I’ve waited awhile to write about the competition because while I like to have things fresh in my mind, I didn’t want to come across as being the least bit disappointed in the results. In fact, I am extremely glad I waited to blog because some revelations were made in the time period afterwards that raised my spirits and kept my eye on the glass, I mean ball.
San Francisco was amazing, and I mean absolutely amazing. I arrived at noon on Friday and took a cab straight to Slanted Door to eat one of my favorite dishes on the planet: California Yellowtail Sashimi with Crispy Shallots and Thai Basil. It is one of the purest delicacies I have ever tasted, and I crave it on a daily basis. After ordering one for my appetizer and one for my dessert, I walked a brisk walk to the Hotel Monaco where I was staying.
To study a topic that is so broad you could potentially ask 10,000 plus questions is a daunting task. Thanks to numerous outlines, maps, made-up tests and guildsomm.com, I felt good about the way studying was going. I read and highlighted for about five hours before getting hungry again.
For dinner, I made the trek to SPQR, a very hip, Italian restaurant that is relatively new. I found myself at the bar between two incredibly nice couples, and was given the epitome of great service by a young woman bartender. Knowing I only had one chance to order the right thing, she guided me towards the Japanese Yellowtail Dish that I will never ever forget. Also, sashimi, yet garnished with Pickled Okra, firm Peach slices and crispy prosciutto, it was easily the best sensation I have ever encountered. Incredible! I followed my sensational appetizer with Roasted Corn Agnolotti and called it a night.
Saturday consisted of breakfast at Zazie (recommended by a local, foodie friend); lunch at Zuni (the roasted chicken for two being the main focus) and a vegetarian tasting menu at the bar at Michael Mina. Of course, my laptop and books were with me at all times, and I went to bed knowing the name of the local, pink sandstone in Alsace as well as other wonderful wine tidbits that will ultimately make me a better sommelier, and possibly a Master Sommelier.
Sunday morning came way too quickly, and the 10 contestants met in the banquet room lobby at 8 a.m. to start the competition.
As usual, the theory kicked off the contest, and it was a rear-end kicker if there ever was one. Sidenote: my aunt who is Emily Post’s twin reads my blog and if I use the word ass or butt, she will starve herself from wine…oops.
Anyway, theory was insanely difficult and while I did not know what AXR stood for in AXR-1 rootstock, I did find myself lucky enough to be asked what the local, pink sandstone in Alsace was called: Gres de Vosges.
Pretty much all 10 competitors came out of the theory being completely humbled, and all of us agreed it was anybody’s game at this point.
Blind Tasting followed, and we were all surprised when we entered a room with 3 whites and 4 reds as opposed to the normal 3 whites and 3 reds. The kicker: we were still allotted the same amount of time, a mere 25 minutes.
I felt amazing after the blind tasting, not a feeling I normally feel lately as my tasting has deteriorated since having children. It went well, and I even had time to spare to go back to wines that may not have been definites.
Service occurred after lunch, and again, it was a good feeling to be able to open a magnum of Champagne, answer questions about special club bottlings, and pair an eclectic menu with an all-Loire-wine line up. As many of you who know me, talking is no difficult task so service is always one of my favorite parts of the Master Sommelier examination. While this was a competition, not an exam, the service part was no different in the fact that I loved this portion the most.
Upon finishing, I took a walk around San Francisco and thought about how great life is. The air was a cool 65 degrees and I was visiting a city famous for its all-star restaurants and wine lists doing exactly what I love: wineing.
A wonderful reception and dinner hosted by Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards ended the day where the winners were announced. Matt Stamps of the French Laundry in Yountville won the prize, with an outstanding second and third going to Jason Heller of Redd in Napa and Michael Meagher of Boston Sommelier Society, respectively. It was a heck of a night and I got to see really dear friends who attended the dinner as sommelier supporters.
I slept well that night, and I got up the next morning ready to get back to Tarboro and to my sweet family.
Cynthia, my love and oldest child (who also has no filter whatsoever), said to me upon entering our back door, “I’m tired of you not winning.”
It’s funny how a parent responds. At one point in my life, I may have said, “I’m tired, too.” But now, that I am older and see so many things around me, I realize deeply that winning is not even close to what it’s about.
What it’s really about is loving what you do and loving the ones who hug and kiss you when it’s over.