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October 19th, 2005 Laura Shinn | Special Section Stories
 

SOMMELIERS AND THE CITY

We toast Portland's finest wine pourers.

     
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Take your preconceived notions about sommeliers and put a cork in them.

That is, if you even know what a sommelier is. They are the expert guys or gals at a restaurant responsible for ordering, storing and pouring the good stuff; to become one takes an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and years of study. Many hopefuls receive a certificate through the International Sommelier Guild, or go full throttle and earn a master sommelier diploma through the Court of Master Sommeliers. But most of all, what makes a wine pourer into a sommelier, says Lisa Shara Hall, senior editor at Wine Business Monthly, "is a passion for wine."

Unfortunately, as Hall indicates, having a wine steward on the restaurant staff can often require a Trump-size budget. Thus, sommeliers are a rare breed in Stumptown.

But they're not completely nonexistent.

Over the past few years, as Oregon's fine-wine reputation continues to build, a few local establishments have ponied up and added wine experts to their staffs. And while it's true that sommeliers here also wait tables or manage staff who do, the grape is their first love.

In the name of the beloved sport of pairing food with wine, we'd like to introduce you to a few of our favorite formidable wine geeks.

Meet Tysan Pierce, who at the age of 21 was one of the youngest sommeliers in the country, of the Heathman Hotel; Randy Goodman from Wildwood; Jeff Groh from the Benson Hotel; and Andy Zalman of Higgins.

Randy Goodman, 43

Why would someone want this job?

Fame, fortune and free wine. Kidding! Seeing the expression on someone's face...when you turn them on to a wine that they've never heard of and they go, "Wow, this is really amazing."

Current wine obsession?

2004 Chateau D'Aupia.

"Guilty pleasure" wine?

If somebody else is buying? Krug.

Weirdest thing you've ever smelled in a wine?

Burned Fiat tires. When you smell wines like that, the technical term is DPIM, which means "don't put in mouth." That's the lowest rating you can give a wine.

Stemless glasses: lame or high fashion?

On my patio, we use those all summer. They're the perfect outdoor glass. I take my Reidel stemless glasses when my wife and I go camping.

Tysan Pierce, 31

Current wine obsession?

My weaknesses are German riesling and champagne, as two categories. I had a brunate Barolo from Vietti on my vacation. That was a brilliant bottle of wine.

"Guilty pleasure" wine?

Thierry Triloet, a champagne that tastes a little bit like Krug—it's reminiscent of a $120 bottle of wine, but it only costs me 20 bucks.

Up-and-coming wines?

I think that Western Australia is going to really change the way that Australian wine is perceived. Clonakilla is a shiraz viognier from the Canberra region in Australia. The other area that I think is really interesting is Austria. Prager is one of my favorite producers coming out of Austria.

What's your favorite food to enjoy with wine?

Alsatian riesling with choucroute garnie. It's a traditional Alsatian dish where they take sauerkraut and they braise it in riesling until it gets sweet, and it's just basically every single part of a pig that you could possibly consume.

Do you have your own wine list memorized?

Yeah. I have a huge list, over 700 different bottles, and I'm such a complete and total geek. All my bins are on three-digit numbers. When I drive, I'll be like, "Exit 242. That's the Matello pinot gris."

Pinot noir: overrated?

No. I think Sideways is overrated!

Stemless glasses?

They're great for camping, because they don't break easily. But they're difficult to hold and to toast with. Personally, I can't stand them.

Andy Zalman, 50

Current wine obsession?

I'm really in love with a Spanish verdejo called Naia from the Rueda region of Spain.

A wine miss?

A lot of folks want a pinot noir that's something that it's often not. They'll want it to be enormously fruity with gobs of wood and low acidity and want it to be screaming blackberry—often not the case.

Do you think you have a special tongue?

No. I think I have the quintessential Jewish nose and that helps me.

Weirdest thing you've ever smelled in a wine?

Wet dog. It's common. It's the same thing as funky cheese or stale Fritos.

Does merlot really suck?

No. Merlot is a vinifera that has boatloads of interest; it's just often made in a super-ripe innocuous style that has no acidity and is just wrapped with gobs of overly obvious oak. And when that's done, it becomes a very insipid wine. Every sip is like the last sip; the wine doesn't evolve and change, and it becomes very boring and flabby in the mouth.

Jeff Groh, 29

What wine are you in love with right now?

A 2001 Paul Pernot and Bienvenue Batard Montrachet. I don't have those wines very often, because I can't afford it, but when I do, that's a great wine to get to try.

Up-and-coming wine?

The pinot thing's going to end sooner or later. People are gonna be like, "Yeah, I saw Sideways. It sucked. I don't like pinot. I like merlot." For red, try Egri bikavér. It's a Hungarian red wine. That's going to be the next huge thing.

Hits?

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc. It was a 1999 vintage.

Misses?

Earlier in the year we sold an $1,100 bottle of Chateau Margaux. It should've been a great wine and blown the customer away, but I had to take it back. I ended up selling it to my bartender, and let's just say I didn't get $1,100 for it.

Does merlot really suck the way Sideways' Miles says it does?

No, no, it doesn't. Let's just say it doesn't really "fucking suck." Sometimes it's just shitty.

Stemless glasses: lame or high fashion?

Cannot stress too much how stupid those are. They're good for coffee.


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