Who knew? We live in a sommelier hotbed. Lettie Teague’s weekly wine column in yesterday’s WSJ is devoted to Seattle, Land of the Serious Sommeliers. The article is subtitled, “a lovably nerdy mind set has helped the city in the Pacific Northwest become a wine lover’s destination,” and in it I learned that our “knowledge-hungry professionals have put together some of the country’s most inventive restaurant wine lists, and turned Seattle from a casual-dining town into a top destination for oenophiles.”
Perhaps you are familiar with the Court of Master Sommeliers. According to its website,
the Court of Master Sommeliers was established to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants. Education was then, and remains today, the Court’s charter. The first successful Master Sommelier examination was held in the United Kingdom in 1969. By April 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established as the premier international examining body.
It offers four levels of sommelier examination: introductory, certified, advanced, and master.
The Court’s examination director, Shayn Bjornholm, lives in Seattle and was once the wine director at one of Seattle’s finest restaurants, Canlis. In the WSJ article, Bjornholm explains that “sommeliers in Seattle understand that there is no way they can compete with a city like New York in terms of access to great wines, but they can aspire to be Master Sommeliers. … Seattle has become one of the great places to get your Master Sommelier degree because of its altruistic, pay-it-forward mentality. People want to do well, make a name for themselves, but not at the expense of the community.”
The article features four sommeliers. The last one to be quoted—and to have his photo displayed—is our favorite local sommelier, the Georgian Room‘s Joseph Linder. That he is our favorite isn’t saying much, since he’s the only sommelier we presume to have any sort of connection to. We were married in the Olympic Hotel. The Georgian Room is their restaurant, and the one at which we celebrate our anniversary more years than not. When we do, we enjoy chatting with Joseph, who has appeared in past posts. Thus it was a special pleasure to come upon his face while reading the article. Here’s the relevant passage:
Despite the culture of education and accomplishment that thrives in Seattle, Mr. Tanghe [sommelier at Aragona] insisted that it was the city’s good quality of life that did the best job of facilitating residents’ commitment to learning about wine. “A balanced life is a priority,” he said.
This was likely the only time that I’ve ever heard a sommelier use the word “balance” to describe his life, and not a wine. It was also a refrain I heard several times during my visit. For Joseph Linder, a Master Sommelier and wine director at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel, a balanced life was “critical.”
Mr. Linder, 54, said he has experienced an unbalanced life working in places like Paris, London and New York. When he was a captain at Le Bernardin in New York, he worked from nine in the morning until midnight. Life isn’t like that in Seattle. “You have more time to be part of the community—and to study, of course,” he said.
Our dinnertime approaches. Time for me to play resident sommelier and select tonight’s wine.
I’m choosing the Cakebread Cellars 2005 Dancing Bear Red that we’ve had in the cellar for a few years. It’s a cab-cab blend, 94% cab sauvignon and 6% cab franc. Here’s the winemaker tasting note:
Reflecting its mountain terroir, our 2005 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon displays fresh, high-toned floral aromas mingled with ripe, spicy, brambleberry fruit tones and earthy/truffle-y scents. (Julianne compares the aroma to walking through a forest after a warm summer rain). In the mouth, the wine is intense and concentrated, with a core of beautifully pure wild cherry fruit, yet its texture is supple and elegant. Beautifully structured and amazingly focused, it culminates in a long, savory finish full of rich dark chocolate and mineral tones. While Dancing Bear Ranch is tantalizingly delicious now, it will evolve beautifully in bottle over the next 8-10 years.
Postscript: We’ve had dinner. The wine was excellent.