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TexSom 2013 Diary – Part I

The Texas Sommelier Conference (or TexSom, as it’s generally known) is an annual conference for wine professionals in the state of Texas – though in recent years, its reach has gone far beyond the borders of the great state of Texas. I’ve been told that TexSom is the largest gathering of Master Sommeliers in the world that isn’t a training or testing session for the Court of Master Sommeliers. (There were 34 Masters present at TexSom 2013, of only 202 Masters that have ever existed!)

This was my second year attending TexSom, and after describing last year’s confab to a friend, he termed it “Spring Break for Wine Geeks.” Although that characterization does capture some aspects (there is a RIDICULOUS amount of wine consumed!), TexSom is also an excellent opportunity to experience new wines and to “sharpen the saw” on all things wine – as you’ll see from my 2013 TexSom diary.

Day 1, Session 1: Traditional Method Sparkling Wine

9:15 – First seminar of the morning is on Traditional Method Sparkling Wine. The first session last year – at 9am on a Sunday – was Bordeaux. It was a rather brutal experience to be faced with 8 glasses of beefy Bordeaux right after your morning coffee (!), so I’m glad that someone wised up this year and made the first session more reasonable. It’s almost like an early Sunday brunch…minus eggs benedict and plus PowerPoint.

9:22 – Quick review of the production technique for sparkling wine produced by the Traditional Method (or Methode Champenoise). Our presenter is  Charles Curtis, a Master of Wine (MW) who spent many years working with Moët Hennessey as well as time with Christie’s. He’s quite a character and sets the perfect tone for the first morning session.

9:27 – In Champagne, the law allows for only 2550 litres of juice to be pressed from 4000 kilograms of grapes. If the grapes are pressed harder, the juice becomes increasingly bitter – which is not ideal for the delicate wine base which is used for the world’s premier sparkling wine.

9:37 – The first wine of TexSom 2013 is a Cava from Spain: 2006 Raventos I Blanc L’Hereut Reserva Brut from the Penedes region, where 95% of Spanish Cava is produced. Bright, clean and delicious. It’s going to be a great conference!

9:55 – Random Somm Quote: “Some of the best wines have the stupidest names.”

10:00 – Wines two and three are Italian sparkling wines: Fantinel Prosecco and Bellavista Franciacorte Gran Cuvee. Fantinel Prosecco is widely available and an excellent value. The aroma profiles for Franciacorte are similar to the Aube region of Champagne, which is more floral than citrus (and unexpected for an Italian sparkler).

10:12 – Our fourth sparkling wine is a Brundlmayer Sekt from Austria. Sekt can come from anywhere in the European Union, but Germany and Austria are the most prominent producers. 95% of Sekt is made via the Charmat method, but the best Sekt is made using the traditional method.

10:23 – The fifth wine is Jansz, which is a Tasmanian (!) sparkling wine. (All right – ‘fess up. As soon as you read that, you thought of the Tasmanian Devil. It’s OK – that’s the first thing that I thought of too.) Only at TexSom…

10:33 – Random Somm Quote: “The more you drink, the more you know.” These are words I try to live by every day!

10:37 – Wine number 6 is Huet’s Vouvray Petlillant. Chenin Blanc wines from the Vouvray region are among my favorite wines – refreshing, food-friendly and delicious. This is sparkling Chenin Blanc from Vouvray – and isn’t everything better with bubbles? Even more impressive – this wine does not break the bank at around $25 a bottle. I am officially in love.

10:55 – The first session concludes. And you know how most conferences have coffee breaks? Yeah – at TexSom, our breaks are – wait for it – wine tasting breaks. This does not suck. The sponsor of our first tasting break is Chappellet Vineyards – one of my favorites in the Napa Valley. I sample some of their Chenin Blanc and some beautiful Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, while chatting about the possibility of taking the Certified Exam with some fellow sommeliers.

11:30 – Lunchtime! Excellent buffet prepared by the culinary wizards at the Four Seasons Las Colinas. Lunch is sponsored by… you guessed it… a consortium of wine producers. There are 6 wines available to sample with the delicious food. Of course, I try them all.

Day 1, Session 2: Terroir of Bordeaux

1:00 – As I discussed in an earlier post, terroir is ‘a sense of place’ or the unique combination of climate, geology and geography factors which result in the unique creation of a wine. This session is focused on the hallowed terroir of the Bordeaux region in France. Many important wine-producing regions – including Bordeaux – have maritime climates, but the Bordeaux vineyards are further protected by forests to the west and to the north.

1:17 – Glacial croupes (mounds of deposits left behind by the glaciers) along the Gironde estuary constitute the well-known regions of Left Bank AOCs (Pauillac, St. Estephe, etc.). In fact, sand and gravel soils are so prevalent at the world-famous Lafite Rothschild that the vineyard looks almost like a rocky beach.

1:38 – Interesting Sommelier Factlet: Cabernet sauvignon doesn’t like “wet feet.” (This means that the roots of vines which grow cabernet sauvignon grapes should be planted in soil that drains rapidly.) On the other hand, merlot grapes are OK with “wet feet” and like ferrous (i.e., iron-rich) soils.

1:52 – Random Somm Quote: “If you are here, you are officially a geek.”

2:13 – Despite market pressures for producers to be “eco-friendly,” few producers have adopted organic or biodynamic farming in Bordeaux. Instead, vineyard managers adopt lute raisonee (translated as “reasonable measures”) for natural farming practices.

2:36 – For the 2013 vintage, hailstorms have ruined a significant amount of crops in Bordeaux. This may mean reduced availability – or higher prices – for the wines that are produced.

2:49 – En primeure (“prime” or “first” release) tasting events for Sauternes are “very blingy, very Jay-Z”

Day 1 starts with two acts – sparkling wine and Bordeaux – that will be very hard to follow! Coming up: uncommon varietals from around the world, the epic TexSom hospitality suites, the wines of Australia… and much more. Stay tuned!

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