Five a.m.on the first day of this year’s TexSom, the Texas Sommelier Conference. Butterflies rouse me from uneasy slumber. In just a few short hours, I will be at the mercy of those who know far more than I about wine and spirits, running the oenological gauntlet known as the Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition. It is time to face the Masters, as in Master Sommeliers, the group of just 105 106 wine experts who have earned the highest title in our guild.
The Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition is a three-headed beast consisting of a theory exam, a blind tasting and service. The theory exam commences promptly at 8:00 a.m., with advanced-level questions ranging from wine laws and grape varietals to growing regions, spirits and the business aspect of the wine profession. Forty-five short minutes later, the Master supervising the exam takes my completed (in a manner of speaking) exam and informs me of my times for blind tasting and service. My companions, the butterflies, have returned and the grueling wait begins.
Some time later, I walk into a small room in the corner of the hotel to find the following: One table, four wines (two red, two white), two Masters and one chair. The room is very still as the Masters quietly inform me that I will have sixteen minutes to identify each wine, to the best of my ability, down to varietal, region and vintage. I’ve seen this in a movie before, two suits bearing down on a terrified young man, trying to extract information he may or may not have. I’ve decided I’ve had enough of the ever-present butterflies, so I attempt to drown them in what I very much hope is Australian Riesling. Good times!!
Several hours later, the denoument begins. This time, even more Masters are dispersed among three tables and various devices of torture are strategically placed around the room.
First, a decanting station where I have to demonstrate old-wine service while I answer questions about aperitifs, vintages and the wine I am serving.
The second task is food and wine pairing. I can do this! My brief moment of joy is dispelled by this catch: I’m only permitted to draw from three wine regions south of the equator – and I’m not allowed to use eight of the most popular varietals associated with these regions. Capered cream sauce and Torrontes, anyone?
Did I mention the six brown spirits in front of me? Without tasting, I have three minutes to identify all six. The joy is never-ending.
Lastly, cocktail questions and champagne service. The soft hiss of a champagne cork being extracted without the customary pop sets my mind at ease.
The day is over.
I hope to someday join these Masters’ impressive ranks.
Jason Huerta is certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers as a Sommelier. He is a member of the wine team at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas and writes for EscapeHatchDallas.com.
Ed Note: Had to another Master Somm to the count. After this, the number in the U.S. section is now 106.