Paying It Forward And The Solera Effect

A beautiful Champagne

Paying things forward is a beautiful concept in life. When someone does something nice for you, you “pay it forward” by doing something kind for someone else.

In wine, there is a parallel phenomenon called a “Solera.” This is a system of fractional blending of wines from consecutive harvests. You start with wine in a barrel from a single vintage. The next year you take some wine out of that barrel and fill it with wine from the most recent harvest. And on it goes as wine continually gets taken out but is replenished with newer wine. And all the time, there is the basis of the original wine still in the original barrel, however small that quantity becomes over the years, decades and generations.

I have had the pleasure of tasting Solera Madeira and Port from the 18th century. Those wines are amazingly complex with a cascade of aroma and flavor that ranges from youth to extreme vinosity. The character is truly ineffable. I also have had the pleasure of experiencing a “solera” effect in my wine career through the Court of Master Sommelier program. This association, which began in 1977, started off with some of the world’s finest wine professionals who wanted to improve the wine industry through education and certification.

Eddie Osterland and Fred Dame are two of the first master sommeliers in the U.S. They went on to teach and lead others to the same level. One of those special people is Hawaii’s own Chuck Furuya.

Chuck, along with Dame and Wayne Belding, taught my very first wine class, the Introductory Course for the Court. A complete neophyte, I had no idea of the span of knowledge and passion that these professionals had, and tried to imbue in me and my cohorts. In my class, it was a success. They lit the fire of passion for wine in my palate. So I furthered my knowledge and progressed through the MS program, ultimately passing the final exam in 2005. Since then, I have taught two introductory courses here in Hawaii along with two certification exams. The most recent one, just last week, I taught with fellow masters Belding and Ron Edwards.

It is awesome to see the light come on in someone’s eyes when they say “wow!” Or when someone takes the second level after tireless study and effort, and can breathe a sigh of relief when they find out they pass.

A gorgeously floral aroma with red berries galore and a sexy, lingering finish

I thanked Belding for teaching my very first wine class and lighting my fire. He was especially proud to see how we had come full circle. Now I am blessed to be able to teach alongside him in these courses, and hopefully doing my part to spread the passion and excellence. I was reminded that with knowledge comes the responsibility to spread it, not to wield it over others as some type of superior fashion. No more snobby wine people!

Just as in paying it forward, in a solera system it only gets better as it progresses along. And the Court of Master Sommeliers has grown and improved. There are now 106 masters, and it has reached parts of the world with its knowledge, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore. And along with the passion of the next generation of sommeliers I see in each new class, I know that it will only grow. My thanks to the pioneers before me, and I encourage those who come after me to strive for excellence in our industry.

Recommendations: 2007 Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits St Georges Les Petits Plets ($100) A gorgeously floral aroma with red berries galore. It is sleek and feminine with a sexy lingering finish. NV VarniereFanniere Brut Grand Cru ($49) Funny enough I had this wine three different times in the past three days, and each time I was hugely impressed by its breadth of flavor and richness. This is Champagne with a nod to minerality and freshly baked artisan bread. Beautiful.

Robert Viernes is a master sommeliere.


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