"1994 Vouvray is KILLING it with that dish, man."
In the new drinks-driven PUNCH, a publication catering to all-things-booze, Francis Percival (from England) wrote an interesting piece on how American Sommeliers (SOMMs) are becoming "Fratty"… This seems to be evoking some very strong feelings from many in the SOMM community, and wanted to throw my two-cents out there...
Yes, there are videos of wine pong (yes, like beer pong)… SEE:
And yes, people have tattoos of "RIESLING"*, and corkscrews...
*To the right: That is a TEMPORARY tattoo on one of the most famous, well respected Wine Professionals, Jancis Robinson, who just so happens to be British. (Looks like the Americans aren't having all the fun...)
One of my secrets for finding rare/old wines, SommPicks, a website that sells wine selected by top Somms, uses the catchphrase, "EpicJuice."
I am guilty of Flabongo-ing (yes, a beer-bong in the shape of a Flamingo) a Spanish wine-drink, Kalimotxo.
Perhaps the most "fratty" examples can be seen in a film, SOMM (a documentary) that follows four aspiring Master Sommeliers. These guys might come across as "fratty" according to most standards... Nicknames, teasing, taunting, "Dude, 04 Vacqueyras, that's a ballsy call!"
There is even an event called WINERIOT (which I've worked) that is a four hour walk around tasting, complete with educational sessions, temporary tattoo stations, a "bubble bar" for sparkling wines, and a photobooth with "I SPIT / I SWALLOW" signs and other creative props.
For the *most* part, I don't know if that is quite the way I'd describe it...
More informal? Yes, which, frankly, I enjoy and I believe has been helping contribute to the rising number of wine drinkers in America, and Percival would seem to agree. No longer is wine seen as something for the "elite" or something to be intimidated by… That said, I think service in general is becoming less formal - not just wine service.
Going out is no longer necessarily a formal affair. There are many places in NYC where you are overdressed if you're not wearing jeans... My go-to outfit these days is boots, dark jeans and a blazer. Maybe a sparkly headband, to you know, "dress up."
The SOMM or server who happens to be wearing attire that is perhaps only slightly more "formal" or on par with the guests' attire can make one instantly feel at ease. Service becomes almost more like dining at a friend's really nice friend's apartment, where it is more than just about great food and wine. This convivial atmosphere and ambiance transforms the entire dining experience. While food and wine are still important, at the forefront is good conversation, feeling welcome, and simply having a great time. The server or SOMM is no longer there to "serve" you necessarily. He or she is there to make you feel at ease and to ensure you enjoy every minute of your meal.
If that is taken to mean "Fratty," then I'm all for it.
In addition, Percival comments on the higher educational levels of most American Somms. I am always amazed at where most Somms started prior to getting into the industry. For me, I was never exposed to wine growing up - not once. The first time I ever had a sip might have been on my 21st birthday in Florence, Italy... and I hated it. (Granted, it likely came out of a Fiasco, but still...) I am trying to finish up a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, and to be honest, I think my degree has already proved incredibly helpful, in part because I can better understand where confusions lie (dry vs tannin? What? Burgundy is a place!? Not a grape? Why?!) I can empathize, and better understand how to communicate and engage those who might otherwise be intimidated by wine (as I was for so many years). But I am sure my case is not unique, and others in the industry are likely using their previous careers and degrees within the wine world, perhaps without even being aware. It goes beyond simple enthusiasm. Wine has a funny way of being able to link people together, and bridge across nearly every discipline. I'm not sure that being highly educated directly corresponds or leads to being "Fratty"... I was never in the Greek system in undergrad. Just saying, seems like a bit of a logical leap.
If anything, I would argue the wine-scene is LESS "fratty" now in the US, compared to when/where wine was/is still more of an "old-boys-club". Not to use the same word twice, but I really do think of "fratty" to mean an exclusive club to which outside members are not privy. Those were the days of the tastevin (I didnt even know what that was... because I've only seen it in movies) where old men would secretly sneer if you did not know that 1982 was a superb vintage in Bordeaux (let alone which side of the Gironde River). Two of the SOMMS that Percival interviews, Levi Dalton and Pascaline Lepeltier. were kind enough to email, and to even meet with me in order to discuss a career in the wine industry. Me - at the time when I met with Pasquiline, I literally had NO service experience besides working at a burrito place one summer during college. She took an hour out of her day to sit with me, discuss options, and even offered for me to trail her one night. Does that sound like a super-secret-unwelcoming-to-outsiders industry? I don't think so. At Corkbuzz Wine Studio with Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier, I've been lucky enough to intern for classes.
Again...Me. A nobody in the wine world.
Amazingly, I even was just awarded a scholarship for the Level1 Court of Master Sommeliers Course. They did not have to give it to me - a non-full-time "SOMM"...
It's as if I walked onto campus senior year and said, "Um... Heeeey! I know you've already been in this for years, but can I join? I think you're super cool and I'm a nice person. Thanks!"
But, look at that. No fancy pedigree. No legacy. Welcomed into the "Fratt" with nothing but enthusiasm.
In essence, I agree with many of Percival's points. I just don't agree with the term "Fratty" to describe the emerging wine-scene as a whole.
In the end, this what I took away from Percival's piece, and I whole heartedly agree:
The American SOMMS, though perhaps more casual* than in the past (*in general*) are changing the way the public enjoys wine: making people feel as though they can enjoy wine without the intimidation.
So, if this new emerging #SOMM gets more people more into wine...
"Then, I'm totes down, bro."