October 9, 2013

Joe Appel on Wine: In the wine world, Portland's knowledge base is lacking.

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Yet amidst the discussion of how acidity, bitterness and salt are sensed, and the relationships among yeast, sugar, alcohol and carbon dioxide, I scribbled in my notes, “There’s no talk here of grokking.” I mean that if this is all going to stick – this attempt to professionalize the profession, and get servers to know how to help diners choose an interesting, enjoyable wine – we need not so much “demystify wine,” in that overused phrase, as get people see that wine is worthy of full-body engagement and full-soul love.

Chefs need to taste more, or at least hire a bar manager, or somm, or wine director, or whatever you want to call it, who has time to taste, time to educate staff, time to interact with diners. Then the wine lists need to be written with heart and soul (and yeah, intelligence) to appeal to a broad spectrum of diners, from merely curious to well-versed. If front-of-the-house staff don’t already have wine love, they need to be led to wine love, and taught to speak about wine as engagingly as they speak about food.

Obviously, all of this is tied to compensation, which is tied to the cost of the meal. It’s a subject for another time, though my vote is for restaurant owners to prohibit tipping and pay servers real wages, rewarding the ones who excel.

Incidentally, the wines tasted at the initial American Sommelier session were exceptionally well chosen, not only because they illustrated well the components of the pedagogy – acidity, sweetness, body, aroma – but also most happen to be terrific wines, by which I mean wines you could fall in love with. In the end, if Portland’s wine culture is to keep pace with its food bonanzas, we’re going to have to fall in love.

Information about upcoming sessions is available at americansommelier.com/maine, or by emailing office@americansommelier.com. Single sessions cost $60, but multi-session discounts and group rates are available. This is how it should be, since the ripest candidates are those servers and cooks (and non-pro wine explorers) who are ready for a full plunge.

Their bill should be paid by restaurant owners who give a damn whether their shop coasts on “Portland-is-foodie-heaven” propaganda, or pushes toward that special realm that offers a truly distinctive – and truly comprehensive – experience.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market, but not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold there. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at: soulofwine.appel@gmail.com

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