Saturday, March 26, 2011

Diary of a Sommelier Student: Taste, Watch, Listen, Learn

It was a little over a year ago that I attended my first sommelier class. A lot has happened since then, but I remember that class as if it were yesterday. I especially remember the words of then AIS Campania president Antonio Del Franco. He told our class of 50 or so aspiring sommeliers that a sommelier never stops learning. He stressed the importance of getting out and discovering. Training, if you will, as an athlete would train for an athletic competition.

Those words have stuck in my mind. And as I approach the end of my II level sommelier class with AIS Napoli, his words are often replayed over and over again in my mind.

Last weekend in Campi Flegrei, on Lake Fusaro came my chance to practice what Antonio Del Franco preached. Parlano I Vignaioli was a two day event , held March 20-21, which featured nearly 50 organic wine producers from all over Italy. Stands were set up in  Casina Vanvitelliana with a beautiful view of the Ostrichina and Lake Fusaro in Bacoli (Na). The day I chose to go was a sunny Sunday afternoon. Perfect  weather and a perfect occasion to taste, watch, listen, and learn.

I began with the familiar…to taste Campania. Campi Flegrei, Irpinia, the Amalfi Coast. But then I realized I needed to branch out. To taste the other regions around that sunny Sunday. Wines from Alto Adige, from Piemonte, from Sicily, from Tuscany. Here my textbook came alive. Here I began to put together the pieces of the puzzle. To connect the region to a wine…a wine with a grape variety. To file away the colors, the aromas, and the flavors in my mind’s library.

I kept a close eye on what was going on around me. So besides tasting, I watched who was tasting. Often, wine producers would leave their counters in search for something new…something different. I watched and wondered what a Taurasi wine producer from Paternopoli (Av) would think of an aromatic Gewürztraminer from Alto Aldige. I watched how one enologist shared with another his Fiano di Avellino 1999 vintage. I watched how sommeliers and other wine enthusiasts would approach a table, choose a wine, and taste. I often asked them for their opinions and suggestions on something to try. And then I would listen.

Parlano I Vignaioli was full of seminars and wine laboratories. I attended one on rosé. An excellent chance to listen during an informal wine tasting led by professionals and the winery owners themselves. To listen during the question and answer period. On my own, I walked through the wine tasting stands and asked questions. As each producer spoke, I listened. I listened to Sicily. I listened to Tuscany. To Campi Flegrei, Caserta, Amalfi, and Irpinia. I listened attentively while they talked about their wine production; from the vine to wine. Their challenges, their struggles, and their successes.

By tasting…and I mean really tasting. By watching…not looking. By listening…when you absorb every word and store it away. That is how you learn. And that, I believe, Antonio Del Franco meant as he spoke to my class a little over a year ago. A day that seems like only yesterday.

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