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Side Dish

Trophy hunters, alternative closures and the thrill of discovery

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How well could you do in a blind wine tasting?

In the master sommelier program, they recognize the difficulties and pitfalls of a blind tasting, so it is best done with the classic wines, those with recognizable sensory profiles. We should be able to discern the classic profiles. We are also tested on pure theoretical knowledge and service performance - a practical exam where you perform classic restaurant service such as decanting a sedimented wine, opening and serving champagne, making recommendations with regard to wine and food affinities. I trained in New York, Vail and San Francisco, and am a candidate for the master degree.

Do the French hold you as an American in higher regard than they do tourists because you're there buying wine?

Probably so, because it's all business. They like to meet those people who sell their wines on the floor, to know what people think of the packaging, the alternative closures. People are getting used to the non-natural corks and the screw-tops. We spend a lot of time negotiating wine prices, figuring the quality-to-price ratios, creating logical delivery systems.

How do you advise people about ordering wine in the restaurant?

What you do is listen to people at the table. You can't advise them on French wines unless you know what their frame of reference is - Napa wines or Italian or Australian. You then understand their tastes and make suggestions of wines that will be similar in terroir [the region and conditions where grapes are grown], for example. Some people are trophy hunters who want the most expensive wines. This doesn't quite involve the thrill of the hunt that I prefer. That's what wine is all about - the pleasure, the company, the enjoyment of discovery.

How has Richmond's appreciation for wine changed over the years?

I think we've all been a little surprised at how people have embraced the concept here - that Can Can is fun and sometimes raucous. It's a brasserie. People have embraced the all-French wine list and the big glasses, which increase the pleasure. Our Wine Spectator award of excellence tells people that the restaurant is committed to wine, and to the understanding that dining and drinking wine are inseparable. We will be introducing a wine dinner series that will be fun and educational and affordable in late February, and a longer wait-staff course for the public that will be a virtual journey into every classic winemaking region in France.

A Gallup poll last year said America's favorite alcoholic beverage has moved from beer to wine for the first time ever, and by 4 percentage points. I hope it's because they've decided to learn more about wine. We are successful when we help people gain confidence in wine and enjoy it. It's a fun time to be in this business.



Have a tip about the Richmond restaurant scene? Send it to sidedish@styleweekly.com

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