Sommelier James Tidwell on

James Tidwell
Café on the Green
4150 N MacArthur Blvd
Irving, TX 75038
(972) 717-2420

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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.

Wine Tips
Sommelier James Tidwell of Café on the Green —Dallas, TX

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.


   Published: April 2007