wondered how I really know what’s in a wine. And I have been on a search to find more effective ways to teach my students how to taste. In the course of working with Tim Hallbom, we slowed down my tasting process dramatically and discovered how I…

How to Taste Wine

In the blind tasting portion of the Master Sommelier exam a candidate is confronted with six wines and has 25 minutes to identify the vintage, grape variety(s), country, region and appellation using a very specific tasting technique called “deductive tasting.” That’s four minutes and ten seconds for each wine. The bad news is that I can’t teach you how to pass the exam in this brilliant missive. The good news is that I can walk you through this deductive tasting technique step-by-step, and in doing so you’ll become a much better taster regardless of your level of expertise–whether it be…

Have Yourself a Merry Little...

​In keeping with the ghost of Christmas blog posts past I will once again offer a humble list of potential gifts. I’ll also offer a bit of safe and sane advice: buy yourself something really nice for Christmas (Hint: you should do the same for your birthday). To expect friends and family to know exactly what you want is the essence of folly and frustration. Personally that yuletide gift to self is almost always a good book. And if we’ve learned anything this year, we all need to read a bit more. I digress… With that in mind, here is…

Old Becomes New

A question I’m often asked by someone not in the industry is, “What’s new in the wine world?” If I ran into you in line at a local market and you asked said question at this point in time, I’d probably have a one-word response: “Furmint.”If not familiar, Furmint is arguably Hungary’s greatest white grape. It’s the mainstay of the country’s legendary sweet botrytis wines from the region of Tokaj. These historic ambrosias have been made for centuries and were in their time vinous treasures of the courts of czars and other European nobility. But all that changed with the…

Clearing the Mechanism

October 29, 2014; game seven of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals.  In the bottom of the fifth inning Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner enters the game with the score tied 2-2.  In the remaining five innings of the game the Giants would only score one more run; the Royals wouldn’t score again.  In a performance for the ages Baumgarner completely shut out the powerful Kansas City offense giving up only two hits in five innings.  Just the night before the potent Royals lineup had blanked the Giants 10-0.   But for the third time…

Mastery: Applying the Khan Academy Philosophy to the MS Theory Curriculum

Not long ago I stumbled across the Khan Academy. If not familiar, Khanacademy.com is an online school that offers free instruction on a wide range of subjects, from math (up to and including Calculus) to science to the arts including classical music. The school is the brainchild of Salman Khan, a former Silicon Valley V.C. Khan’s idea for an online school evolved from an experience close to home. His niece Nadia had failed her sixth grade math placement test and was completely devastated. Khan sensed that her poor exam performance might have negative long term consequences as in a permanent…

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Sony Pictures Proxemics is the science of how we communicate with others and the environment around us through the use of space. While the term may sound a bit abstract it definitely applies to wine service as far as awareness of the appropriate distance to maintain with guests at the table. Proxemics came to mind abruptly during the Advanced service exam in St. Louis this past week when one of the candidates at my table was so close to me that I could feel him breathe on the top of my head every time he said something. In some camps…

Advice for Students Taking the Certified Sommelier Examination

The Certified Sommelier Examination was introduced in December of 2005. Previously students who passed the MS Introductory examination could apply directly to the Advanced Course after waiting the required years’ time.  More often than not first time students did poorly on the Advanced Exam for any number of reasons. Each student is unique so the three parts of the examination will always pose different challenges to different individuals.  Historically the major challenge was the service exam where the combination of lack of appropriate preparation for dealing with nerves—sometimes extreme—in an audition situation doomed most first timers. Exceptions to the rule…

Pareto’s Palate

Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto (1848 – 1923) was an Italian engineer, economist, and philosopher. He made numerable contributions to economics and the social sciences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1896 while at the University of Lausanne Pareto published his first paper called “Cours d’économie politique.” In the paper Pareto put forth the theory that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The 80/20 ratio came to him from observing that 20% of the peapods in his garden produced 80% of the peas. Pareto went on to demonstrate how the 80/20…

End Game

Recently I was in Washington D.C. to present at the annual Society of Wine Educator’s Conference. The night before I joined two friends for dinner at The Grill Room in the Rosewood Hotel. The Grill Room is a small, intimate dining room that seats about 60 featuring a seasonal menu created by Executive Chef Frank Ruta. The cooking was simply superb and no mystery there as Ruta’s resume spans over three decades in D.C., including stints as the executive sous chef at The White House during the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations. He’s also received top awards from the James…

Van Gogh’s Glass

The Red Vineyard by Van GoghTwo things I shared with my Dad were classical music and a love of great art. The first was a vital part of my life from fourth grade when I started playing the trumpet all the way into my mid-30’s. During that time there were two music degrees as well as a short career playing freelance classical trumpet in San Francisco. The second, my love of painting, goes all the way back to around 1960 when my Dad ordered a series of books called “Metropolitan Seminars in Art,” written by Robert Canaday and published by…

James Bond and Your Happy Place

Eon ProductionsHopefully you had a chance to watch some of the recent coverage of the Olympics. I was busy so only had bits of time here and there to tune in but was always glad when I did. What made the games so compelling to me was not so much the competition itself, but observing the various athletes’ ability to focus in the moment under tremendous pressure, not to mention their ability—or not–to control their nervous system so they could bring their “A” game at a specific time on a given day.One thing I noted from watching the best of…

Ask

Gustav Klimt: Detail from the Tree of LifeOnce upon a time commencement speeches were the stuff of dust and tedium. Most were 10-15 minutes of filler provided by an extinguished luminario—usually an alum—meant to provide pearls of wisdom to graduating acolytes who would soon be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. But all that’s changed. In the last decade or so it’s become fashionable for universities large and small to invite major headliners—be they politicians, actors, or high tech gurus—to present at commencement gatherings. Some speeches, like that of the late Steve Jobs and his address to the Stanford class of 2005,…

Drag and Drop: Installing Olfactory Memories

​Memory of a number of key aromatics is needed to recognize classic grapes and wines. Some are more problematic than others. The tough ones can become “blind spots” for student tasters and lead to habitual confusion between similar– but in reality very different–grape varieties and wines. Can’t find black pepper in a red wine? Then Barossa Shiraz and Mendoza Malbec will forever seem like the same wine (which to me is like confusing Elvis and Beyoncé). Can’t pick out white pepper in white wine? Grüner Veltliner will always be difficult to identify. Can’t find bell pepper/pyrazines? Then Sancerre and Chinon…

Stopping Time

A belated Happy New Year to everyone! I hope the past few weeks have afforded you some well-deserved quality time off with family, friends, and most of all solo.I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions. In the past I’ve found that any resolutions I make are quickly forgotten causing needless pseudo-guilt and moments of almost feeling bad. But one thing I am reminded of every New Year’s is how quickly time passes and more importantly, how it seems to be  passing faster as I get older.​Several years ago I had a huge AHA moment in regards to time and how…

Outside In

I remember very little about my first attempt at the Master’s tasting exam and for good reason: it was monumentally, epically bad. I crashed and burned to the extent that I can’t remember anything about it, even who the examiners were sitting across the table from me. It was as if I didn’t have a clue about how to taste consistently much less any frame of reference for using the grid. Every wine seemed different because my approach was anything but consistent. ​But I’m getting ahead of myself. ​I didn’t grow up with wine. I was raised in a big Catholic family…

Beginning Taster FAQ's

Good friend Diana Hamann owns a wine shop in Evanston, IL, called The Wine Goddess. It’s the quintessential neighborhood shop with a thoughtful, well-chosen, and value-guided selection. But beyond the bottles on the shelf the ever-charming and gregarious Diana has done a great job building a sizeable, close-knit community that hangs out at her place for tastings, live music events, and more. After several years of trying to line up the stars with my travel schedule I finally had the chance to do a tasting class at her place a few months ago. There were about 30 people in the…

Underneath it All

They’re something every serious wine geek owns but rarely, if ever, mentions to outsiders. No one would understand. We take pains to transport them great distances home only to store them on dark, dusty shelves. In my case some live in a basket in my living room but most are tucked away in an old cardboard box in the garage. What are these mysterious things? Rocks. That’s right, rocks.Aside from a geologist whose livelihood is completely dependent on all things subterranean, no other profession I can think of involves a compulsive desire to collect rocks, even dirt. But wine geeks…

Down the Rabbit Hole

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  Henry Miller The 2015 Master’s Exam in Aspen took place last week. I’m thrilled to write that post exam there are seven new Masters.  They include Brahm Callahan of Grill 23 & Bar in Boston; William Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas; Elyse Lambert of Maison Boulud in Montreal; Jack Mason of Marta in New York; Michael Meagher of Jackson Family Wines in Groton, MA; Kevin Reilly of Cyrus in Healdsburg; and June Rodil of the Maguire Moorman Hospitality Group in Austin. Kudos to them for…

OP ED

In Pursuit of Sanity There are well over 100,000 wines commercially produced every year.  Why is it then that certain demographics of our industry feel compelled at times to proclaim their wines, their way of making wine, or their way of critiquing/scoring wine as the only real, correct, or worst of all “true” way.  Why? Bruce Schoenfeld’s recent piece in the NY Times, “The Wrath of Grapes,” points to exactly that. The article portrays sommelier-winemaker Raj Parr and other members of the group “In Pursuit of Balance” squarely against uber critic Robert Parker. I’ve known Raj for over 20 years…

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