Five years later, I returned to a restaurant that originally left a marked impression on me. My first visit was defined by the work of a tremendous sommelier. If there was a single influence that inspired me to get into the wine industry, it could be them. Charismatic and personable, they elevated every wine we drank that night.
The sommelier was well-dressed and well-spoken; passionate and knowledgeable. I wanted to be able to speak about wine like them. Flavours of beetroot in Central Otago Pinot Noir? I was hooked. How did they decide what wine to pair with the final dessert, a delicious, complicated mess topped with cotton candy? They threw, in his words, a Hail Mary pass in the form of a pour of Sauternes. Dammit, it worked.
I had already been considering a ‘career’ change of sorts. At the time, I had nearly completed a degree in Political Science. My last semester was filled with contemplation of my next steps. I looked at graduate studies and law school. (You can’t get meaningful employment with a degree in Political Science, at least with my networking ability.)
I also looked at a winemaking and viticulture program. A diverse range of prospects, to say the least. Maybe I’m fortunate for being dissuaded from law. Maybe it was having spent four years in Montreal, where an interest in wine naturally became an obsession. I chose wine. And I haven’t looked back since.
My later experience at the same restaurant was much different. A conversation with the sommelier felt like talking to a textbook. I wanted a wine with some maturity to take advantage of the restaurant’s cellar at a modest price. I asked for their thoughts on an aged 2003 St-Julien versus a 1998 Cote-Rotie. They responded with a droid-like list of descriptors of youthful versions of each region. They liked the St-Julien for it’s “power”; Cote-Rotie could be “thin.” After selecting the ’03 Bordeaux based on their recommendation, they returned to say, “the remaining bottles must have been sold on my day off.” Instead, they suggested a 2010 Chateau Chasse-Spleen.
I’m thankful to the first sommelier, for inspiring me to pursue a career in the wine industry. But I worry that I’ll never be able to replicate that original experience. We ended up drinking the 1998 Cote-Rotie. It was a beautiful, elegant bottle that has gracefully aged to its peak, now 18 years later. Almost more Pinot than Syrah-like, yes, I suppose it did lack “power.”