American Sommelier at Vignola Cinque Terre


“Sniff like a dog,” commands Chris Peterman. The entire room of well-dressed students follow his command, sticking their noses deep into glasses of French wine. He instructs us to sniff up and down, side to side. At first, I feel slightly foolish doing all that snuffling, but as the scent opens up and I begin to pick apart the individual notes (melon! citrus! cold wet rocks!), I stop caring. We’re here to learn, and I plan to be an A student, —even if I have to sip until all eight pours are gone.

Of course, there are no grades awarded at the American Sommelier courses, though we do get worksheets and a printed powerpoint presentation. The two-hour class, which is the second of a series of seven events, is designed to educate bartenders, servers, and everyday wine lovers about the wide variety of French wines. Learning is extremely hands-on, and we sniff, sip, and savor eight delicious wines, each representing a different region. We have dry whites from Alsace and fruity reds from Rhone. I try tannin-rich reds from Burgundy and bubbles from Champagne, and an earthy, oaky “Thanksgiving wine” from Cote de Beaune. And as I drink my way through the variety of bottles, I do it all to the soundtrack of Peterman’s funny, informative lecture.

Unlike the Joseph Cattin Riesling, which I find surprisingly dry, Peterman’s talk is wonderfully informative and quite fun. He peppers his lecture with strange asides and offbeat observations—, not to mention the occasional expletive (which endears him to the crowd, for who doesn’t like a cussing sommelier?). I am not particularly familiar with the history of wine, so it’s interesting to learn about the monastic influence on French production, as well as the persistent pests that plague certain vines. He invites us to shout out descriptors as we taste— birthday cakes, sawdust, clay—, as well as suggestions for food pairings. One table discusses what they would eat with the Sancerre with such passion that I’m not surprised to find out that these young men are all proud members of the Portland food industry.

While the American Sommelier courses are a great boon for servers and chefs, the format is very welcoming and inclusive. You don’t need to be an expert in wine to enjoy this class—heck, you don’t even need to know how to “properly” taste, because Peterman will teach you. The only thing that is lacking is food, but fortunately, all seven classes will be held at local restaurants. After you finish the flight, you can order eats at the likes of Vignola Cinque Terre, Earth at Hidden Pond, and Caiola’’s. But before you run off to taste and test, be sure to make a reservation. Vignola’’s was full on that rainy Sunday night, and I was forced to eat elsewhere. Don’t let that happen to you.

American Sommelier Maine Chapter |

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