On Wednesday, sommelier Chris Tanghe became the sixth person in Washington to pass the notoriously rigorous master sommelier exam and join the highest echelon of the Court of Master Sommeliers. I knew this because I got emails. I got phone calls. I got texts. Facebook messages. I had multiple people dropping by my desk. Chris Tanghe, you have one hell of a fan base.
Tanghe is 32 and has worked in restaurants since he was 13, moving from dishwashing to cooking. He attended culinary school straight out of high school, where a wine course attuned him to the mind-blowing qualities of a good food and wine pairing. He was interested in being a somm, but there was that whole pesky “being younger than 21” thing to contend with.
But the second Tanghe turned 21 he was on a plane to Napa to do a little wine training. He eventually moved to the front-of-house side, and to Seattle, where he has since worked at Herbfarm, Crush, Matt’s in the Market, and Canlis before moving to RN74 when it opened in 2011. Side note: Tanghe has stayed in the cooking game these past few years by developing recipes over at Marx Foods.
Last week’s master sommelier exam in Colorado was the culmination of about seven years of work. About three years ago he formed a dedicated weekly study group with Bastille wineman James Lechner and Metropolitan Grill’s Thomas Price (Lechs, no pressure). His preparation involved verbal quizzing, comparative tasting, listening to recordings of himself on his walk to work, and about 4,000 flash cards.
After all of that, I felt a little silly asking Tanghe my own highly elementary wine questions. But I figured when you have a master sommelier on the phone, you might as well come away with some wine advice. We talked Washington wine, but Tanghe’s a big fan of Spanish creations, too. Which is why he's gearing up for his next project--wine and service director for Jason Stratton's Aragona.
So here, a few questions for Chris Tanghe.
What do you think is an underappreciated varietal?
I’ll speak to Washington, since it’s a super-diverse growing region with reds being our strength. I think grenache is really on the up and up in Washington. I think people are figuring out how to grow it, where to grow it, and how to make it wine wise. I think it’s going to be the next big thing here; it can produce amazing, really really stunning wines. I like Third Man from Greg Harrington at Gramercy Cellars. It’s not 100 percent grenache, but it’s a grenache blend. Betz’s Besoleil is a great grenache-heavy blend; Cayuse makes a unique style of grenache that’s very rich, and Kerloo makes a great Grenache.
Do you have a wine service pet peeve?
I hate the whole, ‘using wine as like a privilege’ thing. Wine should be for everyone; it should be approachable. It should be part of every meal and wine should be fun. Being a somm is about hospitality, about being humble about finding wine for your guests that they’re just going to love or is just going to heighten the experience of their meal. Some people that know a little bit about wine use that to make others feel bad about it; they’re compensating for their lack of self-confidence. There are lots of other little things, sure, but they’re kind of insignificant.
Any Washington wineries you’re particularly wild about?
As I mentioned, Gramercy is great, Kerloo is up and coming. Reynvaan, they’re based out of Walla Walla and are making some of my favorite Washington syrahs. Syrah is the other varietal I just love out of Washington. And definitely the sommelier-driven wineries, like WT Vintners [co-owned by RN74 lead sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen]. Their syrah is a different style for Washington; it's really well-made and definitely more food-driven. He’s also making gruner veltliner. It’s really delicious; you stick your nose in the glass and there’s no question it’s anything but gruner veltliner and that’s when you know you’ve done your job, especially in an area that isn’t proven to grow these varieties.