Tag Archives: The Stout Report

The Stout Report – And Then There Was One

Guy Stout’s report on the recent Master Sommelier examination in Dallas, Texas, where only one in 70 passed.

nick  hetzel

Nick Hetzel (second left) pictured with fellow Master Sommeliers Shayn Bjornholm, Laura De Pasquale and Greg Harrington

I arrived in Dallas on Sunday prior to the start of the Master Sommelier Final Examination. A reception early that evening was set to welcome all candidates and examining masters in the Byron Nelson room at the Four Seasons Hotel & Resort

The reception is a new twist for the Masters, having kept at arm’s length between the candidates and Master examiners in the past. I am happy to see the change and could see the tension being broken and barriers come down. It had been awkward in the past, seeing someone you practiced with and not able to pull up and have a cocktail with them for fear of showing bias. It would prove to be an interesting week.

There has been a lot of talk among the candidates about the recently released movie SOMM, about the process of becoming a Master Sommelier. One of the four candidates interviewed and followed in the movie was sitting the exam.

It was a long week and there were many small victories for most of the candidates passing a portion of the three part exam. That was the path I took to get though the program.

70 candidates sat the exam, the largest group ever in the history of the exam. When the dust settled, there was only one person who emerged as the newest Master Sommelier, Nick Hetzel. I think that everyone was surprised that only one candidate got through. I shared a glass or two of Krug Champagne, with several of my good friends who sat the exam and didn’t make it. I volunteered to help work with them even more in the future. Genuine words for a somber moment.

Krug Champagne is the official Champagne of the Master Sommelier exam and whose name appears on the trophy called the Krug Cup, which is awarded to the candidate that successfully passes the exam on first try. The Krug Cup is the highest honor in the Master Sommelier program.

Each year at the conclusion of the exams, there is the Masters dinner, where the examining Masters welcome the newest member(s) to the group. Master Hetzel sat at a different table than I did. We all signed a copy of the menu for the dinner and presented it to Nick. I got to visit with Master Hetzel (sounds like pretzel) after the dinner on the patio of the 19th Hole at the Four Seasons Resort. He had brought some really nice cigars and had heard I enjoyed a good cigar. He was correct. Most of the Masters headed off to bed with early flights the next morning. But Masters Paul Roberts, Doug Frost and I bought rounds for our newest Master, Nick Hetzel.

Nick is a very likable, affable nice guy. I asked him what this meant for him and his future and he said he would keep doing what he was doing. He likes his job at Sage in the Aria Resort in Vegas. I was happy to hear that. Some people take the MS exam to get that Big Job.

Congratulations to Nick – the one master to come out of the grueling Dallas examination!

The Stout Report: One Year Later – Bordeaux

guy at pontet

All it took was for the Prime Minister of China to say “stop using government money for luxurious dinners and wine.”

Bordeaux First Growths are finding it harder to sell in China.

I was in a recent discussion with another master sommelier that is in the retail business about the future of Bordeaux in the retail market in the United States. He sells what he gets and it is not all Big Names. The wine we were drinking during dinner was a bottle of fifth growth, Lynch Moussas 2009  Pauillac. The wine had been purchase at retail by Doug Frost MS, MW for $35 a bottle.

The wine was a good, classic left bank leather cedar and tobacco Bordeaux. The kind you dream of in blind tastings. What was amazing to me during our dinner and conversation was the lack of knowledge that retailers and sommelier around the country know about Bordeaux. Not our group at dinner, but wine programs in general around the country.

Poor little chateau  La Conseillante and Troplong Mondot,   Ask someone you know who loves wine and see if they know where those wine comes from. Should be a no brainer for a Bordeaux drinker right?  Not for many young wine professional and sommeliers out there.

Why is there a disconnect with people on the none Classified Bordeaux in terms of recognition?  

Have American wine drinkers lost interest in Bordeaux or has Bordeaux lost interests in the states?  Has Bordeaux shifted its sales strategy to only the Far East?  

I just read an article on that very subject written last week in the Wine Spectator by Suzanne Mustacich.   It confirms what I thought was going on after my last trip to Bordeaux.


There were fewer Asian buyers at the UGC (Union of Grand Cru) tasting and a sense of push back on the lofty prices of the first growths. The new Chinese government has made it clear that extravagance is frowned upon. Many of the super seconds will be happy with this new turn of events. They are the ones who had the common sense and encourage to start backing off pricing after the incredible back to back vintages of 2009 and 2010.

Is the United States looking better in the eyes of the Bordeaux merchants?

They never gave up on us. The dollar was in the tank and the euro was strong. The Asia market added increased pressure on the situation at a time of recession. Bordeaux sells in the world markets, not just England the USA. The argument is have they kept prices higher than a normal adjustment after lighter vintages of 2011 and 2012.

The recession and the rise of the second Asia wine crazy country haven’t helped Americans in their Bordeaux wine purchases.  Japan is still a major purchaser of Bordeaux and also had a strong presence at the UGC tastings.

Understanding it all:

I think we are settling in for the long haul. It seems that people on both sides of the Pacific still want Bordeaux and will buy just about anything with Bordeaux on the label.

Bravo Cotes de Bordeaux, who are in the process of rolling out their new labels featuring Bordeaux prominently on the front label.  I think you guys got it right. Put Bordeaux on the label and it will sell. Send some to us…

The Lucky 61 along with those classic St Emilion and Pomerol producers that have etched a notch in our wine memory are still in demand. Of the 70 million cases of Bordeaux produced each year, only about 2% are those Big names. Where does the rest of it go? It goes to my palate, because it’s all I can afford.

The Unsung Heroes of Medoc :

Chateau Larose Trintaudon, Haut Medoc and Chateau Greysac ,Medoc

These are good size Chateau that make affordable wines year in and year out. There are no giant price swings like you see in the best vintages. These guys, are consistently good and offer reasonable prices, at $20 or under on the shelf. These are the two best known and are widely available. I have tasted these wines for the past twenty years and fined them to be reliable and delicious.

Other Non – “Medoc”  Bordeaux  

Chateau St Sulplice Bordeaux  and Chateau Bonnet Blanc and Rouge

These are Bordeaux wines I drink on a regular basis….. It has been one year later. Now, what is it going to take to get these wines out there and in the glass of your local wine bar, café , bistro , or with the young sommeliers and  on the shelves of retailers?


The Stout Report : The Master Blend

My Dream Team of  Top Tasters


I have always been fascinated by the thought of assembling a group of tasters to take on say, the Harvard or Oxford wine tasting teams. I have read about these super tasting groups that compete on an international taste off.

I have thought about it and have come up with what I think would be a group to challenge the best of the best. Though my years of sitting both the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier exams I have been privileged to meet and taste with what I think are some of the greatest palates in the world. Not surprising my group would be made up with friends from both organizations. Having passed two out of three of the MW exam and passed the MS exam, I think I have a unique perspective. The essays writing , my obvious weak point, in the MW program was my short coming.  It was Doug Frost, who I sat the MW exam with my last time, suggested I might do better in the MS program because there were no essay requirements involved. The MS program does have a service exam that is daunting to say the least, but certainly something I could do with my restaurant background. Doug was right.

My fantasy tasting team, in no particular order:


D.C. Flynt MW – D.C. and I studied together and were roommates and shared cost of wines and practiced essay writing together. We have that shared experience and still remain good friends to this day. He is an amazing taster, with a very lucrative brokerage wine business.


Fred Dame MS – I admit that Fred was the first guy I had ever seen blow through a flight of wines and nailing not just the region, sub region and vintage, but sticking his neck out and naming producers. This is not required in either the MW or MS programs. It is about identifying the birth place of the wine and its quality. The fact he was “spot on” with several producer was amazing. Fred is a special person and almost single handedly pushed the American Sommelier to the top of international standards and winning Top Somm honors. It was in my final attempt at the MS that he gave me a tough love tasting. I didn’t do well. Fred has a unique way of mentoring sommeliers…. with only tasting remaining. I passed.


Paul Roberts MS – One of the original study group members of our Houston team, that has now produced three Master Sommelier. He has managed some of the finest wine program in the country including Per Se, Café Annie, French Laundry and Bond Wine Estates. It was Paul who got me back on track with my tasting. I had fallen into a slump and he told me I had forgotten to actually drink the wines and not just analyze them. I had probably one of my worst blind tasting with him in my final approach for the MS exam. I slept on what he told me and tasted again the next day and knocked it over the fence. I never looked back. Thanks brother.


Peter Marks MW – Another of the MW study group I was part of with D.C.  Peter won top honors the year he passed as the top score in the MW tasting exam. He is currently working with Constellation wines as wine educator. .

Alternates –


Robert Parker – I have always admired his palate and have had the privilege to drive him around Houston during the release of one of his fist books back in the 1980’s. The man is absolutely right on with his ability to taste and review wines. His real strength is in the wines that don’t score the 90plus, but in finding gems in the non- blockbuster category. Bob is a pleasant man with a lust for good wine and food..

Serge and Rajat sm

Rajat Parr – Michael Mina’s wine guru. He was one of the people I counted on during my studies, all be it a very Euro centric palate. Every time I went to one of his restaurants, a flight of wines would appear and he would check back with me later. He kept me on my toes and always a great insight into what I needed to move forward at that time. Raj has impeccable taste for both new and old world wines.


The Stout Report: Texas wine shines at the Houston Club

Guy Stout with Pheasant Ridge owner, Bill Gibson

I recently attended the last winemaker dinner at the historic Houston Club as a guest or Pheasant Ridge owner Bill Gibson. The dinner brings to an end a long string of wine events and many focused on Texas wines.

The club will be closed and relocated to the Plaza Club a few blocks over in downtown Houston. Not sure what they will call the new combined clubs – Plaza Houston Club?

I have been fortunate to attend various events and occasions at the club and they have purchased incredible wines over the years from my company. It has always been a great place to find older vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy and Cult Cabs over lunch or dinner, if you are lucky enough to know a member…

This final winemaker dinner was hosted by Pheasant Ridge Winery located in the High Plains AVA outside of Lubbock. Bill Gibson is the proprietor and showed a number of wines from his library.

During dinner there was a presentation of one of framed piece of history from the club, a copy of the 1985 Best of Texas wine judging. . The framed piece was from a Texas wine judging called The Best of Texas Wine Awards, hosted at the club November 8th, 1985. The Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 1983 won a Gold Medal and selected as Best of Show that year. Amazingly all of the wineries that won medals are still in business today.

It was presented to Bill Gibson as a memento of the occasion and would not have a place on the wall at the new club.

The dinner and wines were excellent. Bill brought out some of the older selections to mark the occasion.

I have been a fan of the Dry Chenin Blanc that was served at the reception, for years and suggest it to a number of friends.

You could feel the construction ball looming and the pending demolition of the club. Cheers to the old club and look forward to seeing the new one when it is completed.

Meal & wines

The Stout Report: Dallas Morning News / Texsom 2012

I was asked to present a session on Texas Terroir at this year’s conference with Christy Canterbury MW, who was also a panel judge at the Dallas Morning News/ TexSom wine competition earlier this year. On our panel were two of the top sommeliers in Texas, Sean Beck from Backstreet Café in Houston and Hunter Hammett from the Fairmont hotel, Dallas.

We tasted over 110 wines from around the state on the first day of the wine competition. Several of the other judges stopped by our table between flights and didn’t envy us having to taste Texas wines. They were so wrong. It was one of the best tastings I have ever had the pleasure of sitting through.

If a wine gets a top medal, the panel is to describe what we thought of the wine and why we chose it for a gold, double gold or silver medal. We were the last panel to leave the room, because we found more top wines in the tasting than any other panel in the competition.

Our second day was mostly inexpensive merlot and chardonnay, over one hundred, and few, if any, were able to get close to what we had tasted the previous day.

Christy, the only Master of Wine from Texas (Hawkins Texas in East Texas), now lives and works in New York City and was equally excited to join me in the TexSom presentation.

We started with the regions and different soil formations that are Texas and finished with a tasting of some of the wines we had awarded gold or double gold status too from the DMN/TexSom tasting.

We had a tough act to follow with Brett Zimmerman MS and Wayne Belding MS presenting Bordeaux wines. Wayne is a trained geologist, so we had our hands full.

We were lucky to be able to keep the audience attention, but the wines made it easy.

Russ Kane, author of the Wine Slinger Chronicles, about Texas grape growing and winemakers, was in attendance. He got the jump on me and published his blog about the seminar. He has an active blog post covering all things Texas.

We did not disappoint, the wines were excellent and gave everyone in attendance a wake-up call as to how good our wines have progressed the past ten years.

The Wines:
2010 Duchman Vermentino “Bingham Family Vineyards” Texas High Plains
2010 McPherson Reserve Roussanne “Bingham Family Vineyards” Texas High Plains
2010 Cap Rock Viognier “Reddy Vineyards” Texas High Plains
2009 Sandstone Cellars “VII” Mason County Texas
2009 Pedernales Cellars “Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve” Texas
2010 Fairhaven Vineyards Chambourcin Texas
2010 The Vineyard at Florence “Veritas” Cabernet Sauvignon Williamson County Texas
2010 Haak Winery “Madeira” Blanc du Bois Texas

I didn’t know much about the last red wine tasted from the Vineyard at Florence, a new comer this year, Dan Gatlin, winemaker of Inwood Estates.

I have since learned from Kambrah Garland, co-owner of the estate. “We have a six hundred acre development with two tasting rooms (one of them is Inwood Estates’ additional tasting location), café and thirty two acres of vineyards to include Lenoir, Norton, Blanc du Bois and Cabernet. We produce six estate wines which entered the wholesale market in March, 2012. Currently we are found in some of the top restaurants in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston and Austin. As one of the partners and vineyard manager, I am very proud of the fruit here.” I tasted the Blanc de Bois and Norton at the grand tasting awards, and found both to be outstanding.

A quick shout out to Ryan Tedder, who was named top sommelier in Texas. He curated the award winning winelist at Grace Restaurant in Fort Worth, and is now planning on opening a spot in Dallas this fall. Congratulations on the award. I have worked with Ryan in the past and happy for his success. He is a sommelier to watch.

The Stout Report – Bordeaux 2011 Vintage “A Good Surprise”

Sunday April 7th, 2012

Bacchanal scene at Château Caronne Ste Gemme

Bordeaux – I arrived at noon and the sun was shining bright. I was picked up at the airport by Mario Rios from Chateau Larose-Trintaudon. We will conclude our day in the Medoc at their chateau with a comprehensive tasting. They are one of the great value properties in Bordeaux and especially Haut Medoc. Mario is no Andretti as he drives me to lunch at the Relais Hotel in Margaux to the restaurant at the Golf course to catch up with François Thienpont from Wings Negociant firm and one of the many from the Thienpont family who work in Bordeaux.  He is an old friend and helps set the schedule each year for our visit. We are also meeting up with James Gunter in his new independent role,  and Alfonso Cevola, whom I work with at Glazer’s.

My flight was delayed out of Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris, so I missed Ch Palmer and Ch Mouton that morning…. A fact that will haunt me all week, as I am reminded by the Spec’s Liquor team from Texas, headed up by long time friend Bear Dalton. Everyone was talking about Palmer and I was never able to make it there or find their wines at the UGC tastings. The schedule is amazingly tight with very little wiggle room. The weather is on and off sunshine and rain this week.

It is overcast and cold at the Bordeaux airport as I wait for my plane back to CDG Paris and the plane home. I have had a night to sleep on it and the brief summation of this week’s activities.

They say in the Bordeaux wine trade that if the weather is clear with sunshine, it adds a few points to the score of the wines and the vintage. Let’s just say there was some sunshine this week with scatter showers

This is En Primeurs week in Bordeaux and all the top wine trade and journalist show up when the chateaux open their doors, by appointment only, to around 5,000 people. It is not the bustling hordes from last year which took on pageantry, but a more subdued crowd this year.

Most of what I have read prior to arriving was gloom and doom. I wrote a short piece about the vintage reviews before my trip. I am happy to say it was a good surprise to find the wines absolutely drinkable and fruit forward.

The wow factor may have been missing for the reds, but not for the whites. I am absolutely in love with the dry and sweet wines from both banks Deux Mers Medoc is getting more and more interested in whites; Cos d’Estournel has joined the ranks of white producers.

Monumental wines are being made in Sauternes and Pessac-Léognan, where rain and sunshine added to the sweet wines and dry wines were harvested before any significant botrytis issues developed.

This may be the vintage to put Bordeaux Blanc back in its proper place among the great dry wines in the world. They have always been on my table, from Entre deux Mers to Pessac Léognan and Graves. They are excellent wines, up and down Garonne and Gironde. Only in a few wines did I detect a touch too much oak. This vintage is a study in excellence.

For the reds, it was a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc year. Merlot just didn’t fare as well as in the two previous vintages.

You could separate Bordeaux Rouge into two camps. Both camps made successful wines, but differ stylistically.

There are those who picked with the rain to preserve what they could of the vintage and retain some floral aspects of the fruit and with sever selection, make a good wine.

Then there were those who let it ride, and waited out the rain hoping for dryer weather. It paid off. They were rewarded with Cabernet that was able to reach phenolic ripeness, contributing ripeness and color.

Big Boy Toys – If you were lucky enough to have the Optical Sorting machines, (they have been gathering dust since 2009 and 2010), this is the year they were needed. Sorting was imperative for both early and late harvested grapes.

If you didn’t have the machinery, you hand sorted. Even those who have the Optical Sorter, took it a step father and used hand sorting after the machine selection ( Haut Bailly) to make they put only the best fruit in the tanks.

Cost of making a vintage like this is even greater than the previous great vintage, where you wait and pick. Adding to the cost of this vintage is the cost of machines, physical labor culling sunburned fruit during the summer and again during harvest. “Two of everything” one vintner commented. Multiple pickings were conducted by a number of chateaux. All this adds up to an expensive year.

The wines at Haut Brion were stunning

A Good Surprise.

I tasted with Anthony Barton at Chateau Leoville Barton and he wondered how people could pass judgment on a vintage without ever having tasted the wines. Good point.

I have held back judgment until I could get here. Do you remember the 1981 vintage? I do, it was my first time to visit during harvest. I was watching the fruit coming into the cellars in St Julien, Pauillac, Margaux and Pomerol.  It rained that year too, and some excellent wines were made. This was before cold maceration and Optical sorting. I still enjoy these wines, most are now tiring after 30 years. “Rumors of their death have been exaggerated”. That is how I feeling about 2011.

Yes, early report may have been too dramatic, but after two incredible vintages and amazing price increases, people are lining up to pounce.

This is not a vintage as the previous, but it is far from a quaffer. Many wines show depth and richness, and even the possibility for long term aging, similar to 1981.

Christian Moueix with Right Bank negoce François Thienpont

Christian Moueix said it best when we tasted at his Dordogne river office, “we needed a vintage like this”. Not referring to a bad vintage, but a vintage that may correct some of the excess that the previous two vintages brought about.

Pricing is on everyone’s mind and the Las Vegas gambler in me says odds are that they will come down 20-30 percent. That still makes it one of highest priced vintages in history. Is it better than 2000 or 2005? Why should it be priced above them? There was talk at the dinner table Thursday about a possible 50 percent drop. That dramatic of a drop would probably solve some of the problem and heal some of the bad feelings in the trade. With prices that high, the broker and negociant who depend on small margins are being squeezed. The sky is the limit pricing has to settle back down. Some regret following the larger famous chateau to those prices. Who can blame someone for making a profit?  If it sells, keep selling it, if it stops selling, lower the price.

American and some European markets have given up allocations secured over decades of trading with the Bordeaux market place. We can’t afford them.  We buy only what we can sell on pre-sell to the wealthiest clients.   Maybe this is the vintage to right the boat back to a more even keel. I know many wine professionals sitting on the sidelines. Put me in coach, I want to play.

They days of taking a position and ordering inventory for stock after the initial vintage release, is over. The gap between the En Primeur price and the release price has shrunk. How high the sky.

I noticed there weren’t the number of people this year. Most probably staying home on the early reports of the vintage and others may be just as strapped financially as the world economy struggles to get back on track. Crowds were noticeably smaller and especially from Asia. It is not the Trophy vintage that the previous two were.

We are instinctively driven to compare with previous vintages and similar characteristic of the harvest.  For 2011, the vintage stands alone and if you are a fan of brilliant whites, it’s the year for you. This is the new Bordeaux.

Gabriel Vialard, Technical Manager in the ancient vineyards of Château Haut-Bailly.

Odds and In’s:

  • 60% of the Medoc is farmed organically
  • Some organic chateau use less than half of the amount of spray that is allowed
  • Margaux got the double whammy – sunburn then botrytis
  • St. Estephe had the worst of the hail reducing crops by half (northern Pauillac (Lafite) also received hail damage.
  • I heard several opera ringtones on vintners phones… cool
  • Cold maceration is common practice
  • Merlot stressed during the hot summer and never recovered
  • Smaller berries due to heat stress created huge tannins
  • Petite Verdot continues to grow in acreage in Medoc (8% Leoville-Poyferre)
  • First wines are being cut back in production making second wines better and more affordable – read, bigger price drop in first wines.
  • This may be the emerging vintage for Cru Bourgeois

Next Stout Report – The wines and how they rated

The Stout Report: The Genie in the Bottle

Decanting seems to be a cyclical topic in the wine world. Our journalist blogging colleague Eric Asimov at the New York Times chimes in today as well with-his report, The In-Betweens of Decanting.  Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey also just released this video from the Guild of Sommeliers - How to decant aged red wine. All this decanting and breathing stuff must be in the air. Or maybe we are all thinking towards Spring? Meanwhile our very own expert on the subject, Master Sommelier Guy Stout issues this timely report. – Ed. note

I recently had a discussion with a friend in Boston about breathing wine. The question was – Do white wines need to breathe?

My response is yes. It is like letting the genie out of the bottle.

Wine will open up when it’s been poured into a glass or decanter. The scientific answer is volatizing esters or in laymen’s terms, developing aromas. Volatizing esters are not what I would tell a customer in a shop or in a restaurant, just say “it opens the wine up”.

When you get wine into your glass it gives it a little elbow room, allowing the wine to stretches out after being sealed in the bottle, becoming something more beautiful, the genie effect.

if you open a mature white wine like an older burgundy, Napa Chardonnay, Condrieu, Mosel, Alsace etc., the wine will blossom for a period of time and fade. This is dangerous ground for people who have kept wine a little too long. Older whites can fade fairly quickly. You really have to follow the wines progress in the glass during a tasting or dinner, or you may be left with a wine that is going, going, gone.

I remember a lunch at Moet Chandon in Champagne a number of years ago, with Henri Perrier (Moet). After our tour and tasting, he pulled a bottle of the historic 1911 vintage. He advised me to drink the wine with gusto. Not a problem for me. He explained that the wine will open and bloom and fade quickly. We each drank a glass or two and had a glass poured and placed to the side to taste at the conclusion of lunch. The wine, when opened, was showing oxidative, which is normal for an 80 plus year old wine, with hints of wheat toast, walnuts and cider. It had a rich earthy mineral quality with crisp citrus flavor and a tart pear and plum finish. The wine was still lively after 15 minutes, but began to deteriorate quickly after that. At the conclusion of lunch, the wine was basically vinegar.

Case in point. Don’t hold your white wines too long. If you have one of the wine cellar units available that looks like furniture, or a built-in refrigerated cellars, the wines will be in much better shape after a few years. If you just put your wine on a rack in the dining room or kitchen, they will tend to mature more quickly.

If you are like most people, the wines purchased today are consumed the same day or the next. People are buying and drinking wines, not laying them away. So, if you have purchased wine recently. Unless you have adequate storage conditions, drink them.

Get them in a glass or decanter and let them breath.

I have a reasonable wine cellar with some old Chardonnays, Hermitage Blanc and white Burgundies from the 1980’s & 90”s that I have kept too long. Occasionally I am surprised when one of them turns out to still be really good. I mostly serve them to wine geek friends for a look back in time and talk more about what was happening then than the wine itself.

I like to decant my red and white wines. When I entertain, we have several decanters we use. I like the pear shaped ones, not the flat bottom style. Trying to get the last glass out of those takes someone double jointed. I also use a crystal water pitcher for decanting and serving wines. The pleasure for me and my guest is in the passing of the decanter or the pitcher. You make eye contact and physical contact which to me, is nicer than just passing a bottle around, family style.

Yes, decanting a very young Chardonnay, Brunello or Napa Cabernet will help the wine.

No amount of breathing is going to make up for what the wine needs in bottle age.

The vintage has a lot to do with breathing a wine, but with people drinking wines so quickly after purchase, I recommend that they get the wine in a nice wine glass and let the Genie out of the bottle; it will set you free.

The Stout Report – Wine list migration to iPad – The new, virtual sommelier?

I recently attended a session given by Josh Hermsmeyer, one of the founders of Tastevin, a developer of the software program designed for restaurant and bar use for the iPad.

Pretty cool stuff. The iPad wine list is gaining traction. It is easy to use and, according to their data, it increases wine sales. I couldn’t confirm it with any of the people I know that are using them.

The system allows for the restaurant customer to surf the wine or cocktail list and if wanted, place their order directly to the bar or service bar. This is designed to expedite service and get the cocktail, beer or wine to the table quicker. None of the current users I know of are set up for direct ordering and prefer to take the wine/beverage order table-side.

I was impressed by the functions the system offer. There are photos of the bottle and descriptions of the wines, along with food and wine pairing options from the menu. Other features were showing rankings and vintage information.

You can sort by color size, style, grape, region, or price.

In the old days, if you wanted to remember the wine you just enjoyed, you either had the server write it down for you or have them soak the label off.  Now days you take a picture from your iPhone or scan the QRC code found on many wine bottles.

 The iPad list has a feature that allows you to email it to yourself or even post it to your Facebook page.

I like the look and feel of the list, sure, it’s not paper and takes a little surfing, but it’s very Green. No paper or ink; something I care about.

I like the Back of the House functions that keeps a running inventory and will remove a wine from the list if it is sold out – As the system updates every five minutes. That means No More Out of Stocks on the wines being ordered on a busy night. That is one of my pet peeves. If I have to order more than twice to get a wine, I start pulling my hair out, it’s so frustrating. You pick a wine that has you salivating and then have to reload and try to build up your enthusiasm gain and again.

A friend of mine was astounded by the system and told me that sommeliers wouldn’t be needed in the future. Well, I have news for him, the wines don’t pick themselves. It takes skill and a pallet to put together the dynamics of a wine list. Even with the features of the iPad, it can’t adequately describe a sauce or texture of a dish or the lingering intensity of a wine or how long it should take to “open up”. The iPad can’t open and serve a bottle or decant an older wine to make sure the sediment is left behind.

No, I don’t think sommeliers should be looking over their shoulder. If anything, it takes someone with excellent knowledge of wine, spirits and cocktails to set the iPad system up. It is, as with a traditional paper list, a reflection of the soul of a sommelier. It is their personal statement.

Will this new technology replace wine lists all together?

I don’t see it replacing wine lists on the grand scale, but a steady slow growth in use.

I’m old school and enjoy thumbing through the pages of a wine list; just wish the print was larger……… Guy

The Stout Report: Texas in Manhattan

On the first day of Hanukkah and just days before Christmas, a chef from Texas and a Master Sommelier from Houston, turned the James Beard House into a Texas Oasis.

Chef Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, 20 miles south of Houston, prepared a 7 course meal that many veterans of James Beard House dinners claimed was one of the best they’d ever had.

That is high praise from people who can dissect a meal like a surgeon, and leave you feeling you fell short. Not on this night. Not from a man who is considered by critics to be one of the top 5 steakhouses in Texas.

Ronnie brought his posse of assistant chefs, and a few folks from Houston.

Ronnie donated the dinner to the Beard foundation, which mission is “To celebrate, nurture, and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future.” He was also in the top 10 dishes of the year in Food and Wine Magazine for his Bread Pudding, the only dessert in the top 10.

Ronnie had called me when he got the invite to cook at the Beard House. He wanted me to come down and try the menu and help select wines to match his food. We would work from substantial wine list and taste a variety of styles of wines. It took three tries to finally get perfect pairings.

It was inspirational.

I have never been to the James Beard House and have always wanted to experience a meal there. Many of my fellow Master Sommelier’s have participated in dinners representing their restaurant over the years as they worked their way to MS.

I was surprised to find out that none had returned after becoming a Master. I was working backwards. I am the first MS to serve at the Beard House and not have my own restaurant.

I would call it more like working the floor, greeting guest, talking about the wines tableside, and re pouring. Roddrick, the “wine waiter”, as he referred to himself, did the heavy lifting. He is a bright young sommelier and if has a mind to, may become the next New Yorker Master Sommelier.

To showcase Texas, I brought a Texas Flag and a CD of George Straight’s Christmas to play in the dining room throughout the dinner. Roddrick said that they had not had Christmas music yet this season. The Texas flag was draped from the second floor window, just above the entrance of 167 West 12th Street, The Beard House.

There were, as I had suspected, a number of Texas ex-pats in attendance for the dinner. Two flew in from Dallas, Four came in from Houston, two from Austin and Houston, and one Aggie. There were also several New York friends of mine.
Iszabel, the manager of the Beard House informed me that when a Texas chef cooks at the Beard House it is a sellout. This night was no exception. 80 people maximum for the space. It is a small place that I had walked thru the day before, helping gather the wines and getting to the house.

The place is really small. Everyone walks thru the kitchen to get to the back of the residential patio that serves as a place to gathers and mingle, to transform later into a large dinner for eight when the dinner bell rings. The front reception area, also transforms into a dining room. Ever one I spoke with prior to the trip told me how cramped it was, and they weren’t kidding. Every square foot of the place is utilized for maximum efficiency.

I have read the biography of James Beard. He was the first American born food author and critic that gained the respect of the culinary scene of New York in post World War Two era, after a less than stellar acting career. He was a big man from Oregon, move to the city to try and make it. He was bigger than life, standing six foot five and having a sizable stomach to match. His impact on New York and all Americans is still felt, in the same way as Julia Childs. Their cookbooks are still standards used in my kitchen today. I think it was Beard who said, “Deviled eggs, they always clean the tray of deviled eggs”. I love deviled eggs.

At the reception we served Moet Chandon Imperial Brut. We also featured a bottle of Casa Dragones Tequila, a sipping tequila. It has floral, citrus, peppery aroma and, well, one has to sip it at $40 a shot. The menu was supplemented by an additional course of duck breast and Merlot. Everyone was interested in the tart.

The James Beard Foundation – Steakhouse Holiday

Ronnie Killen Killen’s Steakhouse/ Pearland, TX

Master Sommelier Guy Stout Glazer’s Distributing/ Houston

After graduating at the top of his class from London’s Le Cordon Bleu, chef Ronnie Killen cooked at top restaurants throughout the U.S. before returning to his hometown of Pearland, Texas, to open his own modern chophouse. Come see why the Houston Chronicle calls Killen’s “the ultimate steakhouse” at this decadent meat lovers’ dinner.

At the reception we served Moet Chandon Imperial Brut and also featured a bottle of Casa Dragones Tequila, a sipping Tequila.


The Menu

Hors d’Oeuvre

Duck Tostadas

Tuna Tartare with Lime–Coconut Broth

Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Onion–Bing Cherry Marmalade

Gulf Crabcakes

Fried Jalapeños with House-Cured Ham and Blue Huron Farm Goat Cheese

Champagne Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV


Blackened Snapper Crudo with Pickled Peppers and Savory Bell Pepper Sorbet Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2010

Nueske’s Bacon–Wrapped Gulf Shrimp with Roasted Poblano–Monterey Pepper Jack Cheese Grits  – Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2008

House-Cured Smoked Pork and Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo Marqués de Murrieta Reserva Rioja 2005

Smoked Blackmore Ranch Sous Vide Short Ribs with Red Wine Demi-Glace, Sautéed Swiss Chard, and Creamed Corn Fritters Catena Alta Malbec 2008

Crème Brûlée Bread Pudding, Carrot Cake, and Chocolate–Truffle Cheesecake Texas Hills Vineyard Orange Moscato 2010



The Stout Report: Ready for Confetti

photo by Tony Blay ( http://goo.gl/Bo6Th )

The title track to the new Robert Earl Keen holiday release CD. REK is playing in Houston Dec 28th, Dallas Dec 29th and Ft Worth Dec 30th…….

Why wait till New Years to open a bottle of bubble. We should celebrate every day… Nice thought.

Well, New Years is upon us and for those people who only drink Champagne or sparkling wine at the stroke of midnight each year, this could be a guide for you.

I drink sparkling wine throughout the year and Champagne, the real deal, as often as possible.

It has been a busy final weeks with two hotels in particular, in San Antonio raising the bar this past week, with excellent wines with Champagne dinners. I was fortunate to be asked to speak at both dinners.

The first dinner was at the Westin La Contera in the Francesca dining room. Stephen Krueger, Sommelier and Ernie Estrada, Chef de Cuisine of this fabulous resort property. They know how to put on a show.

Can lighting strike twice in the same town? Well, it did a week later at the JW Marriott San Antonio resort. Sarah Conklin, manager of 18 Oaks, the restaurant that is the watering hole for the TPC golf crowd, has a dining room that is pure comfort with a steakhouse and seafood menu. They hosted a 10 course, top champagnes on the planet dinner. It is a special dinner when the first course starts with Dom Perignon and is followed by Cristal, Dom Ruinart and Grand Dame and finish with Krug…… both the MV (Multi-vintage) and vintage. Wow.

What makes champagne – Champagne?

There are several methods used to put the sparkle in wine, the most common way is to make the wine and then make the wine into sparkling wine.

This is accomplished by taking a still wine, like a chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, and then making it into a sparkling wine by fermenting it a second time with the addition of more yeast and sugar in a closed container.  This yeast sugar mixture can be added to a large pressurized tank or placed in a strong, heavy glass bottle to withstand the pressure generated by the capturing of the gas.

The yeast eats the sugar and creates CO2 gas, the bubble in the wine. The yeast cells, after consuming sugar, multiply and then form sediment in the bottle or tank.

In the Tank method, the yeast will fall to the bottle of the pressurized tank and be removed by drawing it off. This is the most popular method for inexpensive bubbly, like Prosecco. The wine is held under pressure and bottled after 30-60 days in the tank. The wine is filtered and bottled in one step and sent to our waiting palates.

As with any wine, if you use inferior grapes, you will have an inferior product. The worldwide production of high quality grapes has improved dramatically over the past 15 years, making the grapes used for this style of sparkling wine better than ever. We have never lived in a better time for drinking good quality wine from all parts of the world. It is becoming hard to find a really Bad bottle of wine.

I used to flinch when I saw some of these low end sparkling wines, but now look forward to drinking them. You can also blending them to make two of the most famous popular cocktails, like a Mimosa or Bellini. I have also been known to put a drop or two of St Germain or cassis to make a Kir Royal.

The ancient method of producing sparkling wine is to bottle the wine before it finishes the first fermentation, trapping the gas. This was probably the way sparkling wine was invented, and was probably an accident. It is still a debate among different regions in France. The process is still used today in some regions. The resulting wine lacks the intensity and elegance of what we know today.

The method traditional, or champagne method, has the bubble produced in the bottle. The second fermentation is started by the small addition of sugar and yeast to the bottle and a crown cap placed on the bottle to prevent the gas escaping as in the first fermentation. The bottle has to be strong to withstand the pressure, six atmospheres, (your tire pressure is 2.5). The wine takes several months to develop the intensity of sparkle, for Champagne it is 15 month, for Spanish Cava it is 9 month.

The length of time the wine is held increases the intensity of the bubbles and drives up cost.

It is all about time and money

Time, because the longer you leave the yeast with the wine, the more intense the bubbles and the longer they will linger in the glass and on the palate.

Money, because in the traditional method,  the process of making wine once and then again, is a labor intensive process and in Champagne, you are paying for some of the most expensive grapes in the world. The additional expense of aging, for non-vintage, the minimum is 15 months; vintage is 3 years and for Reserve or Tete de Cuvee, 5 or more years. The current release of Dom Perignon is 2002.

Where has the wine been for 10 years? It has been carefully blended, aged and crafted to be the finest expression of champagne. Who would be drinking a 10 year old Chardonnay these days?

I mention Chardonnay because it is one of the three primary grape used in Champagne. The other two are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. You have heard of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but Pinot Meunier is rarely found outside of the Champagne region of France.

Champagne, real Champagne, comes from one place, the region of Champagne in France, located northeast of Paris, about a two hour drive. Until recently, Americans used the term Champagne to describe any wine with bubbles. With agreements with the European Union, we no longer use the term Champagne on our sparkling wine. Producers who had used it, will be given time to transition out of the use of the term. Champagne, the region, is recognized as the premier area of the world for producing sparkling wine. All other wine producing countries recognized the term champagne and use different terms to call their sparkling wine.

There are other exceptional areas such as Franciacorta in northern Italy, Cava from Spain, Anderson Valley and Carneros in northern California and other regions of France,  that produce Cremant sparkling wines, such as Alsace, Burgundy, Limoux  and Loire.

The styles of Champagne are, starting with the driest: Brut (there is extra Brut and Brut Savage or Brut Zero), Extra Dry, not really that dry and Demi Sec, which is moderately sweet. There is Doux, which is really sweet, but not found here very often.

Champagne can be made in the various styles with additional colors.

They come in Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay only), Blanc de Noir (mostly Pinot Noir and some Pinot Meunier) and Rosé, a blend of red and white wines. Champagne is the only region in France that allows for the blending of red with white wines to make rosé wine. The others must use grape skin contact to achieve the pink color.

So when you are ready for Confetti, try some of these highly recommended wines:

France: Non-Vintage Brut:

Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut, Roederer Brut Premier, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut, Pol Roger Brut, Laurent Perrier Brut, Bruno Paillard,  Pommery Brut Royal, Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top, Delamotte Blanc de Blanc, Ruinart, Deutz Brut Classic

The Best of the Best:

Veuve Clicquot -La Grande Dame

Moet y Chandon – Dom Perignon

Krug Vintage and MV

Roederer – Cristal

Pol Roger- Cuvee Sir Winston

Dom Ruinart

Cremant: French, but not from Champagne:

Albrecht Brut Rose

Simonnet Febvre Brut & Rose


Chateau Moncontour , Sparkling Vouvray

Spain: Cava

Codorniu Reserve

Freixenet Black Bottle

Paul Cheneau


Franciacorta: Contadi Castaldi, Brut, Rose & Saten

Prosecco: LaMarca, Bisol, Maschio, Valdo, Zonin


Roederer Estate, Domain Chandon