Earlier this month, former Cafe Juanita sommelier Dawn Smith, and Cortney Lease, wine director at Wild Ginger and The Triple Door, went to Vegas. But instead of spending their time in Sin City making questionable decisions, the two women sat for the advanced sommelier exam, an elite certification that generally requires extensive study and at least five years of industry experience. Forty-nine sommeliers took on the five-day exam. And at the end of the week, Smith, Lease, and fellow Seattleite Christopher Chan of the Rainier Club, were among the 12 who emerged with a passing grade.
Congratulations one and all. The only higher level of wine mastery is the vaunted master sommelier title, attained by only 197 people since its inception (including five people in Washington).
Their advanced sommelier status confirms what Smith and Lease have long demonstrated in the workplace: These ladies are extremely sophisticated when it comes to tasting, discussing, pairing, and recommending wines. They are also gracious enough to take on the occasional question that's...well...not quite as sophisticated. Like "what kind of wine should I drink while I'm sitting on the couch Wednesday night dipping into the candy I ostensibly bought for trick-or-treaters?"
Dawn Smith, Formerly of Cafe Juanita, Canlis
When pairing candy to wine you really need one of two things: either a perception of sweetness in the wine or a high impression of fruit in the wine. If you have both—even better! I like buttery chardonnays with popcorn balls or candy corn. California zinfandels are great with those fun-sized chocolate candy bars. One of my favorite wines with just about anything sweet is the lightly sparkling Moscato d'Asti from Italy. Medium-sweet, playful bubbles and lots of balancing acidity so the sugar never gets too out of hand—also works well with chocolate, too!
Cortney Lease, Wine Director at Wild Ginger, The Triple Door
Whether you’re in the Twizzlers camp or Red Vines, either would work happily with a sparkling beaujolais, made from Gamay Noir. It’s impossible to get more cheerful and fun than the Terres Dorees de Jean-Paul Brun ‘FRV100’ NV sparkler from France, with lively strawberry and confected fruity, bubble gum flavors. Have some leftover dark chocolate? I’d go with a local Washington syrah, such as Va Piano Vineyards or Amavi Cellars. The intense red fruit and dense texture of the wine will counter-balance the bitter dark chocolate very nicely. However, if it’s a mini-Snickers, I’d recommend a more traditional pairing of tawny port – Taylor's 20 Year Old Tawny would add delicious toffee qualities to the milk chocolate, peanuts and caramel you can expect. If you decided to stay in and make caramel apples at home, try opening up a bottle of Dunham Cellars, Late Harvest Riesling. The lively acidity and natural fresh flavors of Riesling will work wonders with the bright green apple and caramel.