Is being a sommelier as glamourous as it seems? Why is it sometimes difficult to differentiate between certain New and Old World wines? How does terroir play a key role in a blind tasting? What’s it like being in a sommelier competition?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Bruce Wallner, Master Sommelier at Sommelier Factory.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
- What un-glamourous truth might you be surprised to learn about being a sommelier?
- What intangible joy can you get from being a sommelier?
- How should you view the role of a sommelier?
- Which areas would you see assessed in the Best Sommelier in Canada competition?
- How do you train for a sommelier competition?
- Why would you do a blind tasting?
- Is there a reasonable explanation why you might confuse certain regions in a blind tasting?
- Why should you pay close attention to terroir?
- What parallels can you find between the Quebec Best Sommelier competition and The Karate Kid?
- What underlying principle should you keep in mind when you’re pairing food and wine?
- What does grenache add to your wine tasting experience?
- What tasting profile will you encounter with 2009 Clos De Caveau Fruit Sauvage?
- How can you match 2009 Clos De Caveau Fruit Sauvage with food?
- How did Bruce go from bartending to becoming a sommelier?
- Bruce defines a sommelier as being the one step between the person who makes the wine and the person who drinks it.
- Bruce takes a professional approach to training for the competition that includes mental conditioning as well as abstaining from wine the day before so that his palate is at peak perception for tasting during the event. I’m going to see if I can detect if my own palate perception is more acute when I’ve not had wine for a day. That does happen once in a while!
- The blind tasting component of the sommelier competition is more about describing the wine and its elements rather than nailing the exact name and vintage of the wine. The latter is a meaningless party trick like trying to balance a spoon on your nose.
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Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean.
Natalie MacLean 1:21
And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 107. Is blind tasting wine a mark of skill or an empty parlour trick? How do you differentiate between all the new world wines? What’s it like competing against other sommeliers in front of a panel of stern judges, and an audience of hundreds? And how can you find a great wine match for the problem children of the food world like asparagus and hot chilies? That’s exactly what you’ll discover in this episode of The Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.
I’m chatting with Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner about Canada’s best sommelier competition, what it takes to compete and win the title, and insider tips to help you choose better wines from a restaurant list. In the show notes, you’ll find links to the wines we tasted, the video version of this chat, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm, including this evening if you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s published, and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/107.
Now on a personal note before we dive into the show, the fridge door was beeping again. Miles looked at me, then at the fridge, then back to me. I looked at him with my most innocent smile. I was making an omelette as I do every morning and was getting the ingredients out of the fridge. This takes a few minutes since I like to nibble on a few cubes of ham and orange pepper from the first containers I take out; low blood sugar. Miles doesn’t understand why I don’t shut the door between trips. Aside from the vacuum seal that makes it a pain to reopen the door, I like keeping it open so I can change my mind on ingredients or get milk for my tea or who knows. Maybe that mindset is why I kept going after my undergrad and public relations to do the MBA at Western. I could have stopped and got a good job in PR but, you know I wanted to keep my options open; like the fridge. Miles is not a closed minded person but he does like definition around certain tasks and decisions. So are you a fridge open or shut kind of person? Let me know. Okay on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:18
Bruce Wallner is a certified Master Sommelier and has worked at top restaurants around the world including Australia, Spain, the UK, and Canada. Today he is the chef sommelier at the Sommelier Factory in Toronto (https://www.sommfactory.com), where the city’s top sommeliers develop their skills. This conversation took place on my Facebook Live video show several years ago, so please keep that in mind as the context for Bruce’s comments. He joined me from Toronto.
Bruce Wallner 4:56
Hi, Natalie. Thanks very much.
Natalie MacLean 4:58
So tell me,before we dive into the competition and that sort of thing what is it that made you want to become a sommelier?
Bruce Wallner 5:05
I was always interested. I think the short story is that I parlayed a drinking problem into a career. I think that’s the fairest way to say it.
Natalie MacLean 5:13
And to be honest,
Bruce Wallner 5:14
I think most people sort of fall into it. And I was working in hospitality and bartending. And at the time that I was getting involved, Wine Spectator was making sommeliers out to be kind of rock stars so I thought, well that’ll be pretty cool. Turns out it wasn’t that cool at all. But it was too late; I was down the path already.
Natalie MacLean 5:30
You mean, it’s a lot of hard work…
Bruce Wallner 5:32
Yeah, it’s not quite the glamorous life it looks like from the outside.
Natalie MacLean 5:35
What is the most unglamorous part that people wouldn’t imagine?
Bruce Wallner 5:38
There’s no glamorous part about it. There’s a lot of carrying boxes and working on spreadsheets and long hours.
Natalie MacLean 5:49
Wow, that sounds really dreary. So you have your résumé out there. What would you be doing Bruce if you weren’t a sommelier?
Bruce Wallner 5:55
Oh, gee, I don’t know if I could even answer that. To be fair, it’s a profession where you spend your life making people happy. For me, it’s something beautiful. It’s something that every day I feel great about. It does involve a lot of hard work, a lot of long hours, and some thankless work as well. But the little bit you get back is fantastic. It’s, I don’t know, I think it’d be a, I don’t know, the closest comparison I could give is maybe a prostitute. It’s how I feel most days.
Natalie MacLean 6:27
So that’s really interesting. I think you’ve chosen the right path. So tell me at a high level, I was reading something somewhere. You were talking about what the role of a sommelier is. And that is the connection between the customer and who?
Bruce Wallner 6:43
For me, it’s pretty black and white; the role of a sommelier. It’s certainly been expanded lately. And I think people take the term sommelier to mean a lot of different things. There’s a lot of writers, a lot of people in the trade. By trade, I mean, buying, selling, importing, and retail. There’s a lot of people like that who call themselves sommeliers; I think that’s fair. But a pure sommelier role, I think, is the one step between the guy who produces the wine and then the final consumer.
Natalie MacLean 7:10
Yeah, I really like that. I like that connector role, the way you put it. So these days, what are you doing? Are you training other sommeliers? Is that what you’re up to?
Bruce Wallner 7:20
I spend a lot of time training other sommeliers. Actually a lot of the sommeliers I’ve spent time training are now heading towards the same goal. Three of us are going out to Halifax to compete in the Canadian nationals. I’m hoping that actually the woman that I have dedicated a lot of time in training, I’m hoping she pulls through to tell you the truth. She’s my odds on favourite to win the competition.
Natalie MacLean 7:40
So you’re training your competition?
Bruce Wallner 7:43
Yeah, and hoping to get beaten by them as well.
Wow; that’s interesting.
Bruce Wallner 7:47
The winner from Canada goes on to represent Canada at the worlds. And she has great experience with that. I think she would be someone absolutely ideal at that. I would fumble through it. It would be a pure stroke of luck if I managed to win this competition as with most things with me in life
Natalie MacLean 8:02
Modesty must be part of your success. So what’s her name?
Bruce Wallner 8:07
She’s Véronique Rivest
Natalie MacLean 8:08
Oh, yes; she’s close by here. I see her at tasting. She’s fantastic. So okay, let’s dive into the competition then. Give us a sense of what this competition is about. So you’ve won the provincials. Is the best sommelier in Canada competition similarly structured, and if so, tell us a little bit about the competition.
Bruce Wallner 8:29
Well, we don’t know too much. It should be similarly structured. It basically involves a written examination to test your knowledge of a lot of appellations, a little bit of winemaking and a lot of labels as well, a lot of producers, a little bit of stock management and, a lot of guest service in the end, because after the written test, then you have a blind tasting. I don’t know how many wines it’s going to be. But generally speaking, somewhere between two and six wines. And then there’s a service portion and in the service portion you’re often asked to decant a bottle of wine or open a bottle of champagne and pour it or go to a table who has a menu and talk about food and wine matching
Natalie MacLean 9:08
This service exam. It’s with judges who; are they trying to like asking tough questions or trip you up somehow?
Bruce Wallner 9:13
Yeah, as you’re attempting to serve them wine they sort of throw whatever they can in their way to trip you up and make you hesitate, make you spill the wine or I don’t know what; but to take you off your game. Questions are generally very, very obscure, bordering on ridiculous.
Natalie MacLean 9:28
Really! Can you think of any that come to mind that really through you for a loop in the past?
Bruce Wallner 9:34
Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of yield questions. I find it a bit difficult to know the yields of every appellation in France; it gets to be a bit difficult. Minimum alcohol levels,or sub appellations are very popular. Like back in the day it always used to be sub regions of Vinho Verde; that was always thrown out there. Just ridiculous things. This one isn’t used anymore because everyone thinks it is so funny, but it was “What is the grape of Cour-Cheverny?” Well, nobody knows the grape of Cour-Cheverny except all the French sommeliers know that it’s Romorantin . But nobody ever drinks Cour-Cheverny and Romorantin isn’t used for anything else. It’s just a funny trivia question that brings a giggle and well, I don’t know, to really only the hardcore geeks, but
Natalie MacLean 10:14
yeah, definitely inside baseball there.
Bruce Wallner 10:16
Yeah, it’s boring and tedious as anything could be
Natalie MacLean 10:20
But they’re testing the depth of your knowledge. So I get that they’re really trying to give you a zinger.
Bruce Wallner 10:25
Yeah, well, absolutely. And you know, a lot of it comes down to producers and specific Cuvées and single vineyards and a lot of things that you wouldn’t really know unless you sort of just been at the winery earlier that week. But you do your best to prepare for them. And I think you have to go in understanding that you’re going to get a lot of them wrong.
Natalie MacLean 10:44
So how do you prepare for this? So I’m thinking, Okay, you’re not up at 5am going for runs and raw eggs? Are you like, I don’t know, swigging Bordeaux before the rest of us are awake, or what are you doing to train?
Bruce Wallner 10:53
So you’ve seen Rocky then and that is very similar. You know, you do a lot of tasting in the lead up. In fact, we’re about two weeks out now. So we’ll be tasting every morning. For me, it’s always six blind wines, even though that may not be what others do, its what I’m in the habit of doing, a lot of theory, a lot of theory until the point where it starts to turn your stomach looking at the books again. And you do mock services; you get together with some friends, and try to give each other as hard a time as possible, try to do what the judges might do on the day. And you know what, there is a little bit of the shift, not so much drinking raw eggs, but there’s a little bit of the conditioning, there’s a certain amount of conditioning, and also mental conditioning to to make sure that on that day, you’re very happy to be there. And when the blind wine is in front of you, you’re very thirsty, and you’re dying to try the wines. Because when you’re very thirsty and dying to try the wines, your perceptions are a little bit peaked/heightened and you’re a little bit more on the ball. So I can do a lot of tasting in the lead up. And then the day before I won’t even smell the wine. Because then I really miss it. It’s kind of funny, I almost hate to admit this, but it’s your dependency on alcohol then kicks in. Because if you go the one day without and you’re so accustomed every morning to have having those six tastes of wine that you go the one morning without and next morning, you’re not like you’re shaking, but you’re ready to have a taste of wine. You notice that something was missing in your schedule yesterday.
Natalie MacLean 12:23
It’s like pent up demand.
Unknown Speaker 12:24
Natalie MacLean 12:27
Getting back on topic, blind tasting. For those who may not know, tell us what blind tasting is.
Bruce Wallner 12:32
Blind tasting is just wine in a glass and you don’t know what it is. It’s actually not difficult. It’s quite easy once you get the rhythm of it. So you go through it to see how it looks. You see how it smells, and you see how it tastes. And a lot of what you’re judging that wine on is the structures. You see how high the acid is, how high the tannins are, where the alcohol is at, how long is the finish, and then you look for little hints like does it smell like gooseberry? Or does it smell like dried hay? And eventually, all the clues kind of lead you down to the only wine that it can be. It’s a guessing game for wine. But hopefully it’s not actually that much guessing in the end, hopefully it’s more an estimate than a guess.
Natalie MacLean 13:12
And is it more about like are more points given toward complete and somewhat accurate description versus nailing that vintage, that winery, that farmer, that kind of thing
Bruce Wallner 13:25
I find with the exams like the MS exam is very much about the description, and taking that description but seeing the wine for what it is, understanding the wine, understanding the alcohol levels, the tannin levels, the body and the finish, understanding the elements of that wine, including the descriptors like lemon, green apple, apricot or whatever you’re finding in there. And understanding that those elements are there and then understanding where it should lead. That’s a large component of it. Depending on what exam you’re taking through the Court of Master Sommeliers there’s a lot of weight put to off the start. Basically everything is about being able to describe that wine properly. And then making a sensible conclusion off of that. As you get up to masters it’s a little bit more focused on your conclusion in the end, but it’s still a lot about the descriptors, it’s about understanding why and it’s not about a parlour trick, it’s about understanding wine. To be fair, there’s a lot of Sancerre that starts to look like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and just a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that’s just trying to be a little bit more like Sancerre. So everything kind of slowly comes together a little bit. So to see a very minerally restrained herbal Sauvignon Blanc and call it Sancerre, even though you’re very much in the wrong region, you’re in the wrong country, you’re either on the wrong side of the world, it’s still not crazy. They’re both Sauvignon Blancs that are both chasing minerality, if it’s a herbal Sauvignon Blanc that’s chasing minerality. But you have that a lot. For example, in the south of France, or Bordeaux, its a better example. There’s a lot of producers in Bordeaux that they kind of want to make something that’s a bit more like a Napa Cabernet. And when you go through that and in the end, you say oh “That’s a bit of a restrained style Napa Cabernet.” It’s not crazy. It’s not insane. It’s that’s what that producer is trying to do. That you guessed it from the other side of the world: okay, that’s, you know, it’s a little embarrassing, but it’s not insane.
Natalie MacLean 15:12
No, it’s that same family of characteristics because that is it exactly; you leaped right there. It’s not the homogenization, but you know, the styles. And given that winemakers are having stages (apprenticeships) or, you know, practice runs at different wineries around the world to gain experience, we’ve got all of this transfer of knowledge and technology and so on. I would think that that convergence of style would make it really particularly tough to do blind tastings these days, outside of just sort of identifying these broad families. You know, that’s a Cabernet,
Bruce Wallner 15:42
It does and everyone is sort of in agreeance on that, but I’ll kind of go a little bit back on that. What we’ve just said is true. However, I find that once you get past the sort of new worldification of the old world, this globalisation that we’re talking about, once you sort of get past that, you start to see the terroir that’s still underneath. So it’s not like it’s an impossible task. I’ll give you another interesting example. It’s basically the same thing. But it doesn’t imply this danger of globalisation, it more implies terroir. There’s many times when I try a Russian River Pinot Noir, and it tastes just like Russian River Zinfandel to me. A Pinot Noir has nothing to do with Zinfandel. But when they’re both from Russian River, and the winemaker is trying to do this very fruit forward, very spicy, very jammy style; Gee, they start to seem quite similar. I could say the same thing with Sancerre and Chablis. Completely different grapes. But sometimes the only thing that tells them apart is the malolactic that’s in the Chablis, being a winemaking point that’s in the Chablis. Because you stop chasing grape, you start to taste the terroir. So, it’s it’s kind of a homogenization, but speaks more of terroir pushing through then of people making grapes on different sides of the worlds just making the same thing. So I don’t think it’s fair to just blame it on everybody wanting to make the same style; that certainly is a factor. But I think terroir actually, in this long drawn out battle between terroir and international wine styles, I think terroir will prove unbeatable and you can’t suppress terroir. You can suppress terroir temporarily. But in the end, Mother Nature will come through and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Natalie MacLean 17:24
All right, so let’s talk about past competitions. Now, you have already noted that the Quebec contingent is tough. You made an interesting analogy with the Karate Kid.
Bruce Wallner 17:35
I stole an analogy from Samuel but I think it fits so well. The Quebeckers really we look at the pennant like Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai was a villain in the Karate Kid, Cobra Kai was the very well trained, very organised, sort of ruthless, on top of their game. They won every competition leading into it. And the poor Karate Kid came along, he didn’t have a chance, but somehow he pulled it out. So they’re very much like the Cobra Kai and that you know what, they sort of live for this, when young kids are growing up and just starting to get into the industry and just starting to get into the profession, they think one day I’m going to win the Canadian championship, and one day, I’m going to be the best sommelier in the entire nation of Quebec, I’m going to be the best.
Natalie MacLean 18:18
So those are the kids that are not out on the street playing road hockey, they are the kids in the basement of their parents cellars.
Bruce Wallner 18:23
Yeah, in Quebec, you have two choices, either to go play hockey or become a sommelier. That’s it. But it’s very similar, like, well, not very similar to hockey. But the dedication is very similar in that, if you take from a community, if you take the best from a community where everybody understands the profession, in this case, or hockey, if we’re using that sports or basketball in the States, if you take from a community where everybody’s doing it, the level is so much higher. It’s an understanding that almost seems like bred in the bone. And it makes them difficult to beat.
Natalie MacLean 18:55
So they’re tough. And I noticed that the added component is you have to compete or write an exam in a second language that is not your mother tongue.
Bruce Wallner 19:03
That’s right. Yeah. So I have to do it in French, which is unfortunate since I don’t speak French.
Natalie MacLean 19:08
You actually have to do the written exam in French?
Bruce Wallner 19:10
Yeah, but the written exam, it won’t be difficult in French, because there’s, there’s enough High School French for me to get through that. And it’s all wine terms. When I was working with the French sommeliers, over in the UK, it’s all French sommeliers in the UK, by the way, except when I was there, there was one Canadian guy and the rest all French. They would always say, Well, yeah, but wine is French. Like everything else is not really wine, it’s just kind of an imitation of wine, which, which, of course can only be French. A lot of the terms end up being French. So yeah, to know, to understand wine a little bit you do understand French wine,
Natalie MacLean 19:44
but like a spelling bee, have you ever been stumped by a really arcane wine term? Kind of the last one? It was like, oh,
Bruce Wallner 19:51
oh, yeah, not since this morning.
Natalie MacLean 19:56
What about a tough food and wine match?
Bruce Wallner 19:58
Yeah, that’s always going to be somewhere in this competition, that’s always thrown into the mix somehow. And you know what, the thing to remember with food and wine matching is, we all strive to make magic, have this perfect match like Muscadet and oysters or like goat cheese and Sancerre. But in the end, or maybe I should say Barolo and braised beef is something that’s fantastic as well. And you have it or burgundy and Coq au Vin, that is unbelievable. And when you try that, you’re taken away, you go to someplace else. It’s just magic. It’s otherworldly. And so you always try to get back to that. Right? It’s like a bad drug habit. You keep trying to get back to that fabulous high you got off of this incredible match.
Natalie MacLean 20:41
And so we’ve got drugs, we’ve got prostitution. And now we have wine. I know what you mean, that meaning of the two, that is just so much better than either one could be.
Bruce Wallner 20:52
And the truth is that a couple other factors come in. I mean, it depends who you’re with, and where you’re at, your whole environment, and even your mindset and how you felt before you even got to the place where you started having this fabulous food with this fabulous wine. So there’s so much there, that takes us towards the magic. And we always try to get back to that magic. But the truth is, a successful match can still fall short of that magic, the successful match, just the wine helps the food and the food helps the wine a little bit, and neither one offends the other. That’s a successful match. Well, you could look at it this way, the magic is when you meet your soulmate. Okay, that’s magic. And then a successful match is when you’re getting along with a co worker, and you can actually produce good results at work. It’s not that you’re in love with them, or you could spend the rest of your life with them, but you work well together. And that’s what we end up with food and wine matching a lot. So when we get thrown these crazy dishes, filled with asparagus, and artichokes, and hot chilies, and anything that would be absolutely impossible to match with wine, the only thing you can do is have something that makes sense. Have a wine that helps the dish and a dish that helps the wine a little bit. And that’s it and call that a win and say thank you very much.
Natalie MacLean 22:03
Well, you could be a relationship columnist as well.
Bruce Wallner 22:07
Natalie MacLean 22:10
Okay, whoever wins this Canadian championship, where do they go for the best sommelier in the world competition this year? Have they picked the location?
Bruce Wallner 22:18
Best Sommelier of the World; that’s in Japan. I seem to think it’s in Osaka. But it’s in Japan in any case. And the best Americas which comes before that is in Brazil, in the south of Brazil
Natalie MacLean 22:33
Do you have to win that one first in Brazil to go on to the world’s?
Bruce Wallner 22:36
No, they’ve always had a European Championship. So recently, they added a Australasian championship and a American championship. So all of North and South America, all the winners from each country get together; actually, we send two representatives from each country. And whoever wins the Americas gets that extra ticket. So let’s say you would have something like 60 countries all sending representatives. So you ended up with your 60 representatives, plus three from the regional championships.
Natalie MacLean 23:06
Has a Canadian ever won the world’s best sommelier competition?
Bruce Wallner 23:10
No, no, that’d be pretty exciting. That would be very exciting. That’s a tough task. The last one that won was a gentleman that I worked for in the UK, Gerard Basset. He worked on that for about 20 years to be able to win. He was a finalist, I think four times before he managed to finally win it. It’s takes a lot of work and a little bit of luck.
Natalie MacLean 23:34
That’s a lot of paint the fence, wash whatever.
Bruce Wallner 23:37
Yeah, well, that’s a lot of wax on wax off.
Natalie MacLean 23:41
Right. That’s it. Okay, so speaking of all that, I’m thirsty. What wine have you chosen for us to taste here today?
Bruce Wallner 23:48
We have 2009 Vacqueyras
Natalie MacLean 23:52
Alright. And I noticed it’s only $18.95. So, guess you’re not a snob. But why did you pick this Rhône Valley wine for us to taste together.
Bruce Wallner 24:02
I’m a big fan of Rhône valley. I love Grenache and I think it probably deserves a little more attention.
Natalie MacLean 24:08
What does Grenache do to the blend?
Bruce Wallner 24:11
It gives a little bit more forward fruit. It gives it a real attractive spice. It softens out the tendency. It’s just Grenache and Syrah which is unusual in the southern Rhône. Usually there’s a few more grapes going on. Famously in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you’re allowed 13 but it differs from village to village but in throughout the Rhône, it would be more than a third. Yeah, I guess more around 18. But in any case, this is 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. The Syrah adds kind of that backbone, the tannin and adds a good bit of the colour. If you look at it, it doesn’t look that deep. Grenache doesn’t really carry that much colour. So it doesn’t look like a wine that keeps a character to it. We have this funny habit of thinking that a deeper wine means more character and better wine. Of course, that’s crazy. But this wine you would think of looks very light,
Natalie MacLean 25:08
Yeah,it’s got a lovely Ruby jewel colour to it. It’s lovely. It packs a punch without feeling heavy on the palate.
Bruce Wallner 25:15
Yeah, it’s 14.5% alcohol. It’s not what I would call a light wine. Certainly looks lighter than it is. It’s got a great depth of character. And I love what when you first smell it?
Natalie MacLean 25:25
What is that?
Bruce Wallner 25:25
I find it to really sort of vague herb that seems a mix of lavender, rosemary and sage and also some spice, like black pepper spice and a little bit of a white pepper spice. And they all kind of mixed together. A lot of times people call that smell garrigue, like the underbrush that’s down in Provence. I think that fits pretty well.
Natalie MacLean 25:37
Yeah, I’m getting all of that now that you’ve said it.
Bruce Wallner 25:48
There’s also heaps of red fruit and a little bit of dark fruit and, and a bit of jamminess, you smell the ripeness, you smell the sunshine, you smell the warmth in it.
Natalie MacLean 25:57
That’s a lovely way to put it.
Bruce Wallner 25:58
I’ve got to say every time I smell the wine like this it just it’s immediately enjoyable. It’s pure pleasure right off the bat; smells a little bit like Christmas, you know, like these baking spices but also together with this this wonderful kind of mixed berry Bramble berry
Unknown Speaker 26:16
Bruce Wallner 26:17
But it’s not over the top, like it doesn’t smell like candy. It smells like all those fruits and all those spices but not like candy. It’s still kind of restrained
Natalie MacLean 26:25
That’s great. You know, you can put it very specifically without being you know, intimidating or snobby about it. I can identify with everything you’re saying, the descriptors, it doesn’t sound ridiculously over the top fruit salad thing.What would you pair with this wine?
Bruce Wallner 26:39
That’s a great question because there’s so much that you can put with this wine. I mean, it goes delightfully with, well, we still have plenty of time for barbecue. It goes delightfully with a range of grilled meats. You can even play around with grilled calamari with this; it’s not too bad. It’s not gonna overpower it. It has a lot of stuff to it, but it’s not a heavy wine. It doesn’t become overbearing or overpowering. It has tremendous flexibility. A roast chicken is still great with this. We’re still on the lighter end of things. I would certainly not mind going richer and fuller. It’s a great pizza wine, by the way. And it’s great with grilled sausages, especially grilled sausages with a little bit of spice but not too much spice. Too much spice and you lose because there’s a lot of stuff going on the wine. I don’t want to lose all the complexities that I got going on here. But a little bit of spice plays off a little bit of spice in the wine. It’s fantastic.
Natalie MacLean 27:26
Oh, I wish you were my sommelier, at a restaurant somewhere. Yeah, I’d be hungry and thirsty before I could start. Great description. Bruce;You’re drinking
Bruce Wallner 27:37
Yeah, it’s a delicious wine. I actually really enjoy lamb done in a bit of a Provençal style with olives and with anchovies. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this where you take a leg or lamb and you rub it. My mother would always rub it with mustard and garlic and rosemary. And I love that and then I started adding some olives to the sauce we would make off the side of it and anchovies into the rub. It’s amazing; anchovies rubbed into a leg of lamb. Of course, you won’t salt it too much beyond that, but it doesn’t really add an anchovy taste. It just adds this tremendous depth. And this wine with a leg of lamb that’s rubbed with anchovies and garlic and rosemary and a bit of mustard if you like, just to keep my mom happy. That’s magic. That’s something lovely. And you know what, you can drink this wine and feel good about drinking. It doesn’t slow you down like a thicker wine would.
Natalie MacLean 28:26
That’s true. It goes down slippery fast and doesn’t slow me down at all. Something dangerously slippery about this wine.
Bruce Wallner 28:35
I spoke to a winemaker. It’s ages ago now but it sticks with me. He used the term for wine that means more than healthy, that means healthful. He actually had to jump up and grab a guitar and start playing and then start dancing a little bit. So you see, this wine makes you feel like dancing. I was like, Oh, yeah, it’s lifegiving, the wine is lifegiving. A wine like this is alive and its life giving, which makes you feel alive as well.
Natalie MacLean 29:11
Wow, absolutely. Great chat. I really appreciate this. Again, perfect note to end on. Thank you for introducing me to this wine. And I wish you all the best to be here in the competition
Bruce Wallner 29:20
To be fair Natalie, I think you introduced me to this wine.
Natalie MacLean 29:24
Gosh, I guess I did. Obviously too many bottles to remember. But thank you for bringing me back to this wine Bruce,
Natalie MacLean 29:31
I would love to chat with you more, you know again, and I’d love to hear more about your experience at the competition and I’m sure others would too.
Bruce Wallner 29:39
Natalie MacLean 29:45
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Bruce Wallner. Here are my takeaways.
Number one, I really like how Bruce defines a sommelier as being the one step or one person between the person who makes the wine and the person who drinks it.
Two, I also admire his professional approach to training for the competition that included mental conditioning as well as abstaining from wine the day before, so that his palate has peak perception for tasting during the event. I’m actually going to see if I can detect if my own palate perception is more acute when I’ve not had wine for a day. And yes, that does happen once in a while.
Three, I’m really glad to hear that the blind tasting component of the competition is more about describing the wine and its elements, rather than nailing the exact name and the vintage of the wine. The latter, I truly believe, is a meaningless party trick, like trying to balance a spoon on your nose.
In the show notes, you’ll find links to the wines we tasted, the video version of this chat, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm, including this evening if you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s published, and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/107.
And you won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Niagara’s Vineland estates winery, to talk about cool climate Chardonnay. He joins me from Niagara next week. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 55 about pairing gift wines to the personalities on your holiday shopping list, go back and take a listen. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Why does wine make such an ideal holiday gift? Which ones are the best to give especially when you don’t know the personal taste of the recipient? Are there some wines you should never give us a gift beyond “two buck Chuck”? And how can you match the gift wine to the personality of the giftee. That’s exactly what you’ll learn on today’s episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.
If you like this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wine tips that Bruce shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a wine that is similarly a first introduced to you.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at nataliemaclean.com/subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers