2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Tasting and Mixology Day Two

2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Tasting and Mixology Day Two

Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier
After an intoxicating first day, the Congress wine and mixology sessions resumed with full force. New York Rising Star Pascaline Lepeltier began her wine seminar, Biodynamic, Sustainable, and Organic: Wines with a Conscience by introducing herself: “first and foremost I’m a sommelier. I’m a wine drinker.” But Lepeltier has a serious passion for natural wine, which is “kind of trendy right now,” she said. “But I would like to try to go a bit deeper today.” And deeper we went! Natural wine (the somm’s catch-all term for organic, sustainable, and biodynamic) isn’t about good or bad; they have “conscience” because they carry, as Lepeltier puts it, “history, time, and quality.” And it’s apparent in each glass. “Very, very few wines are just fermented grape juice,” she explained. Natural wines contain history and terroir, while conventional wines may contain up to 228 ingredients (which don’t legally have to be posted on the label). After a thorough breakdown of the world of natural wines, Lepeltier led us through a tasting of three varietals, including an atypical California Chardonnay slightly redolent of “shoe,” as Lepeltier put it, a Spanish Albillo with a pronounced hay smokiness, and a Cabernet Franc from Catherine and Pierre Breton that hit the tongue with the feeling of paper. As promised, each glass was suffused with history, and the audience drank it up.

Jackson Cannon Mixology Workshop House-Made
with Jackson Cannon
When Jackson Cannon realized rose vermouth isn’t commercially available in his market, he started making his own. In today’s mixology workshop, House-Made, Cannon talked about “the power of the narrative of having made your own ingredients” and the role of the bartender in heightening the guest’s experience. Cannon is, in particular, a champion and a fan of vermouth and is working to re-brand the image of this fortified wine one cocktail at a time. The secret to Cannon’s vermouth (besides lots of fruit and botanicals) is precisely weighing ingredients and heating the sugar to a hard crack (about 300°F). Addressing a question about shelf life from the audience, Cannon said that at Eastern Standard once a bottle of vermouth is cracked, they can only use it for a week. After that the vermouth keeps but the flavor is not consistent. Cannon finished up by demonstrating the Vin Amer Fizz, a vermouth-forward cocktail that he uses to introduce people to the spirit.

In this afternoon’s mixology workshop The Logic of Liqueurs Mixologist Jim Meehan pointed out that although the classics remain the focus at PDT, liqueurs are chosen to represent a range. The backbone of a cocktail is always the spirit, and it should dominate the drink, but acidity like lemon, lime, or vermouth is an important component too. Meehan emphasized the importance of balancing sweet and sour in a cocktail. He went on to talk the attendees through the developments of the past few years, including the St. Germain craze that highlights the floral dimension of this liqueur, and the rise of mezcal and its smokey heat. Brix, or level of sugar, and proof were two essential elements covered in this workshop. Utilizing Zacapa rum aged in Pedro Ximenez barrels, and chartreuse, Meehan dissected a number of cocktails to demonstrate how analyzing structure can help mixologists experiment knowledgeably with the basic makeup of a cocktail in mind.

Sommelier Greg Engert Beer Sommelier Greg Engert
Beer Sommelier Greg Engert may easily have called his Tuesday tasting workshop The Explosive Interaction of Flavor, as the beer and cheese pairings we tasted were more than complementary or contrasting (a term Engert doesn’t like). They were dynamic. The magic of beer and cheese pairings is their aggressive intermingling on the palate, a phenomenon that doesn’t exist as prominently in wine and food pairings. Not only is beer a natural pairing beverage, says Engert, but “chefs and brewers are so similar…brewers have to cook, they have to compose.” He’s working hard on the sophisticated beer programs at ChurchKey and Birch & Barley—where beers are served at specific temperatures, in particular vessels “to enhance flavor and aroma”—we were happy to have his beer proselytizing at the ICC. Among beer’s many versatile pairing possibilities, beer and cheese are especially suited, each being the complex end product of fermentation with elements of protein, acid, and body to intermingle. An imperial Six Points IPA sang against the salty, buttery fruit of a Widmer cheddar from Wisconsin Cheese, while a darker, sweeter Southampton Ale blended its subtle spice with the rich astringency of blue cheese. To close, Engert put beer and wine pairings in historical context. “I think of wine and food as a monarchical arranged marriage,” he said. “Beer is like a pleasant love affair…it gets right in there.”

For the final tasting of the evening, "Writing Successful Wine Programs at All Levels" Sommelier of California resort group Grand del Mar and the excellent Addison restaurant, 2010 San Diego Rising Star Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez offered a room filled with attentive sommeliers tricks he's learned from years of experience. Five wines from Rodgriguez's cellars were opened and tasted while the sommelier attended to the business side of the trade. He spoke about the importance of communication, community, and diversity. Without clear communication, said Rodriguez, you cannot encourage your clients to make good decisions in their wine choice. With communication you can both encourage experimentation and create strong pairings. When it came to the wine community, Rodriguez had one piece of useful advice: know your importers. When a sommelier relies on distributors to form his or her program he gives away the power to own that program's direction. Finally, he spoke of diversity. Diverse wines are vital to the successful wine program, because the possibilities are limitless and your cellar must reflect that. The event was an unequivocal success; the audience left well informed, and well sated.

by Emily Bell, Francoise Villeneuve, Katherine Martinelli, Jessica Dukes, and Kathleen Culliton