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For this weeks journal I want to explain what the sommelier competition entails. The competition is divided into three parts, a written theory test, a mock service at a restaurant, and a blind tasting. The blind tasting is always the most nerve racking and mysterious, and I would like to give you an idea of how I prepare for the blind tasting portion along with a few techniques I will be using.

First let me describe the situation. I will be seated at a table with six glasses of wine in front of me. I have absolutely no clue as to what is in each glass. Across the table from me are three Master Sommeliers, some of the greatest wine personalities in the world who expect me to taste the wines and inform them in less than 25 minutes, the grape variety, the country and region of origin and the age of all of the wines.

The judges first expect me to talk about the appearance of the wine by describing the color, the clarity, the rim of the wine, and finally the legs. After I have described the appearance I am expected to talk about the nose. It is important to hit as many descriptors as I can because I get points for every correct one, so I will mention the fruit, the earthiness, the minerality, the oak, and the intensity of the wine. The third part is the palate. Here I have to go into detail about what I am tasting, the acid, the body, the alcohol level, and the length of the finish. After describing the appearance, the color and the palate I am expected to gather together all my descriptions and come up with a final conclusion. However due to fact that every major country in the world is now producing wines of high quality combined with the time pressure, makes this the most grueling part of the competition for me.

This may sound like a joke, but like an athlete I train my nose and palate for the competition, and I find the best way to train is to taste and smell. How do I go about this? The first thing I use is a gift from my father, the tasting kit known as Le Nez du Vin. This kit consists of small bottles of different aromatics such as stone fruits, spices, mushroom, leather, and flowers. By practicing with the kit, I keep my nose sharp. Every time I taste wine, coffee, or even water I think about the mouth-feel and how it stimulates me.

I have also found organizing a tasting group to be very beneficial. I simply gather a couple of people, set up a theme such as new world Chardonnay versus old world Chardonnay and have each person bring a wrapped bottle of wine unknown to everybody else. Earlier this week I had some friends come over to the store for a blind tasting that we kept short but intense. When my turn came up I thought there was no way that I was going to get the wine wrong. The color could not be any darker, deep and rich with a nose full of blackberries, plums, leather and a beautiful touch of mint. The palate was full bodied but the tannins were elegant with notes of coffee and a long finish of black fruit. For my final conclusion I really believed that it could not have been anything else but a great Cabernet from Napa. However, to my dismay it was a 2000 Cabernet/Malbec blend from Argentina. It was very humbling tasting that wine blind in front of my colleagues but it is not always the one that you get right but the ones that you get wrong that you truly learn from.

As you can imagine, I was a little disappointed but luckily for me Jean-Luc was there to brighten up my spirits as he opened up one the greatest California Cabs, the The Shafer Hillside Select 1991 from Napa. Talk about greatness in a bottle and exercising my palate.

If anyone has any questions or words of encouragement, please e-mail Yannick

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