Somm serious way of looking at wine

It's Monday night, and I'm winding down with a nice bunch of people, laughing and watching a movie while sipping a sauvignon blanc.

Then that guy shows up. Ian Cauble starts analyzing his cabernet like some show-off master sommelier. Later, while blind-tasting, he likens aromas to tennis balls and scents to freshly cut garden hose. He sniffs, swirls, then rat-a-tats his response to the so-called tasting grid.

I don't like Ian. He's one of those smarty-pants supertasters who rattle off off-putting associations: New Zealand sauvignon blanc smells like cat pee. Riesling has the scent of a new, plastic pool toy. A cabernet evokes memories of a dusty, old closet full of leather and lipstick.

This kind of pretentious wine talk tongue-ties my tastings. While being repelled by Ian, I'm enjoying wine that has a drawing of a puppy on the label. Turns out, it's a great 2011 sauvignon blanc ($15) made by Medford winemaker Linda Donovan for her new Le Jeune Chien label.

Wine needs to be an experience, not a test. Granted, I shouldn't judge Ian without knowing him. He is just a guy with overly groomed hair starring in the new documentary "Somm" that our group was watching.

Ian and others were preparing for the Court of Master Sommeliers competitive, level-four exam. The 90-minute documentary, filmed by Ashland High School grad Jackson Myers and available on iTunes, got me thinking about local somms.

So I turned to a cheerful one, Cheryl Garvey, who has been helping people select the perfect wines for 25 years. Until recently, she managed the wine department at Ashland Shop'n Kart.

We conversed over glasses of Pebblestone 2011 Viognier ($19) and Agate Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16).

Me: It's tortuous to watch wine stewards dissect wine.

Cheryl: Well, it's our job. There is inherent factual information pertaining to wine that is either right or wrong — varietal character, vintage character, balance, structure and terroir — and those are prerequisites to taste.

Me: Blind-tastings seem like a sleight-of-hand trick. Good thing I'm not a gambler.

Cheryl: Tasting wine blind is truly the best way to sharpen your skills.

Me: I need more wine. Keep talking.

Cheryl: A wine should taste like what it purports to be. Do you want to eat an apple that tastes like an orange?

Me: Can my apple taste like chocolate?

Cheryl: I'd like to dispel the perception many have about sommeliers being intimidating, haughty and using over-your-head winespeak. We do that, for sure, but mostly with each other. It's our jargon, how we communicate. A good wine steward should be able to talk to you about wine and make you feel comfortable, like being partnered with a great lead when learning tango.

Me: I'm not lumping you in with those wisenheimers. I think you make wine fun.

Cheryl: Thank you. Choosing wine should be fun, not agonizing. I try to use everyday words to describe wine. I usually begin with an overview of the wine. Accessible or needs time? Fruit-forward? Cocktails or food wine?

Me: And then?

Cheryl: Wines have personality, too, and certain wines have a lot of it. Personality matters.

Me: Thank you.

Cheryl: You want the wine to match the vibe of the dish or the mood you are in. You can always tell when I'm in lovelovelove with a wine; I get really metaphorical.

Me: Can you teach me?

Cheryl: Listening is key. Every situation, every person gets my full attention. Somms aren't just wine geeks. We're storytellers and translators, sleuths, educators and matchmakers. We decipher what we hear you say and convert those cues into a bottle of wine that fits your needs. Ask questions. Remember, sommeliers don't bite.

Me: I'm supposed to bring wine to a party.

Cheryl: Stop fretting! It's a party! Bring a good wine that your host will appreciate. Lessen your attachment to fixed favorites. Explore. Be adventurous. Put yourself in the hands of a somm. Armed with some basic info from you, we can catapult you to the "wow" side of wine on a regular basis. Let us take you places.

Me: Can we go and not tell Ian?

EVENT: Hearts & Vines' 20th dinner and auction for Saturday, Aug. 17, has been moved inside to Bigham Knoll, 525 Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville, from Valley View Winery in Jacksonville due to unpredictable weather. This black-tie event ($150 a ticket, www.heartsandvines.com) raises money for organizations that work to prevent domestic violence and help victims. One of my memorable, early encounters with Oregon's roller-coaster weather occurred at this soiree years ago. Everyone arrived ready to beat the 90-degree heat — ladies in lacy strapless; men in cool linen. Within an hour, the temperature did a downward spiral to the low 60s. Marble-sized hail belted me as I ran under the tent. Later, I learned that these are the ups and downs that create the flavors in the grapes made into the wines we cherish.

HISTORY: Southern Oregon's wine history is being collected at the Hannon Library on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd.in Ashland. Historians and librarians are requesting enology and viticulture documents, photos or maps from the past for the statewide Oregon Wine History Archive and the Wine of Southern Oregon history projects. These donations will be preserved and made available to researchers and the public. Contact Linfield College archivist Rachael Woody at rwoody@linfield.edu or 503-883-2734 or contact Mary Jane Cedar Face, 541-552-6836 or cedarface@sou.edu.
In addition to new documents online and oral history interviews, SOU Hannon Library's has nearly 1,300 enology and viticulture books and journals, most of them donated by Will Brown of Ashland, who was a winemaker at Agate Ridge Vineyard in Eagle Point.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.


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