Electronic Sommeliers: The Future of Wine?
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Why restaurants from New York City to Las Vegas are turning to the 'iPad sommelier'
Everything is high-tech, even ordering wine with your spaghetti.
New York’s SD26 is as digitally-sound a restaurant as you’ll find. This wine lover’s spot offers 24 wines by the glass, thanks to high-tech cooling dispensers. They also offer customers an electronic sommelier (along with a live one) to help choose wine for dinner. Their wine-tech menu is loaded with 1,000 wines.
SD26 developed their own platform when they opened the doors in 2009, but a Chicago-based company called Uncorkd developed customizable sommelier software two years ago and is selling it to restaurants nationwide. Some Four Seasons Hotel restaurants are using it, steakhouses in Vegas casinos are big on it, and even country clubs across the country are going the way of high-tech ordering.
Josh Saunders, the founder and CEO of Uncorkd, says the electronic sommelier is less intimidating for consumers and often helps them choose wines they might not normally order or wines they aren’t familiar with. They can punch in a menu item, and appropriately paired wines will pop up.
Saunders said the electronic sommelier is often used in conjunction with a real live one at super premium restaurants, but at upscale casual ones, where there is no sommelier, the Uncorkd tech may be the only wine help available.
"Sometimes it is just servers selling the wine, and often they’re suggesting the same five wines," he said. As a result, Saunders said the technology helps restaurants sell more and different types of wine, and their customers are spending more money on what they drink.
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Rise of the robot restaurant
Is the waiter an endangered species? Visit the right British restaurants and you might assume so. This evening, you could eat at Piccolino and scan QR codes on the menu to find out more about the dishes, self-order at London's Inamo using its touch-screen e-tables, and use an app to settle your bill online at Pizza Express. All of which will minimise your interaction with actual real-life waiting staff.
This is just the start. Among hospitality-focused tech companies there is much excitement (pdf) about such DIY "solutions". A future where you are issued with an iPad on arrival, or are asked to use your phone or a kiosk to order and pay is not far away the waiters will simply deliver the food to your table. The software is here already. For instance, Wagamama's mobile app enables you to order and pay for takeaway food for collection later. Such self-ordering and self-payment technology can easily be tweaked to work in a restaurant context.
Why is this happening? Because the restaurant industry loves anything that helps it turn tables quicker, reduce staff costs and minimise training. Who needs product knowledge or training in the dark arts of upselling when an electronic menu screen at the table can display endless information about each dish and step-by-step customer sales prompts?
Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that, if diners are left alone, they actually spend more. For many people, there is something almost adversarial about eating out - a sense that restaurants are out to rip us off, that you must remain constantly alert. Put people in control of the ordering process and, conversely, they let their guard down. Suddenly, it's their decision to have that extra drink or dessert. They don't feel that they are being hustled into it.
So far, the change has been most profound in wine. Sommeliers must nervously finger their silver lapel grapes (no, that isn't a euphemism) every time another restaurant puts its wine list on an iPad. At Manchester's Australasia, you browse an online wine catalogue which is hosted, updated and managed - such is the modern world - by a firm in New York. That web access is restricted, of course. Restaurants don't want you surfing porn or streaming movies at your table, much less going online to compare their wine prices with a retail vintner's. Maze, Bread Street Kitchen and the Vineyard at Stockcross are just some of the venues which have followed suit.
Personally, I'm torn. I won't use self-service supermarket tills because they put people out of work and, for many customers, nattering to the checkout staff is precious social interaction. I should hate such automation. In the realm of wine specifically, though, the iPad has a kind of irresistible cultural momentum. An electronic wine list is perfect for a country which, on the whole, has limited wine knowledge and where people are useless at asserting themselves in restaurants.
In theory, putting yourself in a sommelier's hands, outlining what you want and paying a reasonable premium for that expertise should add to the pleasure of your meal. In reality, many sommeliers lack the people skills to negotiate this exchange and too many restaurants are still happy to land guests with unexpectedly expensive wines. Few Britons - me included - feel able to confidently state: "I like grape X and country Y and I'll pay £Z." Dealing with a sommelier is fraught with anxiety. Who wouldn't prefer to browse tasting notes, food-matching suggestions and a price list on an iPad?
More broadly, however, this dehumanising of the restaurant experience is, surely, a bad thing. Not disastrous, no: the food, and what it costs, will always be more important. But in the fast-casual sector where these robot restaurants will flourish (pad, pen and personalised service will endure at fine dining level), will the customer really benefit? I don't want to "work" when I'm eating out, pressing buttons and clicking through screens. Nor do I want to spend ages poring over the background info contained in an electronic menu (too much of a good thing), when I could be talking to the people I'm with.
Finally, self-ordering also removes even the possibility of great service. In Britain, where it has never been treated as a serious profession, you may think that boat has sailed. But on those rare occasions that you come across a good waiter - a natural who can correctly calibrate chat, wise recommendations, speed and efficiency - it can transform your night. In the restaurant of 2015, where we sit down and log in to buy our dinner as we might a DVD or train ticket online, will something have been lost?
Sommelier Roundtable: Favorite Female-Powered Wines
As more women enter the field of wine, the industry inches closer to a world where “female winemakers” are viewed simply as winemakers, without the novelty of a label. But as we work toward that ideal, now is the time to showcase and uplift the women who still represent a minority of winery owners and winemaking staff, but have been paving the way for future generations.
Where should you start exploring? We asked six sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners about their favorite wines made by women, and they had a tough time limiting their picks to just a few. There’s a diverse selection of stellar wines in this category to be enjoyed, but here are some of their stand-outs.
Wine Spectator: Do you have any favorite female-owned wineries, or any favorite bottlings made by women winemakers?
Jessica Altieri, director of beverage for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Palm Beach, Fla.
Rock Wall Wine Company should be on your radar for 2021. It’s an urban winery located on the former Alameda Naval Air Base—literally in an airport hangar. Winemaker and president Shauna Rosenblum is a rock star. She is carrying on the legacy of her late father Kent Rosenblum, the California Zinfandel icon, while making her own mark on the wine world in a huge way.
I have judged wine competitions with Shauna across the country for over a decade, and her innovative winemaking is just starting to take launch. A must-try is her 92-point 2018 Maggie’s Vineyard Zinfandel Reserve. And did I mention Kamala [Harris] is a member of their wine club?!
Jason Irving, wine director at Topper’s at the Wauwinet in Nantucket, Mass.
So many amazing options here: Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir 2017 from Maggie Harrison, formerly of Sine Qua Non, is elegant, delicate and pretty as a quality Oregon Pinot Noir. From Pierre Matrot in Burgundy, France, Adèle and Elsa Matrot. I love all of their bottlings, especially that they do 375 [mls] as well. And Gaja Vineyards’ Gaia Gaja. She is so engaging, dynamic, and carrying the torch on for the namesake, but with her own new techniques and ideas.
Hannah Barton, assistant sommelier at Herons in Cary, N.C.
Too many to name! The one currently on the top of my list is A Tribute to Grace. Angela Osborne is a winemaker from New Zealand who moved out to Santa Barbara, Calif., in search of the best sites to grow Grenache (which also happens to be my favorite variety). She makes nine different wines, all 100 percent Grenache, reflecting different sites and winemaking styles. I've had the chance to taste a few of them, and they've all blown me away.
Shanning Newell, head sommelier at Bourbon Steak in Nashville
One female-owned winery that came onto my radar this past year was McBride Sisters. The winery is owned by two sisters with an incredible story of growing up unaware of each other on opposite sides of the world and coming together later in life to discover they both have a passion for wine, and opening a winery in California. They make a delicious sparkling rosé from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, that is one of my go-to’s for weeknight hangs with the girls.
Ramon Sosa, co-owner and general manager at Maxwells Restaurant & Bar in West Fargo, N.D.
Two of my favorites are Betty O'Shaughnessy from O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery and Julie Johnson from Tres Sabores [in California].
Sanae Halprin, sommelier at the Bellagio in Las Vegas
Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, Marimar Torres of Marimar Estate in Sonoma and Véronique Boss-Drouhin of Domaine Drouhin, Oregon. All of them happen to be known for their Pinot Noir, and that's what I enjoy.
Eric Perejda, sommelier at Beano's Cabin in Beaver Creek, Colo.
There are too many to list all my favorites, but I have always been a fan of Merry Edwards. I had the pleasure of spending time with her on a sommelier trip to the Russian River Valley. I was very impressed with her knowledge, experience and accomplishment she had a strong presence in the seminars amongst other winemakers. Merry also broke a lot of barriers in the male-dominated winery industry during the 1970s as a female winemaker.
I also must mention a few others: Helen Turley on her various wine projects Heidi Barrett’s Cabernet Franc from Paradigm is one of my favorites from Oakville in Napa Valley. And Anne-Claude Leflaive was producing some wonderful wines from her biodynamic Clau de Nell estate in the Loire—even though the fame in her name rests in Burgundy.
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The Search for Answers and Transparency
From the board’s perspective, there was no other choice but to invalidate the exam results. According to Devon Broglie, MS, the chairman of the board of the CMSA, the board’s outside counsel conducted a thorough investigation and determined that Narito had undoubtedly compromised the exam. “There would be no way,” he says, “to determine [down] to a person who may or may not have received the compromising information.”
Shayn Bjornholm, MS, the examination director for the CMSA, agrees with the board’s decision to invalidate the exam. “This [board of directors] is simply too full of wise, sober, [CMSA]-mission-and-vision-consumed, candidate-first, hospitality-minded professionals to have come to such a seismic conclusion without unassailable, complete reason,” he asserts. “Once the email with examination content was sent, and it was clear that there could be no absolute determination of who saw it or heard about it before they walked into that tasting room, invalidation was the only route to protect the Master Sommelier diploma.”
The candidates, however, have pushed back against the investigation’s process and objectivity, noting that it was handled solely by MSs (though supported by outside legal counsel). “I think it’s ludicrous,” says Zimorski, “that the organization that was responsible for the corruption—since a board member compromised the exam—thinks it can investigate itself.”
The details of the investigation have largely been redacted in meeting minutes, but many candidates highlight gaps in procedure and a lack of transparency. For example, Pilkey contacted Young’s Market Company and asked executives there to share with the board Narito’s original email, which includes the Bcc’ed recipients according to Pilkey, though principals at Young’s Market were willing to do so, the board told them that it did not want or need to review the email. The board’s policy is not to reveal the identity of individuals who were part of any disciplinary process, but many candidates feel that transparency regarding the identities of the email recipients would help exonerate the candidates who had no involvement in the information breach.
The decision to strip candidates of their titles mobilized a concerned group of Master Sommeliers—Dustin Wilson, the New York City–based owner of Verve Wine Richard Betts, a writer on wine, a mezcal distiller, and the winemaker for brands including An Approach to Relaxation and Sombra Mezcal Bobby Stuckey, the owner of such spots as Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado Ken Fredrickson, the founder of the wholesale importer Tenzing Wine and Spirits in Chicago and Jonathan Ross (who is married to Lopes), the founder of Micro Wines in Melbourne—who reached out to the board in October 2018 for more information on the investigation.
“They told us they did a thorough investigation,” says Wilson, “which we found out later comprised only three days of deciding over a weekend. Their ‘investigation’ was saying, ‘We don’t know how we would be able to dig more into this, so we’re just going to pull everyone’s titles.’” The highly redacted meeting minutes shared with members of the court raised red flags as well. “You would think they were coming from the CIA,” says Wilson. “What’s going on here? It’s a wine certification process, not national security.”
According to the board, it “would not be productive” to release specifics about the information breach and the following investigation. But many feel that this stance could allow past misconduct to stay hidden.
“There should be a good amount of transparency between the broader membership and the decisions being made by the board,” says Wilson. “It starts to make us feel like there’s something else going on … It makes us doubt the organization that we’re part of.”
Since October 2018, this group of Master Sommeliers has repeatedly requested more information about the breach, urged reconsideration of the decision to revoke the 23 candidates’ titles, and proposed a number of changes to testing procedures and organizational structures. Wilson reports being “stonewalled” by the board. “It’s created this weird culture of fear and lack of transparency,” he says. “There’s a notion that we have to accept the status quo.”
“It’s the same for the people who already are Masters,” adds Betts. “Each of us has made dozens of personal appeals to our fellow Masters about this issue. We are continually disappointed that people won’t join our call. And why won’t they? Because we don’t even have a place where we can voice our concerns without fear of retribution.”
Broglie disagrees that the board has been unresponsive. “The Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, has sent dozens of communications to its constituents over the last year,” he says, “including members and candidates. Our lines of communication with our membership have always been and will continue to be open.”
As rumors swirl, several candidates and members wonder whether any evidence of cheating on previous exams has come to light—and what that would mean for current members. “Now the precedent is that if there’s reasonable knowledge that cheating occurred at a previous exam,” says Zimorski, “all those who passed that exam should have their titles invalidated as well? That fact alone should scare membership to its core.”
Dan Pilkey. Photo courtesy of Dan Pilkey.
Montepulciano: 7 Sommeliers Make The Case for Italy's Forgotten Wine
Here's the deal: Montepulciano is a picturesque town in Tuscany, once considered among the world's best producers of red wine. Even Francophile Thomas Jefferson counted their wines among his favorites, long fighting to keep his stellar stocked. Their star product? Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a complex, rustic red that helped secure their place as Italy's first DOCG — the highest classification for Italian wines.
So, why have you never heard of it? The Sangiovese-based blend is often confused with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a soft, fruit-forward red from the south of Italy. And that — combined with the region's 1960's trend toward mass production — allowed Montepucliano's high quality neighbors, Montalcino and Chianti, to shine. However, a new generation of producers like Avignonesi and Cantine DEI are combining updated technology with organic practices to put Montepulciano back on the map (and wine lists). So, to reintroduce you to the region's eponymous wine, Forbes polled America's leading sommeliers on their favorite Vino Nobile di Montepulcianos.
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier & Star of the Documentary SOMM
Thoughts: I'm not sure why Montepulciano is so overlooked. The wines are great and have very good value. I'd describe them as somewhere between a Chianti and a Brunello — more powerful than Chianti, more rustic than Brunello. It pairs wonderfully with roasted or braised meats, especially when tomatoes or fresh herbs are in the dish.
Yannick Benjamin, Wine Director at New York's University Club
Thoughts: Like Chianti and Brunello, Montepulciano is a Sangiovese-based wine. The difference is how much Sangiovese. Brunellos must be 100% Sangiovese, whereas Chianti can blended in up to 20% of other grapes. Montepulciano can be blended up to 30%. Avignonesi's version is my favorite example of that perfect Tuscan — one I like to pair with roasted suckling pig or rosemary potatoes.
Joe Campanale, Beverage Director and Co-Owner of New York's dell’anima, L’Artusi and Anfora
Thoughts: Chianti is bigger, and Brunello's quality is significantly higher overall. but Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is less expensive and still has good value. A few of the producers make excellent wines. It's high acidity makes it the perfect pairing for red meats — there's nothing better than a bistecca Fiorentina with a Sangiovese.
Thoughts: Unfortunately, Vino Nobile has a mixed history in terms of quality. a lot of bulk production coming from the area. But that's changing, and we’re seeing more high-quality efforts across the region. Chianti and Brunello have been stepping up their game, and Vino Nobile does not want to be left in their dust.
Thoughts: This ancient region has been rebuilding its reputation since the 1990's. The best part? You get great value for the price. Which is funny, because the "nobile" in its name comes from the fact it used to be reserved for aristocratic Tuscan tables. definitely a change for the grape to now be known for its "good value."
Thoughts: The addition of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in these wines gives aromas of dried red raspberry, plum, smoked meats and mushroom.
Thoughts: This is one of the top three regions in the world for Sangiovese, and is probably the best example of complex red fruit expression . Pair it with any grilled, lean meats — pork chops, veal or pasta with hearty ragu.
Emily Siegel is writer whose work has appeared in Maxim, Nylon, Man Repeller and more. She previously worked advertising, writing for a range of fashion, beauty and
Emily Siegel is writer whose work has appeared in Maxim, Nylon, Man Repeller and more. She previously worked advertising, writing for a range of fashion, beauty and dining clients.
The Best Online Sommelier Classes of 2021
- Best Overall:Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
- Best Budget:Society of Wine Educators
- Best American Course:American Wine Expert
- Best for Industry Professionals:International Sommelier Guild
- Best for Sparkling Wine:Champagne MOOC
- Best Splurge:Winemaking Certification Program at University of California, Davis
- Best European:Wine Scholar Guild
Best Overall : Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
This is for real wine fans who are looking to go beyond wine delivery. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is one of the premier wine education programs in the world, with courses offered in 70 countries and in 15 languages. Courses range in length, complexity, and specification, from single-day beginner courses to master-level diplomas on saké and spirit production.
Level one is perfect for those looking to test the waters of the wine world—the material covers the essentials, including familiar grape varieties, pairings, and storing and serving wines.
The higher tiers (Levels two through four) dive into specialist-level knowledge. Each expands on the information learned in the previous levels, covering the winemaking process, established and upcoming regions, varieties, and wine service.
Levels conclude with a standardized test via an accredited classroom—levels one and two are written assessments, while levels three and four also include tasting exams using the WSET’s highly-regarded codified wine evaluation grid. The programs require disciplined study and time commitment, but the tiers lay out a clear path for those looking to continue their wine education long-term.
Pricing varies and depends on the provider and location you choose.
Best Budget : Society of Wine Educators
Society of Wine Educators
The Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) program via the Society of Wine Educators is a rigorous 12-week course that pushes candidates to master the world of viticulture, wine production, and knowledge.
As one of the most acclaimed programs in the industry, the curriculum covers faults, physiology of taste, wine composition and chemistry, and wine etiquette and service.
Study tools include over 800 graphic wine map flashcards and drag-and-drop exercises. There are nearly 900 digital flashcards available for purchase, as are several practice tests and quizzes based on the certified study guide and workbook.
The program is capped off with a multiple-choice exam, written through partner testing centers. Candidates who achieve over 75% on their final exam receive a lapel pin and certificate, and are encouraged to use the CSW post-nominal.
For about $135 per year, members of the Society of Wine Educators are offered online classes and monthly webinars to assist in their studies. One of the big draws of the society is the range of seminars available. For those looking for higher education, the CSW is the prerequisite for pursuing the Certified Wine Educator certification.
Best American Course : American Wine Expert
Wine is made in all 50 U.S. states, and this comprehensive certification course is dedicated to American wine regions, covering everywhere from Sonoma and Napa to more under-the-radar winemaking areas.
Students will learn about different styles and varieties that make up America’s diverse winemaking scene and the winemakers leading each region. Much of the information cultivated is exclusive to the course—the program partners with regional winemaking associations for a thorough, up-to-date curriculum.
The course pushes readers to get a working knowledge of the American wine scene, covering microclimates, geography, grape species and varieties, history, industry milestones, as well as the different appellations in key winemaking states.
Buying the self-taught course ($399) will get you 12 months of access to the online database where all materials, including interactive maps and online quizzes, are available 24/7. Each class concludes with practice and final exams, and successful candidates receive a flashy AWE certificate.
Best for Industry Professionals : International Sommelier Guild
International Sommelier Guild
This multi-tiered program is built for wine students of all commitments. The International Sommelier Guild (ISG) begins with the introductory Intermediate Wine Certificate (IWC), then progresses to the Advanced Wine Certificate (AWC), and the ISG Master Sommelier certification (ISGM).
All levels cover the features of each grape varieties, how they’re grown, and how they are made into wine through extensive videos, text, online lectures, and suggested wines tastings. Each level builds on the previous program’s knowledge. Through the IWC and AWC, two sommelier instructors are available to students: one for fielding tasting questions and the other for knowledge questions.
Once students have completed intermediate-level studies, they can pursue the full ISG Master Sommelier diploma. Over a course of 30 weeks, students progress through 300 live video classes and 400 structured tasting videos. Six instructors are available for questions. The diploma course concludes with one practical and three theory exams. This isn’t a course for the hobbyist—ISGM graduates are required to pen a dissertation.
The International Sommelier Guild’s recent global expansion means the course is now offered in Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Latvian, Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and German. Classes start at about $500 and increase from there.
Best for Sparkling Wine : Champagne MOOC
Champagne has a long history, filled with monks, rappers, and celebrations large and small. A course designed by the Comité Champagne—an association of trade growers and makers of the Champagne region—dives into this history and teaches vino lovers and professionals about the world’s premier sparkling wine.
The classic version of the program (free to all) covers the process of making their sparkling wine, the storied history of the product, and service notes. The premium version (roughly $59) builds on the classic one by adding extra videos, skill-testing modules, and a certification of completion.
Both levels include tasting modules. The courses are offered in English and French, with subtitles available in Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, Japanese, and Chinese.
Learning is self-paced and takes a max of five hours to complete. The course content is broadly geared to appeal to wine industry professionals (think sommeliers, oenologists, merchants, and buyers), as well as enthusiasts and tourists headed to the region.
For industry members, this deep dive into Méthode Champenoise provides a solid foundation that can be applied to other sparkling wine regions.
Best Splurge : Winemaking Certification Program at University of California , Davis
University of California Davis
Catered to serious oenophiles, the winemaking certification program at the University of California, Davis covers its science, spanning the important factors of growing grapes, understanding sensory perception, fundamental analytical chemistry, and assessing the quality of wine.
For $8,810, this program is particularly aimed at the sommelier who is considering a future in winemaking or those interested in learning about wine at a chemical and microbiological level. Over 18 months, students will learn practical knowledge and techniques that will benefit their career in a vineyard winery or service setting. Students receive access to world-class instructors and the school's network of 250,000 alumni across the globe.
For a less extensive course of study, UC Davis partnered with Coursera for a free sensory wine course aimed at beginners, or those looking to get a feel for the program. Winemaker John Buechsenstein leads the sessions, guiding participants through how the senses interpret wines via sensory vocabulary, tasting techniques, pairings, and faults. The program concludes with a peer review.
Best European : Wine Scholar Guild
For students who want to focus their efforts on a particular country, the Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) offers programs specializing in vino from France, Italy, and Spain. The courses discuss regional appellations, local grape varieties, and what shapes their identities. All lessons are aided by the regional ministries of agriculture for an exceptional level of rigor.
For around $595, the program can be further specialized with regional-focused, master-level certifications. Candidates can focus on any of the major wine regions of France, including Alsace, Bordeaux, and Loire.
The WSG is friendly toward wine professionals, enthusiasts, travelers, and anyone looking to expand their knowledge. Curriculums are self-paced with reading materials and quizzes, and you can take exams via an online proctor if you wish.
For those who prefer to study in situ, the guild runs immersion study trips to European winemaking regions. All graduates leave the program with post-nominals.
What Is an Online Sommelier Class?
An online sommelier class is designed to either introduce aspiring sommeliers to the landscape or to help active sommeliers refine their service skills, knowledge and palate. These classes can often be a relatively significant investment in money and time, so if you’re serious about your work or personal relationship with wine, you’re in the right place. With the right course, you can expect to learn a lot of information while tasting an obscene amount of wine.
What Kind of Supplies Will I Need for an Online Sommelier Class?
In terms of wine samples, this depends entirely on the course you’ve chosen, but you can expect to receive a list in advance of the first session along with any relevant study materials. But in general, in addition to your device, you should plan to have a notebook, a good pen or pencil, quality wine glasses (like Zalto, Gabriel-Glas or Grassl), a spittoon, water and a neutral palate cleanser such as a plate of water crackers. Index cards are also helpful if you wish to make your own flashcards to study.
Can I Get a Certification Through an Online Sommelier Class?
Most online sommelier courses do offer certifications upon completion––often, that’s what sets these apart from a general online wine class or course. Sommelier courses also tend to be much more in-depth and intense than casual wine classes.
"The International Sommelier Guild offers excellent educational programs that really prepare and support an individual to make their place in the wine industry as a professional. Having this credential and knowledge helped open many doors for me. I highly recommend ISG’s Sommelier Diploma Program (SDP) as your choice of study.”
Jessie Kittilsen, ISG Master
Santa Rosa, CA
"I have thoroughly enjoyed taking the IWC online course through the International Sommelier Guild. I simply wanted to learn more about wine in general when I started the course. I was looking for an introduction to wine but what I got was a depth of knowledge and understanding. I am very happy with the level of professionalism and education in this course. I now feel confident in my wine selection when ordering in a restaurant or retailer. I have chosen to continue my education with ISG and will take with AWC course next. I have no doubt this course work will allow me to further my career in the wine industry."
"The AWC was an excellent course for Advanced wine education. There is a lot of detail in the material as well as specific regional information. I have a much better understanding of wine regions after taking this course. I would highly recommend this course to anyone seeking deeper knowledge about wine regions as well as history."
Alayna Brewer, ISG Advanced Sommelier
Saint Augustine, FL
"I am a Chef by trade. I have done more than 100 wine dinners and am always trying to make each 1 better than the last. The class will definately help in that respect. ”
Ronald Andrews, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The course was informative, comprehensive and challenging. I whetted my thirst to learn more. I found the balance of theoretical and practical learning that I could do at my own pace and balance with my busy work, travel and life schedule perfectly. I look forward to continuing on through the AWC and the Sommelier Diploma Program, so that I can continue to further myself, speak knowledgeably (with confidence)about wine and provide exceptional selections. I strongly recommend this program."
Chef Tina Kanter, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"After research, with experiece of taking college graduate courses on line, this the best online wine education, in the world."
Andrew Gould, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Being from a major wine producing region myself, It was good to learn the processes of wine production and the etiquettes of wine drinking. I would recommend this course to anyone simply interested in wine or anyone willing to advance their studies and knowledge in wines and the hospitality realm."
Mark Hamouche, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The training we receive with Selen Hanım includes the basic steps in order to be able to choose the wine that you want to taste, technical life and taste concepts, as well as to make a natural harmony with the food and the products of the products.
Sarap is a very wide topic, you can taste it and improve yourself if you are curious about it. You will also discover the body of Uzum that appeals to you )"
Nazli Ozlem Yorgancioglu, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"This is an amazing course! I am currently working my way up to being a master somm and this was the perfect starting point! I would recommend this course not only for those looking to go into the somm field but anyone who loves wine and really wants to appreciate all that wine has to offer!"
Andrew Bentley, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The on-line IWC course is a great way to get started into the complex world of wine. The textbook is well written and very clear, the on-line lectures are well structured, the feedback tastings are very informative and the feedback I got on the wines I tasted and sumbitted for rating helped me climb a step in my ability to taste and evaluate wines. The course and self paced and this gave me the flexibility to take it according to my schedule. I hoghly recommend the IWC course!"
Weyler Rocha Lima, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
"Our teacher is a very professional instructor in her field. She provided us with the necessary information about the wines with her friendly and comprehensive explanations."
Burcu Bozkurt, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"It was a wonderful and enjoyable experience, it gives a complete knowledge and unforgettable work ethic"
Suyash Butala, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The course is amazing! A lot of information, tastings. The teacher is very talented. I will recommend the course!"
Olga Larionova, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"A great opening survey course to the world of wine that beings to dvelve into the relationship between the vine and wine. I look forward to going deeper in the AWC course."
Ivan Hirons, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"This is a great course for those in the industry looking for a solid foundation in wine, or even for a hobbyist who wants to learn more about what is in their glass. "
Jacqueline Coleman, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"This course provided me with the knowledge that I needed to become more educated within the world of wine in an efficient yet comprehensive learning platform! I would definitely recommend this to anyone in the restaurant industry that's looking to broaden their wine knowledge! "
Rachel Steinberg-Harrison, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"This was my first formal step into the world of becoming a wine expert. The course definitely provided me with theoretical and practical knowledge that I will use as a head bartender and server. I can't wait to start the next level. "
Ivan Klymkiw, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I have recently completed my course with the International Sommeliers Guild and have been incredibly impressed. From the moment I started the course their was always support and help at the end of an email. I found the course very informative and well laid out. And thoroughly enjoyed the course and plan to go into the advanced level. I would highly recommend this for anyone in the hospitality and wine industry or even those just keen to learn more about wine."
Alicia Sandeman, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Great training! Highly recommend to all wine lovers."
Elif Tuzlakoğlu, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
" I had completed several wine certification programs and I was looking for something different. I started investigating and found the International Sommelier Guild program. I was positively surprised, because the ISG has a very professional approach to develop wine content. It is well structured and covers different aspects of wine industry: from the vineyard, vinifiaction processes, old world and new world regions, grape varieties, wine and food pairing to wine tasting techniques and always taking into account service which is a key piece if you are aiming to be a professional sommelier or a knowledgeable wine enthusiast. You will also find out that the ISG will lead you to make objective and meaningful wine tasting notes. In addition the multimedia aids are very useful to complement and enrich theory. The textbook content is up to date with curious comments that invite to keep reading and learning. I definitely recommend the ISG program to professionals and enthusiast that want to keep developing their wine knowledge and skills."
Hector Peynado, ISG Advanced Sommelier
"I am so happy that I successfully completed my IWC online certificate.
I had been looking for a long time for an online Sommelier course and was glad to find the ISG. I am a restaurant manager and have been in the hospitality industry for a long time.
When I was about to start I had a few colleagues suggest I take WSET and their courses.
But in the end I decided to go with the ISG and my intuition and I am so glad I did.
Ironically once that I started the course and showed it to some of my colleague Sommeliers, they all agreed that the ISG course seemed by far superior to everything else in its incredible detail, structure and ease of information delivery.
I am now going to sign up for the second level class, the AWC to progress even further. I am so glad that this program was available to us here in the Ukraine.
Olga Rusyna, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I've enjoyed the IWC studies more than the WSET courses, it’s put simply enough to easily understand but still in a way that keeps things interesting and intriguing while learning more subjects. I am eager to start AWC now."
Patricia Kemp, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
"The International Sommelier Guild has a high level of professionalism due to Sommeliers and Customer Help Specialists that help you every step of the way through the process of becoming a Sommelier. The online course is comprehensive and the layout of the course is easily navigated. The International Sommelier Guild has made me an educated, confident Sommelier and I will be using them to further my studies."
Mackenzie Anfinson, ISG Advanced Sommelier
"Hello! The book is wonderful. Best regards, Alexandra"
Aleksandra Jegorova, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
St. Petersburg, Russia
"I highly recommend this very challenging and informative course to everyone who works in the wine business, or to anyone who just desires to expand their knowledge of the world of wine. The format is geared to instruct and the information is presented in such a way that even I could comprehend it."
Richard Owsley, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I really appreciate the course"
Lucie Marquis, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Educational, entertaining, amazing. Endless thanks to our dear teacher Selen Gözen for her knowledge and interest."
Pinar Ipek, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I think this first course is a bit higher than a beginning level and all the topics were explained. I think this training is more based on for people with basic wine knowledge but can be started without knowledge."
Nur Abdulmunim, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"It was such a pleasure to study with ISG. I never thought being a full time dancer in Berlin while pursuing a sommelier study could be possible, but thanks to ISG's online course, it was! The program is accommodating and fits to your schedule and rythm, I am very grateful to have been able to progress at my own pace, stress-free. The course is great and stimulating with the combination of Textbook, lectures, quizzes and tastings. Looking forward to completing the AWC now!"
Théa Barnwell, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The training was extensive, but for beginners it was somewhat advanced. I was unfamiliar with most terms and always had to come from behind. but I say again the training and instructor was extremely good."
Jale Kuş, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"First, who pointed out to me was the best sommelier in Brasilia, Joaldo so I went to know more about ISG on the internet. After research I listened to him and took ISG. I liked the work style. When I did the level 1, I started to like it even more, besides having enough practice, good wines are tasted. I took level 2 and was even more impressed. Now I'm waiting for ISGM Sommelier. "
Hallyssonn Carvalho Cunha, Restaurant Manager, ISG Advanced Sommelier
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul
"Having just completed the online IWC program and its final exam, I would highly recommend the course to anyone interested in pursuing wine knowledge, whether professionally or as a hobby! It is comprehensive, easy to follow and totally adaptable to your own schedule and timeline, but don’t get me wrong, it is a challenging course! The staff proved to be available and helpful throughout the course as well making it easy to ask questions or seek guidance without ever feeling intrusive or like I was asking a “dumb” question. I’ve already started the AWC online course and can’t wait to delve even further into my studies with ISG."
Chef Jim Spurlin, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The course has exceeded my expectations, the classes have been didactic and enjoyable, the application of a methodology applied to the tasting makes it much easier, commenting and sharing during the tasting is interesting and helps a lot to recognize characteristics, I also appreciate having known International wines, my congratulations to the instructor Mr. Héctor peynado for his effort and good work."
Felix Garcia Cuello, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Appreciate the choice of tasted wines. The classes were very enjoyable and the course in general met my expectations."
Petra Kozacikova, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I alway want to be a Sommelier. That's why I choose ISG course instead of WSET.I had learned basic wine knowledge while I stayed in Spain.But most focus on wine viticulture and vinification .ISG gives me a new view of the wine world, not only the world of wine,but also the world.The teacher guides all students to know all the world through a glass of wine ,including history,art, geography etc.This corse made me realize that be a truly sommelier must explore more about the world and life."
Ren Yuneng, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
"The IWC is an excellent online course for those who need to study important wine regions, primary grape varieties and the history of winemaking. An excellent introduction to the world of wine that is both affordable and engaging, fun and challenging."
David Belluz, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"I've been in the wine retail industry for over three years. I finally realized that in order for me to move up within the wine industry, I would need a Sommelier certification. I researched all of the top cerification bodies and the ISG was hands down the best based on content quality. The second reason I selected the ISG program is due to the fact they wrote their own textbooks and materials that are simply amazing. I successfully completed their first two certificates IWC & AWC online and it has opened new opportunites for my career."
Irina Schevshenko, ISG Advanced Sommelier
"Overall extremely happy with the structure of the course. The teacher was extremely helpful and very easy to follow and build a strong foundation "
Jorge Garcia Vivancos, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Everything was perfect, excellent education. Thank you"
M. Fatih Gelmezgil, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"If you want to be a professional in the limitless world of wine, it will be a very good starting point"
Cemre Dursun, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"The International Sommelier Guild, IWC program, opened up the incredibly interesting and wonderful world of fine wines. It was as if I were visiting the finest vineyards around the world…as I did wine tasting notes on a Fine Ruby Porto from the Douro Valley in Portugal… and then trying a Nebbiolo from the Italian Piedmont… and then a fine Cava from Spain… and then a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford Region… The course was very nicely designed, and I feel it’s preparing me to enter into a career in the wine industry as I continue in the Advanced AWC program. "
Robert Stane, M.A., ISG Advanced Sommelier
"Before I took ISG course, I had been a wine journalist 7 years. This experience made me realize that I need to choose course to learn wine knowledge. After comparing with WSET course, I thought ISG course is more professional. I did learn a lot during whole course, and also met some cool friends"
Li Yanni, sommelier, wine journalist, wine teacher, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
"I did ISG Levels 1 and 2. I had already taken other courses. I liked the dyadic and the quality of the wines. The ISG course is different and teaches us to evaluate a wine with technique. I can’t wait to start the sommelier diploma."
Ayrton Gissoni, Wine Blogger and Wine Speaker, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
"I had the pleasure of completing the international sommelier guilds IWC program. The course starts with history of where wine came from and how it developed over years from country to country. I really do recommend anyone seeking to learn about wine to take the IWC course as it teaches a lot of the paramount concepts that will help you be successful in any food and beverage operation. The team in charge was also very helpful in answering all the questions that I had. Emails were sent back very quick. I appreciate all your help. "
Nasir Sayyar, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
"Stephanie is an amazing teacher. Her knowledge of the subject matter was extensive and she did an excellent job of keeping the class engaged. I highly recommend this class to anyone wanting to learn more about wine or the wine industry. "
Cybele Hinson, ISG Intermediate Sommelier
Cooksy wants to be your second pair of eyes in the kitchen — Future Blink
Researchers are developing pasta that changes shape — Future Blink
JoGo is a reusable straw that can instantly brew coffee — Future Blink
Your next box of Thin Mints might be delivered by drone
I took the latest Buffalo Wild Wings challenge, and my face is on fire
Guy Fieri gave us a grilled cheese tutorial over Zoom
We'll never know peace thanks to this terrifying AI bartender — Future Blink
Hide a giant Easter Egg (virtually) anywhere in the world
Turns out M&Ms look ridiculously cool when they dissolve — Future Blink
A Japanese factory can grow broccoli sprouts without sunlight– Future Blink
Your next bartender might be a robotic vending machine – Strictly Robots
A NYC delivery service is taking the trash out of take-out – Future Blink
These 3D-printed holiday decorations are sweet enough to eat (literally) – Future Blink
IKEA made gingerbread versions of its (in)famous instructions
The Moley robotic kitchen can make you meals and do your dishes — Strictly Robots
Yeah, NASA can grow radishes in space now — Future Blink
We regret to inform you there's a Thanksgiving stuffing-inspired clothing line
Track your food with this scanning, weight-sensing cooking board — Future Blink
We ate edible insects while playing Bugsnax. (Don't ask.)
Yes, really, there's a boba robot now — Strictly Robots
Honestly just look at this super intricate cupcake art
Social Good Summit: Is vertical and indoor farming the future?
What's the future of food and climate change? Experts discuss.
Make patterned cocktails with this 3D printing robot — Future Blink
A restaurant chain in Boston is changing the food automation game — Strictly Robots
You can tweet at this AI-powered recipe tool to reduce food waste — Strictly Robots
For better or worse, this smart fabric knows what you put on it – Future Blink
Meet the $70,000 robot that makes you a smoothie — Strictly Robots
Make compost in 48 hours with this odorless indoor composter
Take your burrito to go with this twistable burrito holder
Like underwater rainforests, vertical farms grow crops sustainably and rebuild ecosystems
Finally, you can cook with your phone — Future Blink
Watch a robot make a pretty decent omelette and taste the future
Tim ate the hottest chip in the world #OneChipChallenge
An artist crocheted a burger that looks almost good enough to eat
This reusable travel mug is made from old coffee cups — Future Blink
This wearable device tests food for allergens
Easy at-home cocktail recipes for social distancing
This futuristic nightstand hides a secret mini fridge — Future Blink
'Flippy' the burger-flipping robot is making fries now — Future Blink
This app helps minimize your food waste — Future Blink
Prep and organize your whole meal with this handy kitchen tool — Future Blink
This at home coffee bean roaster is made for the advanced coffee lover — Future Blink
Take your breakfast on the go with this cereal mug — Future Blink
Carry your cutlery wherever you go with this eco-friendly set — Future Blink
Blockchain technology helps these farmers be more sustainable
This company wants to make edible insects the future of food — Future Blink
Social Sustainability and Inclusivity Can Secure the Future of Wine
Brown’s concerns resonate among Millennial and Generation Z wine consumers, who tend to prioritize inclusivity and align themselves with businesses that do the same. As the wine community contends with racial and sexual inequities, the climate crisis and other issues, many in the industry wonder how to improve its social sustainability.
The term “sustainability” has become synonymous with the environment, but it has a social component, too. Social sustainability pertains to the enduring mental and physical impacts that an industry has on everyone who interacts with it, from entry-level workers to CEOs or consumers.
To determine whether the wine world as we know it is socially sustainable, we have to ask difficult questions. What can we do to create a better future for wine? Will current policies and practices benefit the global wine community for years to come?
“If we can take the time to learn the proper pronunciation of grape varietals and villages, we can take the time to learn to properly address our colleagues and clients by their chosen names and pronouns.” —Elaine Thap
“It’s a simple fact that including people from all backgrounds advances diversity and will in turn become a tool for further creation…within the wine industry,” says Johnathon Ramos-Garcia, a Las Vegas-based bartender. “It’s very important to me to see more inclusion of groups such as WOC, BIPOC and LGBTQ in the wine industry.”
Everyday actions like more inclusive language can attract and sustain these different communities.
“If we can take the time to learn the proper pronunciation of grape varietals and villages, we can take the time to learn to properly address our colleagues and clients by their chosen names and pronouns,” says Elaine Thap, a retail sommelier in Southern California. Like Ramos-Garcia, she believes that “the wine industry needs more POC representation in all areas,” from shops to tasting rooms to executive boards.
The term “sustainability” has become synonymous with the environment, but it has a social component, too / Photo courtesy Winery Sixteen 600
Listening to the concerns of invested parties is key, too.
“The wine industry has not grown as much as it should have in the 30-plus years that I have been a part of it,” says Vicki Tomiser, vice president of customer experience at Teneral Cellars. “Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic and the horrendous events and losses leading to the BLM Movement, and the Court of Master Sommeliers scandal to wake up the industry.”
Jill Osur, founder and owner of Teneral Cellars, is working to be the change she and Tomiser want to see.
“We have an advisory board fully inclusive of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ members along with a younger Diversity Delegation, made up of a diverse and inclusive group of Millennials and Gen Z,” says Osur. “Both groups have been tasked with keeping management accountable for meeting our equity and inclusion goals in hiring, content and practices.”
Such programs require buy-in from employers and employees alike. Valerie Viramontes, a wine sales representative in the Seattle metro area, believes that “the most sustainable change will happen through education, mentorship and job placement opportunities in all aspects of the industry.”
To that end, organizations like Wine Unify, The Roots Fund and Batonnage Forum Mentorship offer scholarship, mentorship and educational opportunities for BIPOC communities.
And diversity and inclusion are good for business. A 2019 study by McKinsey & Company found that top-quartile companies with ethnically and culturally diverse staffs were 36% more profitable than the lower-fourth quartile.
Meanwhile, companies with more than 30% female executives “were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all,” according to the report.
“The most important reason to farm organically is because the lives of the people who work in the vineyards, and the people who live downstream, matter,” says Sam Conturri / Photo courtesy Winery Sixteen 600
As companies create and implement inclusive practices, ecological and social sustainability may intersect.
“Do we farm organically because it’s better for the environment? Certainly,” says Sam Coturri, co-owner and operator of Winery Sixteen 600, based in Sonoma, California. “Do we farm organically because it makes better-tasting wine? Without question. But the most important reason to farm organically is because the lives of the people who work in the vineyards, and the people who live downstream, matter.
“My family, and our industry in general, owe our success to a largely immigrant workforce,” he says. “As a wine brand, it is our responsibility to not only tell their stories and give them the credit due, but include them in the success through true living wages, meaningful benefits, career advancement, opportunities for equity and much more.”
That genuine commitment to social sustainability resonates with younger wine consumers like Thap, who has decades of future wine-buying potential.
“To me, an ideal wine brand is authentic with their relationship to sustainability, ethical employment practices and juice in the bottle,” says Thap. “Wine brands need to be inclusive. Practice what you preach, sow what you reap. ‘What grows together, goes together’ can also stand for relationships, and not just food and beverage.”
A genuine commitment to social sustainability resonates with younger wine consumers, who have decades of future wine-buying potential.
Coturri has noticed the effects of its inclusive ideology in Winery Sixteen 600’s business.
“We have found that by focusing our brand around the farmers, vineyards and inclusivity, we have simultaneously attracted a younger, more diverse crowd,” he says.
Another tangible way that wine companies can engage more consumers is by rethinking their relationship to technology.
“For so long, the industry has been focused on the tasting-room experience, which is important, don’t get me wrong,” says Shana Bull, a marketing educator and freelance writer. “If you’re spending thousands of dollars on landscaping yet having someone do social media and digital marketing part-time, you’re definitely missing out.”
“I would like to see more diverse advertisements that look genuinely believable,” says Tonya Pitts / Photo by Hardy Wilson
Companies can reach new audiences by inviting community members to co-host virtual tastings or partnering with industry organizations to offer cultural and educational courses. Targeted advertising like Google marketing spends, plus sponsored, collaborative content with like-minded influencers are all ways for the industry to branch out.
“Digital marketing allows wineries to reach new audiences,” says Bull. “They can utilize that to connect with a more diverse market.”
The visuals of marketing matter, too.
“I would like to see more diverse advertisements that look genuinely believable,” says Tonya Pitts, wine director at One Market Restaurant, and founder of Tonya Pitts Wine Consulting. “The people should look like the population, which is diverse.
“A lot of times, especially within restaurants, there is this mentality that you’re living for the next service… So, now with this huge pause, we have all been forced to take a big step back and observe where we really are. Escapism is a huge part of hospitality and wine, but we can’t escape this.”
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The Food Avant-Garde's Enabler
Gadget-obsessed inventor Dave Arnold may be just the kind of helper experimental cooks need.
Dave Arnold has an idea: build a giant microwave oven the size of a room, put a dinner table inside it, set the table and put raw food on the plates. Press start and watch the whole room spin, wait until the oven shuts off—Ding!—open the door, walk in, sit down and eat.
That probably won&apost happen, which is okay, because Dave Arnold has another idea: open a food-and-drink museum and mount an exhibition about breakfast cereal. You could have grains of corn inside pressurized chambers and you&aposd release the pressure all of a sudden—Boom! Boom! Sugar Pops! And there would be steel rollers—Tzzt! Tzzt! Tzzt!—shooting out Corn Flakes. "Breakfast cereal," he says, "is amazing."
Arnold actually has a provisional charter for the museum but doubts it will get built anytime soon, so in the meantime he&aposs working on a totally different idea: a 21st-century cocktail shaker. It would be transparent and equipped with a custom nozzle that could be hooked up to a carbon dioxide tank to add fizz without adding seltzer, "because seltzer just dilutes the drink, right?"
Spend an hour with Dave Arnold and the ideas just whiz by like this, one after another, and pretty soon you can&apost keep track of which ones he&aposs already done, which ones he&aposs in the middle of doing and which ones he probably won&apost ever do. So when he mentions his plans for a high-tech food lab, it takes a few moments before you realize that, yes, this is actually happening. Last year Arnold was hired to invent and run a program on food technology at the French Culinary Institute, a professional cooking school in Manhattan. The FCI will outfit a laboratory with shiny, high-tech gadgets that might one day turn out to have some application in the kitchen. Or they might be totally useless. The only way to find out is through trial and error, and this is what the lab will do when it opens in October: give chefs a chance to fool around with expensive toys to see if they&aposre worth the investment. Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the FCI&aposs founder, calls the lab "a chefs&apos playpen."
Students at the FCI wear white jackets and toques, call their instructors "chef" and are drilled in the age-old repertoire of French technique. That such a traditional school is placing an enormous bet on a 35-year-old guy like Dave Arnold says a lot about the current moment in food. The culinary avant-garde—led by such chefs as Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz, Joan Roca, Wylie Dufresne, José Andrés, Homaro Cantu and a few others—is founded on the idea that fine dining will stride into the future through the aid of science. Dave Arnold isn&apost a scientist. He isn&apost a chef, either. It&aposs not exactly clear what he is. Before the FCI found him, he hadn&apost held a full-time job in a decade and his most relevant professional experience was working the fry station in a restaurant nobody&aposs ever heard of in Mount Kisco, New York.
But Arnold, the son of an engineer, has always had a knack for machines𠅋uilding them, taking them apart, fixing them, figuring out new ways to use them. If you&aposre the kind of chef who employs science and technology to do things in the kitchen that nobody has ever seen before, then Dave Arnold might turn out to be much more useful to you than the guy in the toque carving tomato roses.
Michael Batterberry, who sits on the FCI board, sold the school on Arnold&aposs qualifications, which weren&apost immediately obvious. "Until you know Dave, the seeming randomness of his CV would not make you identify him as a director of technology," he says. Batterberry is the editor in chief of Food Arts, where Dave is a contributor, and he marvels at Arnold&aposs "scope of knowledge."
"It&aposs not just his technical and scientific knowledge he has a grasp of food history that is unusually strong," Batterberry says. "He understands the underpinnings, which gives him the license to go wild with speculation and then follow up with hard science."
In many ways, the FCI has found the ideal representative of the avant-garde in food. Like many of the postmodern chefs, Arnold seems to know all there is to know about the physics and chemistry of cooking. And like them, he&aposs always asking if there&aposs another way to do things. At times he seems like a visionary, paradigm-shifting artist𠅊 Duchamp, a Charlie Kaufman—set loose in the kitchen and at other times like an unsupervised 10-year-old boy, and either of those descriptions would fit a number of the experimental chefs as well. It&aposs no coincidence, I think, that most leading avant-gardists are men if they weren&apost zapping crème brûlພ with lasers, they&aposd be turbo-charging the engine on a &apos69 Chevy Nova.
One chef who&aposs found Arnold very handy to have around is Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 in New York. After having dinner there about two and a half years ago, Arnold got himself a kitchen tour and introduced himself to Dufresne. After several more meetings, he began asking Dufresne if he had this cool gadget or that cool gadget. Dufresne, who knows as much about gadgets as any chef in the country, had absolutely no idea what Arnold was talking about. Dufresne had started cooking much of WD-50&aposs meat and fish sous-vide—vacuum-sealed in a pouch that was immersed in boiling water. He&aposd heard about something called a thermal circulator, a piece of laboratory equipment that allows scientists to keep liquid at a very even and precise temperature. Arnold offered to get him a few, "because I was the king of buying things on eBay," but the circulators he found were used and broke down quickly, so Arnold repaired them. Soon he was the unofficial technical adviser for WD-50, tinkering around with custom-rigged machines that no other kitchen had. "If I could afford to put him on staff, I definitely would," Dufresne says. "I would say he&aposs forgotten more than I&aposll ever remember, but he doesn&apost forget things. He reads something and he remembers it. He&aposll ask me about some esoteric Malaysian cooking technique and I&aposll say, &aposDave, I don&apost even know what that is!&apos"
One recent night Arnold invited me to his apartment to run some experiments. He&aposd told me on the phone that he hadn&apost made dinner for his wife yet, even though it was after nine, and I felt like I might be intruding on their domestic scene, so I picked up a bottle of Riesling on my way over. Arnold glanced at it and said, "Oh, good, we can carbonate this. Is that okay? It wasn&apost superexpensive?" Then he decanted some of the wine into a plastic bottle, which he hooked up to the kind of carbon dioxide tank you&aposd see at a soda fountain. (Arnold uses it to make his own seltzer, which shoots from a tap next to his kitchen sink.) Arnold agitated the bottle for 60 seconds ("my standard shake") and poured the result into a wineglass. It looked and tasted something like Prosecco and was thoroughly delicious. I wondered if at some restaurant in the future, after I&aposd chosen a bottle from the wine list, the sommelier might say, "Excellent choice, sir. And would you like that carbonated?"
While he was running some port through a homemade vacuum evaporator, Arnold plopped two corn dogs into the professional deep-fryer next to his six-burner Garland range. When they were golden, he served them to his wife, Jennifer Carpenter, with a glass of carbonated Pinot Blanc. Arnold said something I didn&apost catch, which caused Carpenter to observe, "Dave doesn&apost believe in nutrition."
"That&aposs not true," Arnold said.
"He doesn&apost think we should limit Booker&aposs bacon eating at all," Carpenter said. Booker is their four-year-old.
"All I said was that bacon isn&apost evil."
"No, you said that bacon and water are the same."
"Well, three slices of bacon is nothing. It&aposs like air."
"See?" Carpenter said, turning to me. "It&aposs like air!"
On the wall behind a couch made by Carpenter, a furniture designer and architect, was a series of spooky photographs that date from Arnold&aposs days as an artist. He has a master&aposs in fine arts from Columbia University and, for a while, most of his ideas came out in the form of technology-based art. He gained brief notoriety when the New York papers got word that he was making simple machines by attaching frog muscles to pieces of steel—through an electrical stimulus, he could contract the muscles and make these Frankenstein contraptions move. A few of his projects involved edible materials, like the room-size microwave (never built) along with a miniature Nagasaki he constructed out of gingerbread houses and then blew up with homemade air cannons. Eventually, he says, this art "transmogrified into a full-time food frenzy."
Arnold started talking about microwaves and why nobody uses them for anything except reheating leftovers. "The question is, What can you do in a microwave that you wouldn&apost want done any other way?" Arnold said. "And nobody&aposs ever answered that." He hopped on the Internet ("the greatest kitchen tool in the world") and Googled microwaves.
"I love any sort of microwave experiment," he said. "Let&aposs see𠅎xploding egg, done that. Done that. Done that. Done that. Done that. Done that. Here, these people have just ripped apart a microwave. It&aposs so dangerous. Look at this—&apostechnical information removed from site after September 11, 2001.&apos"
Arnold sent me away that night with homework. I was supposed to come up with a cooking challenge that he would solve. I called him a few days later and said, "I&aposve been thinking about hot buttered rum."
The phone was silent for a few seconds, and then Arnold said, "The butter floats on top, right?" That was exactly correct. Hot buttered rum sounds terrific, but in practice, the butter pools up in a nasty oil slick. Was there a way to mix the butter and the rum so they wouldn&apost separate right away? "Yeah, I think we can do something about that," Arnold replied.
That Friday we met in an empty kitchen at the FCI. Arnold was wearing a T-shirt with the logo of a defunct asbestos company. He had been playing around lately with a sonic dismembrator, a device that scientists use to break down tissue in cell cultures. So far he hasn&apost found anything the dismembrator can do that a high-speed Vita-Mix blender can&apost, which makes it hard to justify the $2,500 price tag. He fit a long needle-nose extension onto the sonic dismembrator and stuck it into a test tube filled with a teaspoon or two of butter and some Everclear grain alcohol. The dismembrator sounded the way I imagine those ultrasonic pest control devices must sound, the ones that emit a high-pitched whine that drives gophers insane. When he turned it off, the butter and alcohol were bound together in a milky emulsion. I filled two glasses with rum and water, dropped a cinnamon stick and a couple cloves in each and zapped them in a microwave. Then Arnold poured in his butter emulsion, hit the mixture with the dismembrator again and took a sip.
"Wow, that&aposs delicious," he said. "Maybe a slight addition of xanthan gum to stabilize it and you&aposre done."
"Could you get the same effect with a blender?" I asked.
"Maybe," he said. "You could probably get the same effect if you put alcohol and butter in a test tube and—Thhhhhp!—shook it up." The killer app for the sonic dismembrator remained elusive.
Arnold wanted to make me sous-vide steak for lunch, so he sealed two rib steaks in plastic bags and dropped them in a pan of water with a circulator. The steak would be served with a port reduction beurre blanc, but Arnold wanted the port to taste fresh, not cooked, so he ran it through a vacuum evaporator he&aposd MacGyvered out of a vacuum pump and a circulator that chills liquids instead of heating them. The steaks only needed about 45 minutes, but the bottle of port took hours. I was starting to see stars. Arnold was happily inventing a cocktail made with gin and nitrous oxide.
At around three in the afternoon, Harold McGee walked in. McGee wrote the classic reference book on kitchen science, On Food and Cooking, and the avant-garde chefs have adopted him as their spiritual godfather. Arnold wants him to give some lectures with Dufresne at the FCI, which was what he&aposd come to talk about today. McGee looked around at the thermal circulator, the sonic dismembrator and a countertop spread with an assortment of supplies: two kinds of salt, vinegar powder, fried red onions from Thailand, a copy of The Poky Little Puppy ("Booker must have put that in there"), cryogenically powdered cocoa butter, an onion, a laser thermometer, a potato ricer, a wooden spoon, a spatula, a jar of petroleum jelly, a tiny cocktail shaker, a whisk, pine needle oil, malt extract, a head of garlic, a pepper grinder and a hypodermic temperature probe.
"I&aposve never seen David cook before, but this is pretty much the way I pictured it," McGee remarked genially.
A long time after that, the three of us sat down to lunch. The steak was precisely medium-rare, which is the point of the circulator: Because you set the food&aposs final temperature, it is never overcooked or underdone. Arnold has a circulator at home and believes that, in the future, the rest of us will, too. As Arnold says, "You get a dead perfect steak every single time." However, the technique has a few drawbacks. To begin with, no official safety standards exist yet, leading to a recent health-department crackdown on sous-vide cooking in New York City restaurants. Another issue is that food cooked sous-vide comes out looking raw and so after extracting the steak from its plastic bag, Arnold had to quickly sear it in a skillet. This also helped to develop "Maillard reactions." McGee explained that these are changes in food that generally take place at high temperature and lead to many of the nutty, complex "brown" flavors we expect in, say, a rib steak. To get those flavors, Arnold had added caramelized meat juices, which he made by slicing a pound of hanger steak into strips, searing them in a cast-iron skillet, sealing them in a bag with a clove of garlic, boiling the bag for 20 minutes and wringing out the meat like a mop.
In other words, he made one bag of food to augment a second bag of food. I remember boil-in-a-bag meals from my childhood and from trips to the camping supply store. These were supposed to make life easier through meals that were, if not flavor-saving, at least labor-saving. When chefs cook food in bags today, it takes much longer and they end up doing extra work to recapture the flavor of a simple grilled T-bone. They&aposve found a way to use technology to make their lives more difficult.
After lunch we walked to WD-50 so Arnold could show me his latest project. Dufresne had asked him to design a machine that could place a liquid inside a gelatinous skin. Arnold&aposs invention used two Flojet beverage pumps, several feet of plastic tubing and an electronic control board. After much experimentation, they had succeeded in wrapping a coffee-flavored membrane around sweetened milk: café con leche. It was like a tiny, edible water balloon and, as far as anybody knew, it had never been done for a restaurant before. Dufresne looked proud as he passed around a bowl of the cranberry-sized spheres. Arnold picked one up with his fingers.
"We can use a spoon, Dave," Dufresne said. "We use utensils and we walk upright."
Arnold ate three off a tablespoon and chewed. He seemed pleased.
"This is a big step," Dufresne said. "We&aposve been chasing this one a long, long time."
Arnold called me three days later for a postmortem, and then he began to talk about a new idea. "What I want to do is build an espresso maker that uses nitrous oxide as a pressurizer instead of a rotary pump or piston. Why? you ask. Because I can get a very constant pressure𠅊nd you can get a creamier mouthfeel and you wouldn&apost need as much sugar, because nitrous is sweet."
He paused for breath, which was unusual, and it gave me a chance to wonder if I knew what he was talking about. "What do you think?" he asked me. "Think it would work?"