Sommelier James Tidwell
Café on the Green | Dallas
Though you wouldn’t guess it from James Tidwell’s
unpretentious and laid-back approach to wine, the sommelier is on
a serious mission to promote professional wine service standards
and further wine education. James co-founded the Texas Sommelier
Association, a trade association of Texan wine professionals, and
organizes an annual Texas Sommelier Conference where the group gathers
for seminars, tastings, and lectures. James trained at the Culinary
Institute of America in Hyde Park, which gave him a strong culinary
sensibility when pairing food and wine. His bold matches - like
a Dominique Laurent Nuits, Saint George 1er Cru, “La Richemone,”
1998 with a steamed, ginger-scented grouper and umami-rich shitake
in soy broth - elevate flavors and textures to new heights.
Sommelier James Tidwell of Café on the Green —Dallas,
1. Know the “rules” and when to
break them. Few other beverages develop the complexity and depth
that wine possesses. As people came to appreciate these qualities,
rituals and traditions developed for the service of wine. As a sommelier,
I feel an obligation to know and understand these rituals and traditions,
even if today’s service environment doesn’t make use
of all of them. As with artists, we should understand the rules
so that we know how, and why, we break them.
2. Keep it real. With all of the ritual and tradition
surrounding wine, and especially when working with rare and valuable
bottles, you can forget that wine is based on an agricultural product.
Therefore, wine is subject to the vagaries of weather, pest, and
disease. And the winegrowers of today are not far removed from the
farmers who settled the land hundreds of years ago. This is an important
perspective to maintain, not only to appreciate the work that goes
into the creation of great wine, but also to remember the connection
to the land.
3. Taste, taste, taste…and use a method.
This connection to the land yields diverse and unique styles of
wine from around the world. Tasting any and all of these styles
is necessary to understand what makes good wine, what makes a good
food pairing, and what uses are appropriate to each style. Therefore,
I recommend tasting and evaluating as many wines of as many styles
as possible. Developing a method for tasting helps with evaluation.
Whether this method follows one of the accepted forms or is one
that you develop yourself, tasting wine in the same way every time
allows for accurate comparison.
4. Be logical. After evaluating wines, especially
for inclusion on a list or in a store, selection presents a challenge.
There are so many good wines today and no program can offer them
all. How do you select wines for inclusion in your program? I have
found that developing a set of criteria is helpful. Once developed,
these criteria create structure for wine purchases and a logical
approach to the selection problem. At Four Seasons Resort and Club,
we need to have something for everyone. Therefore, my criteria address
balance on the list. This property needs wines from a spectrum of
regions, styles, grapes, producers and prices in order to serve
our guests. However, your criteria may be different.
5. Be a gracious host. Treat the dining room as
your home. You have invited people into your home to experience
the hospitality that you provide. So, as a host, be gracious, be
hospitable, be charming, and be humble. Never forget that the guest
is not there for you, but rather you are there for the guest. Just
because you are enamored with the latest hot wine does not mean
your guests are. Learning the arts of discretion, diplomacy and
salesmanship are key to this business. These teach you when to lead
a guest to a new discovery and when to remain within familiar territory.
6. Understand your guests. However, never underestimate
your guests’ capacity for experimentation. Find ways to allow
guests the opportunity to experiment with new wines without committing
to a whole bottle. Tasting menus, glass pours and wine tastings
are some of the established ways of presenting new and different
wines to guests. Make use of as many of these as possible to conduct
your own market research. Some of the most popular wines at Café
on the Green’s monthly tastings are wines that I did not think
people would enjoy because they were so different.
7. Have fun. This leads to the most important
point, which is: wine is fun. The world of wine is an endless playground
of possibilities. I have met some of the most fascinating and wonderful
people in my life through wine. To sit and enjoy a bottle (whether
rare and expensive or ordinary and cheap) with them, is one of the
great pleasures in life.