Looking Glass: We send three wine professionals an unmarked bottle, they tell us what it is.
Sommelier, Front Burner Restaurants, Dallas, Texas
"Today you'll only find me playing a soubrette in the shower, singing an aria in an Acura, or concluding a Cadenza in a Corolla. I've given up my public opera performances." The prelude to Jessica Norris's life in wine was opera singer soprano. "My BA in vocal performance from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma [Washington] qualified me for a scholarship to earn a Master's in opera performance from Manhattan University." Endless auditions were not enough to pay for singing lessons and living expenses, so Norris found a job at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse. "I tasted Marcassin 2004 Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir and didn't know a wine could taste like that. I was all in." Norris signed up for a series of wine classes and eventually found her way onto the sommelier team at the Double Eagle, eventually moving up to director of education for Double Eagle, Del Frisco's Grille, and Sullivan's. She stayed for eight years. Last year Norris left the company to assume an upper-level position at Front Burner Restaurants in Dallas. "I handle education for 7 of the 12 concepts, with more on the way." Norris cites Jane Lopes as a mentor. "She taught me tasting method, and her husband, Jonathan Ross, MS, showed me the exquisite vocabulary of scents and smells possible from a glass of wine. Tasting requires "a set of muscles you have to train. You just don't go out and run a marathon in a day. Give yourself time and keep tasting as much wine as you possibly can. Also, spend a ton of time on theory for knowledge base."
SIGHT: Clear, pale straw with green and platinum highlights. No gas or sediment. Star bright indicating youth. Medium + viscosity.
AROMA: Ripe tree, citrus and tropical fruits: Golden apple, pear, white peach, orange, tangerine, guava, papaya, and pineapple core. White and yellow flowers. Fresh, soft green herbs such as basil and tarragon. Inorganic earth elements: chalk, stones, crushed rocks. No oak, but creamy texture lees? Wine is youthful.
PALATE: Slightly less ripe tree, citrus, and tropical. Also, stone fruit: white peach, nectarine, melon. Are canned mandarin oranges a possible reduction? White and yellow flowers: orange and apple blossoms. Fresh herbs have transitioned to dry savory herbs: sage, bay, chamomile. Inorganic earth: chalk, crushed stones, marl. Other aromas: agave, saline, honey. Palate has perception of sweetness, although wine is dry. Slight phenolic bitterness on finish. High acidity, medium + alcohol 13.5-14%, no oak, balanced, high complexity, long finish indicating high quality.
INITIAL CONCLUSION: Based on the transition from ripe fruit and fresh herbs on the nose to tarter fruit and dried savory herbs on the palate, the large cast of supporting non-fruit markers and high presence of minerality indicate a high-quality Old World wine from a moderate climate, aged 1-3 years old. Possible grapes include Albarino, Spain, Gruner Veltliner, Niederosterreich, Austria, Pinot Grigio/Gris from Italy.
FINAL CONCLUSION: Albarino, Spain, Rias Baixas 2017
VIRGINIA PHILIP, MS
Wine Director, The Breakers, Palm Beach, Florida
"As a kid during the holidays, my Italian father served us water mixed with wine. If we were sick, his elixir of water, wine, and herbs always did the trick." Virginia Philip, a graduate of Johnson and Wales with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, started her career at The Little Nell in Aspen in restaurant management, while simultaneously unpacking boxes and putting wines away at Aspen Wine and Spirits part-time. "I learned a ton about wine." A side benefit: "My skiing improved." As wine director in South Beach, Florida, at The Breakers, she leads a team of six sommeliers, including recent MS diploma holder Juan Gomez. About tasting Philip says, "Not everyone is a natural taster, so getting theory under your belt will better your understanding of what might be in your glass and why. It really helps to understand soils, climate, and ageing of various regions." Feeding her ambitions, she and partner Veronica Litton opened nearby Virginia Philip Wine Spirits & Academy, a wine shop and teaching facility. "Classes once or twice a week hold up to 32 people and explore wine styles, host vintners, and do one-on-one tasting sessions. We also arrange gatherings in customers' homes and manage personal cellars."
SIGHT: Pale, yellow with flecks of green indicative of youth.
AROMA: Clean, free of flaws. Fruit-forward and youthful with notes of peach, pear drop candy, pink grapefruit with lime, Meyer lemon, and some minerality. No indication of oak.
PALATE: Clean, free of flaws. Dry, medium-bodied wine with notes of ruby grapefruit, Granny Smith apple, lemongrass and Jolly Rancher candy lime. Lesser peach. Youthful wine with fresh, fruity notes with less minerality on the palate and no Indication of oak. Sweet and sour. Acid was medium +, alcohol was medium bordering on medium+ with a long finish. Moderate + intensity.
INITIAL CONCLUSION: New World Wine due to the intense, riper, and pungent fruity style and lack of overt minerality. Moderate climate due to the acid and alcohol. Non-oaked white wine with strong aromatics leads me to Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or United States, New Zealand Pinot Gris, or Australian Riesling.
FINAL CONCLUSION: Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2018. Too much grapefruit for Pinot Gris and not bone dry enough for Riesling.
CSW, Sommelier, Elaia, St. Louis, MO
Alisha Blackwell-Calvert was on her way to becoming a horse veterinarian at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, but while on a college break waiting tables at P.F. Chang's, she had a change of heart, falling in love with wine. "I left college and worked in various positions in restaurants. At Oceano in Clayton, Missouri, wine director Mandy Monzyk would open bottles and talk about differences and similarities. The nuance of each bottle fascinated me." Other mentors include Andrey Ivanov, Matt Dulle, and Emily Wines, who she credits as instrumental in pushing her to the next level. "They taught me how to be humble and how to change my trajectory to execute managing a wine program in finer dining." As wine director at St. Louis's Elaia restaurant, Calvert pushes herself to have the best 350-bottle collection. She also takes great pride in developing pairings for chef Aaron Martinez's cuisine. "I like a Pra Otto Soave Classico with chef's mackerel with turnips, horseradish, and dill. The weights of the fish and the wine equate to a perfect match." Calvert has not given up the reins entirely. During her down time, she can be found driving a single horse-drawn Cinderella pumpkin carriage in downtown St Louis.
SIGHT: This is a clear white wine with no evidence of gas, sediment, or particles. It is pale straw with yellow-green highlights, day-bright, and medium + tearing.
AROMA: Clean and youthful with moderate intensity of aroma. The condition of fruit is fresh and ripe. Meyer lemon dominates the glass. Also recording notes of tangelo skin, yellow apple peel, and juicy nectarine, green tea, sweet pea tendril, and chalk. There's no evidence of new oak, but more likely held in stainless steel or inert structure.
PALATE: Dry and balanced. Fruit confirmed on the palate in under-ripe, fresh condition. Also reconfirming green tea, sweet pea tendril, and mineral component. This wine has not seen any oak. The finish is long and savory, with a silky, slightly oily texture. Medium + acidity, elevated alcohol, medium + body style, high complexity, and long finish aided by phenolic bitterness.
INITIAL CONCLUSION: From the Old World due to the tart finish of the fruit, and from a moderate climate. Possibilities include Gruner Veltllner from Austria, Pinot Grigio from Italy, or Albarino from Spain. Age range 1-3 years from a quality producer.
FINAL CONCLUSION: Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Domane Wachau, Austria 2017.