Wine and steak – a classic combination. It’s no surprise that wine is an essential (and fun!) part of El Gaucho Hospitality’s (EGH) business. We love being a catalyst for connections and educating our guests, whether it’s introducing a new wine, or recommending a winery to visit. Staying on top of the ever changing world of wine can be a challenge, and it takes continual dedication and focus to be a great wine resource.
The entire EGH team was recently offered the opportunity to take an introductory Sommelier course and examination through the Court of Master Sommeliers, an international examining body who encourages standards of beverage knowledge and service. What’s a sommelier? It’s a French term for wine steward, a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, who specializes in all aspects of wine service and wine pairing. The history comes from the French Renaissance, when the title was purchased to become a part of the king or nobleman’s entourage. The sommelier’s main responsibility was to stock food and wine for journeys, ensuring the condition of the perishables. He would take a bite of food or drink of wine before the king; if anything had been poisoned by the enemy, the sommelier was the first to know! Thankfully, times have changed.
Normally the two-day class and exam is held in Las Vegas, so time and travel are required for each of the students. However, EGH President and COO Chad Mackay offered not only to pay for half of the tuition for each member of his team, but also to bring the Master Sommeliers to Seattle. More than 50 of EGH Employees signed up.
Ten weeks prior to the official class and exam, AQUA by El Gaucho Asst. General Manager and Wine Captain, Lee Spires, and El Gaucho Bellevue Wine Captain Joseph Romero, held weekly classes to prepare the team. The sessions included pouring over geography, geology, climatology, and meteorology, not to mention learning numerous grape varietals. You know the saying, “The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know?” It had to be written with the world of wine in mind.
Three Master Sommeliers – Rob Bigelow, Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s Sr. Director of Wine Education and On Premise Development; The Metropolitan Grill’s Wine Director, Thomas Price; and Nick Hetzel, Wine Director at Sage Restaurant at Aria Resort & Casino – instructed the two-day class which included dissecting important wine regions around the world, including types of grapes grown, wine laws, history, soil types, typical weather conditions, and important wineries in each area. The class also blind tasted 24 wines for sensory evaluation and deductive conclusions. Don’t worry – the wines were for tasting only and not for consuming, so the class was taught “spit etiquette.”
At the end of the two days, students took a 70-question exam, which collectively the group agreed was “brutal.” In the end, though, EGH is proud to welcome 44 new sommeliers to the team, which means EGH proudly employs 64 Level 1 and three Level 2 sommeliers through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
More than any other beverage, wine – and the pleasure it evokes – is meant to be shared, and we love sharing it with you. Cheers!