Tag Archives: sommeliers

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The sommelier cheating scandal: Once again, wine reminds us it’s big business

 sommelier cheating scandalFirst, fame and fortune, and now a sommelier cheating scandal

Wine’s biggest secret is that it’s a business, just like coal mining or car manufacturing. That’s because it pretends to be something else, this huge family of wine lovers where yes, we have to make money but that’s not the main reason we do it. Which is just more hypocrisy to anyone paying attention, and which the sommelier cheating scandal amply — and sadly — demonstrates.

Know that I’m not tarring the innocent with this brush. The cheating scandal, revealed last week by Esther Mobley in the San Francisco Chronicle, involved a master sommelier giving a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the 2018 exam to one of the candidates. The accused has apparently been struck off the Court of Master Sommeliers, and everyone who took the test will have to take it again. No one has said that the cheating goes past that, though Mobley noted that 24 people passed the 2018 exam, compared to 274 in its almost 50-year history. Still, the organization that runs the certification has seemingly been  open and transparent about what happened.

Sommelier-ing has become an industry in and of itself – movies, even. Sommeliers are the current rock stars of the wine business, perhaps even more quoted and revered than the celebrity winemakers who used to dominate the discussion. Or, as this story amply demonstrates – “curated by a master sommelier for taste” – why not cheating if those are the results? Talk about pedestals; only someone with initials after their name can decide if wine is worth drinking.

Consider that someone who earns an MS can make twice as much money – high six figures, in fact – than someone without the distinction. Which, regardless of anything else, is all the incentive one needs to cheat in 21st century America. Because, as a good ol’ Texan famously told me at the bar at Louie’s, “If you have to ask how much money is enough, you don’t understand the question.”

The best perspective on the sommelier cheating scandal came from someone who must take the exam again. The person, who asked not to be named, told the SevenFifty Daily website: “I will probably be one of the candidates who will not retake the exam. I know this is not the intent, but I feel like a martyr. I am embarrassed, though I did nothing wrong. I want to find a different industry to work in. I want this to be over.”

How sad is that? Isn’t wine supposed to be fun?

“Initials? We don’t need no stinkin’ initials”

Bogey finds out what it’s like to deal with sommeliers — and they don’t need no stinkin’ initials

What happens when Bogey meets a group of sommeliers in the Mexican wilderness? It’s not pretty — and especially since they don’t need no stinkin’ initials.

My apologies to John Huston and Humphrey Bogart (as well as to anyone else who loves film) for doing this to “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Wayne Belding, MS, who gave me the idea, as well as to WineParody, whose Robert Parker epic is the standard by which these efforts are judged.

Make sure you turn captions on when you watch the video; you can make the captions bigger or change their color by clicking on the settings gear on the lower right. Also, MovieClips, which allowed me to use the scene, may insert advertising or other content that I’m not responsible for.

Winebits 162: Pacific Rim, sommeliers, nutrition facts

? Grahm sells Pacific Rim: Randall Grahm has sold one of the last parts of his $10 wine empire, the Pacific Rim white wine brand, to the family that owns Banfi Vintners, a leading U.S. wine importer, and Italy’s Castello Banfi winery. No sale price was disclosed. Grahm, the impresario of California’s Bonny Doon, broke up his $10 wine operation in 2006, selling the Big House and Cardinal Zin labels and splitting Pacific Rim off from Bonny Doon. Pacific Rim, based in Washington state, is best known for riesling, but also does gewurtztraminer and chenin blanc.

? Not enough qualified sommeliers? That’s the opinion of top sommelier Jordan Mackay, who says demand for the wine experts in restaurants has outgrown supply. “Inexperienced sommeliers are winding up in jobs that they’re simply not ready for,” he wrote on Zester Daily Web site. This has hurt restaurant wine sales and reputations, he says, and isn’t so good for the rest of us: “And, diners, for a while, be warned that you may face young somms intent on selling you the wine they like (instead of the one you’re asking for).”

? Diageo wants serving facts on labels: Diageo, one of the world’s largest drinks company, wants the federal government to allow producers to put nutritional information, like serving size, alcohol per serving, carbohydrates and calories, on wine and spirits. The government’s alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau has been considering the Serving Fact Information proposal since 2003 — so long ago that I wrote a newspaper story about it. It has been held up by resistance from the industry, as well as a low priority in Washington. Diageo, seeing a marketing advantage, wants the TTB to let producers voluntarily include the information.