There’s always more needed & more to give

maps, articles, references, aroma wheels, notebooks... 5 essays 4.25 weeks away & counting

maps, articles, references, aroma wheels, notebooks… 5 essays 4.25 weeks away & counting

So. P2P is nearly half-way through the International Sommelier Guild’s “Sommelier Diploma Program;” unquestionably the toughest course undertaken “so far.” Sounds slightly daunting, but not overwhelming until learning that P2P is past her 40th high school reunion and although she has continued taking college courses through various moves around the country in the intervening years; loved them all, including this course, but… THIS ONE is still THE most challenging, at least so far.

Sontes' lazy-susan full of aroma aids for wine class held 5/16/13

Sontes’ lazy-susan full of aroma aids for wine class held 5/16/13

Coming up soon is our mid-term exam which will include 5 handwritten essays on any subject(s) the Guild thinks most important, interesting, and (probably) challenging. So it is that in addition to working two very different jobs in the wine industry as well as keeping fledgling Pairing to Perfection going, there are seriously about another 15-25 hrs per week (NO JOKE!) spent on studying, practice essays, research, reading, class time, and, of course, practicing service and tasting.

wine cradle, candle, sommelier's tasting glass, guest's tasting glass, practice wines...

wine cradle, candle, sommelier’s tasting glass, guest’s tasting glass, practice wines…

Tasting is wonderful, but not at all what you are probably imaging as you envision this course the author has dubbed “most challenging course yet”… When we taste as a class there is a camaraderie of going around the small class (literally less than most wine flights in number) and going through the tasting steps that we must follow precisely, with anchors firmly planted in mind, sight, nose, and palate as we prepare to taste 22 “glasses” in a mammoth blind-tasting section of this life altering, massively important portion of the ISG’s SDP exam. No time for idle chit-chat, or sipping.. simply taste, consider, spit, record.

Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, Marche, Italia; Migration Chardonnay, Russian River, CA, Old World & New World Reds to practice old wine fine service.

Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, Marche, Italia; Migration Chardonnay, Russian River, CA, Old World & New World Reds to practice old wine fine service.

Now repeat after me.. “Appearance….,” “Nose…,” “Palate…,” “Conclusion…”… “Next wine. P2P, will you do us the honor?” …. Gulp…. “clear, transparent, dark ruby core to….”

The entire purpose is that this course ‘should’ transform us into talented sommeliers with super-natural blind-tasting skills… correct? Definitely; hopefully; God willingly…

So this week, after hitting a low spot, has been about hitting the books, wines, service, essay practices harder than ever. Just focusing on the preparation instead of fearing “the exams” has been encouraging.

this is from "I love my dog" on Facebook; "shared" from one of many friends

this is from “I love my dog” on Facebook; “shared” from one of many friends

A few days ago, a “one in a million” photograph of a sweet, beautiful golden retriever kissing a baby was sailing around the social media outlets. Unlike the earlier photos in this post, it has absolutely nothing to do with the SDP, wine, service, pairings or essays. It is important because it set loose  laughs, smiles, memories of a big black, grey-faced dog named “Bear” that guarded and loved a bald baby for no other reason than she knew “her people” loved that bald baby. The waves of laughter were renewing, healthy, and freeing, so it is shared here with hopes for you to enjoy the same smiles, and giggles this photo evoked days ago.     Cheers!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Planning, Preparing, & Pairing

… is that the same as P3 or P-cubed?

a wine cradle - hopefully we'll have some amazing "mature" wines to decant using this cradle, a candle and a decanter often between now & exam time

a wine cradle – hopefully we’ll have some amazing “mature” wines to decant using this cradle, a candle and a decanter often between now & exam time

Here are a few photos of Sunday’s family supper where  service practice is planned into each meal served at home these days. Each practice is on a wine, paired with a specific course. The best part is our family tradition is to share Sunday supper. Sometimes we share our cozy supper with just the three of us; sometimes, we have a close friend or two join us; on really special occasions, we’ll have a festive supper with “all the leaves in the table”.

easy, fresh white wine from Languedoc. Light herbaceous & lemon flavors brightened the avocado, roasted tomato & shrimp salad

easy, fresh white wine from Languedoc. Fresh acid, green apples, herbaceous & lemon flavors brightened the avocado, roasted tomato & shrimp salad

This Sunday was just our little family. #1 Hubby was chef du jour making a salad of avocados, roasted tomatoes, sweet onion and sautéed shrimp to start our dinner paired with a Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc.

After the salad, we had broiled steel-head salmon with mushroom & roasted garlic polenta, and our last bottle of  2007 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Pinot Noir. This lovely Carneros Pinot did not require decanting but P2P did purely for more decanting practice for the ISG exam…. hopefully our friends Mr. Graves and Mr. Ward at Saintsbury will forgive the rather extravagant “practice” wine. It was just as delicious as we anticipated.

Did you know the little gold crown on the Brown Ranch label is an homage to Burgundy, the "king of Pinot Noir"? Don't you just love that?

Did you know the little gold crown on the Brown Ranch label is an homage to Burgundy, the “king of Pinot Noir”? Don’t you just love that?

Hospitality is in the DNA of aspiring Sommeliers. The study of wine, wine service, wine history, viticulture, vinification, terroir, varietals… You get an idea of the details… and that’s all they would be – details, unless the driving force for the focus were not to share the love and knowledge of wine by serving guests in restaurants, hotels, country clubs, inns, and wineries with gracious hospitality, fresh food creatively prepared, and wines thoughtfully paired. It takes a fair amount of planning to do this. So part of the training is learning to plan our time wisely, while preparing our studies for the numerous facets of the substantial final exams, and preparing foods and pairing them with wines for fellow classmates is a helpful component of class.

Pork rillettes with accompaniments including pickled dried apricots & currants

Pork rillettes with accompaniments including pickled dried apricots & currants

Yesterday was P2P’s turn to discuss pairing foods and wines from the Loire. It was amazing how much study, reflection, and testing recipes with wines the preparation took. It was kind of intimidating too. P2P did some cooking years ago for some friends who had a popular catering enterprise in Birmingham, AL. That’s it. Other than that, all cooking has been for family and friends as we’ve traipsed about the Country. There are restaurant owners, managers,  and chefs in this class, as well as a few of us who want to grow into those positions. They make a fun class – our instructor is great, sharing with each of the students a genuine esprit d’hospitality. Wonderfully, we want each other to succeed.

Jo Pithon Anjou sans some of that wonderful acidity of its youth

Jo Pithon Anjou sans some of that wonderful acidity of its youth

So yesterday was my privilege to serve pork rillettes, chevre & parsley on endive, pickled apricots & currants with an Anjou and Sancerre. Both the pairings were a “little past their prime” but it was really interesting how faded they tasted in comparison to the younger, fresher, brighter versions we were tasting with the main Loire portion of the class. It’s helpful… and also a very good lesson in why to taste each wine on its own merit when it comes to the blind-tasting portion of our exam. It will be pretty tempting to compare “this with that” and that would lead one right into a labyrinth that would be hard to find the way out of without wasting precious time. Sounds silly to be so fascinated with these minute details, but it’s truly helpful and something to also put into practice at work and home tastings now.         ~ à bientôt!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Check-out new article on Sontes!

Welcome Friends~

One of the great gifts a person can enjoy is waking up to a day full of activities that interest, challenge and delight! It gives purpose to one’s life. Here’s a photo taken with a dear friend at Flora Komes’ 100th Birthday celebrated last fall at Flora Springs’ beautiful winery. Flora is lady who loves life – especially her family, her home and her garden.

We should all stay as engaged in life as this beautiful lady for whom Flora Springs is named

P2P has the privilege of doing several things that make life rich, challenging and deeply rewarding. One of them is working at a fabulous restaurant in Rochester called Sontes as their wine steward. What an honor to be a blog post feature this week; perfect pick-me-up during a hectic week of publish deadline for another dear project, A Night for Sight.

To read more about Sontes, and this week’s post, visit their blog. To read more about A Night for Sight, please visit their Facebook Page; in the next few days, you will see glimpses of the amazing lots for this year’s auction on May 19th. There are also great charity events to manage for BidPal, especially Hearts of Gold coming up April 28th for Rochester Catholic Schools.

A glimpse of A Night for Sight's 2011 Silent Auction

There are two other precious projects ~ writing the pairing menu for Somerby Golf Club, and our ongoing wine study group that, while tremendously fun, is also seriously studying wines on various paths toward certified, advanced and sommelier diploma program.

P2P apologizes for the lapse in posts recently. Please drop back by often for frequent updates.

Cheers! P2P

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Three Musketeers Blind Taste California


Compadres on the Path to upper level Sommelier Certifications

Pictured are two faithful Musketeers on the path to becoming advanced… dare we pray, “master” (someday?!!) sommeliers, plus one patient husband. (Hidden behind the camera is Musketeer number three.) We meet weekly, to talk about regions, terroir, varietals, service, pairings, and tastings of classic styles of the “region du jour”.

Currently, each of us has a different role in the wine industry, which affords interesting tasting opportunities   and off we go ~ pressing on toward the goal. It is hugely rewarding to study and support one another. It’s also rather fun; we laugh… alot.

Glasses, spice cartons, bread basket, bowls of fruit, "spit cups", glasses, books

Today’s region was a “small” one… California. We had enlisted the help of another oenophile to select three “Cali Reds,” from three AVA’s, delivered in brown bags for our blind tasting tests which will come up in about 4 weeks. Our “guest” was enlisted to serve as emcee to protect the ”integrity” of the blind tasting… Did I mention that we are an “experiential” study group?

melange of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries & blueberries

We spent half an hour discussing the AVA’s of California in general, the famous North Coast region including Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino in particular. Then we got out the bowls of fresh berries, spices, herbs, white “serviettes.” One brave “sommelier-in-training” agreed  to practice “Court of Master Sommelier service standards” by opening the first bottle, without benefit of a gueridon nor violating the standard of never opening the bottle on the guests’ table… we’re learning. She opened the bottle “mid-air” and NO “pop;” cork slipped out silently. We’re almost there.

#1 St. Supery 2006 Cab Napa Valley

Court of Master Sommeliers offers an outstanding, multi-tiered program. Read the description of proper service standards plus the various courses and examinations offered by them. The first wine we blind tasted, Ruth recognized immediately… Then we sliced the beautiful loaves of whole wheat and semolina breads that Dana baked, tossed the fruit salad and braised the chard to be topped by  lamb stew before moving on to brown bag #2.

Prather Ranch Spring Lamb with Flageolets and Fay's Relish

Bottle #2 was blind tasted with the benefit of a lamb stew recipe found on the website of a niece of a friend. Do visit Gotta Eat! for the recipe. It is a creative website for foodies in San Francisco which means it is an easy place to find excellent wine-friendly recipes.

#2 Rodney Strong 2009 Cab Alexander Valley

Bottle # 3 was definitely a mystery to us. It may have been the first two were a little easier to clearly taste the fruit then work through the floral, spice, herbs, stone, earth, etc. However, # 3 was opened after our stew, but with bread to clear the palate, and berries, herbs and spices to help us find our way through the tasting grid. One of us decided to decant the wine. Perfecto! the fruit jumped forward, the mild floral, the vanilla, thyme, and structured tannin softened. It all fell together into a lovely wine.

#3 Benziger 2007 Cab Sonoma County

Our oenophile was not being “elitist” in selecting all Cabs from North Coast AVA’s; he wisely selected a classic California varietal from three distinct terroirs. He made us “work our taste buds” – wise choice… There are, however, quite a few scribbles on some of the tasting grid sheets, but the exercise was hugely important.

Here the collection is revealed, along with a white “serviette,” one of the wine keys Cru Wine Online sent each of us as an encouragement… and the slightly wrinkled brown bags.

March 9 Blind Tasting Revealed

Oh, yes. At the close of each group study, we’ve coalesced into an efficient clean-up team. We went from the table shown below to a spotless kitchen and dining room in nothing flat. Next week? We’re in Australia and New Zealand… at least our noses, taste-buds and tasting grids! Check back for more news soon!

aftermath of 3 blind tastings, lunch, & 1 great study group

Salut! p2p

Wine Key Gift from Cru Wine Online

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

New Week, New Photos, New Tastings

Rollie & Jessie at CMAA dinner at Palace Cafe


Please visit our facebook page for new photos of recent visit to New Orleans for the CMAA annual World Conference. Great friends, great food, great seminars, great week!

Please check back for more info about several great tastings recently on the path to the next sommelier exam.

You are cordially invited to follow P2P on Fridays when our contributions on Entaste are published… actually, make it a practice to check there daily for great entries from all their contributors please! You also want to check editor, Lili’s blog My Amused Bouche… be sure your passport is current you will want to go to many of the places she covers here.

Now, off to Minneapolis for the Washington State Tasting at Stella’s Fish Cafe! Mmmm! Can’t wait to join friends and study partners Dana & Ruth for this week’s tasting! Cheers! P2P

Adriane & P2P at Commanders Palace

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Confessions of a closet football fan…

Roll Tide!!!!

It isn’t elegant… hardly what one would expect from a wine & food pairing consultant… but the truth is that ever since living in Tuscaloosa in the early 70′s, when they were unbeatable, P2P has been a die-hard  Bama fan.

Granted there are lots of family connections… and the Great Bear Bryant and his wife, Mary Harmon, were wonderful to P2P personally. Dad went there before transferring to Emory, lots of cousins went there. Tuscaloosa was and is a great place to live.

But tonight was wonderful to watch. Bama and LSU in the rematch of the year. Nick Sabin seemed almost nonchalant in the pregame interview and Les Miles seemed so calmly encouraging… it was hard to figure how it would play out. And it was fun – much more rewarding to watch college ball, especially the BCS National Championship, than to watch pro ball… It is because of the heart of Coach Sabin, Coach Miles and all the players on that field…. And heart is the core of wine and food communities.

So tonight P2P cheered, laughed, held her breath a time or two and loved every minute of watching this game. It was especially wonderful to watch Bama players play their hearts out and only have one penalty flag all game. And tomorrow will start a series of 4 blind tasting events this week where the wine community will gather, laugh, taste, and discuss wines. We are trudging the path to earning the Master Sommelier designation…. and that ladies and gentlemen is the connection… each goal seized must be pursued with Heart, support and encourage “teammates” in realizing their goals, play without penalties, and enjoy the journey.

As Henry Van Dyke once wrote ~ ”Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, to work, to play and to look up at the stars.”

best always, P2P

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Barbara Claire Pitcher

A little further up the path

Adventures typically involve some hills, curves, surprises; builds determination

Today has been wonderfully busy on many counts. Spent the morning reading and pondering the best means to establish a study group that can walk together through the Level II Sommelier Certification and on to at least Level III Advanced Sommelier… At this point I have “Advanced” firmly set as a goal. In my heart of hearts, my aim is Master Sommelier designation. Such a lofty goal; dare put it to paper? Much less right here on the Pairing to Perfection blog! Can’t believe this is stated right here for all P2P’s readers to see…

Still, all three of the wise Master Sommeliers conducting the Level I class last week spoke of claiming something and have the pieces fall into place. In all truth each was speaking about the proper order of identifying fruits, florals, spices, herbs, earth notes, and oak. They were encouraging us to follow that order so once one category was listed, those flavors floated out of the way to make room for the next set to appear. BUT when we got to the conclusion, they pushed us to “claim it” based on all the clues we had seen, smelled and tasted while learning about wine varietals the world over. Then based on that information to make our determination of the varietal, old world vs new world, Country, region and vintage. It worked like a charm when it came the turn to do a complete solo blind tasting and correctly determined it to be a Nebbiolo, from Italy, Piedmont, 2005. Hopefully, claiming such a lofty goal and diligently putting the proper piece in place to taste, study, and travel, will push P2P up the hill toward that goal.

This afternoon included a meeting with a lovely new friend, Ann, from RCS and we chatted over tea about their upcoming gala, Hearts of Gold. After we we parted, there was a stop at Trader Joe’s, and on a whim, a stop for early dinner at ZZest where I met so many wonderful members of their staff. It was there that Bre & P2P decided to start a Sommeliers’ study group. If you are in the Rochester area and would like to learn more about wine, beer, sake, and spirits as well as pairing and service, in a serious and professional fashion, please leave a comment here and one of us will get in touch with you.                                                                                                Best always ~ P2P


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Barbara Claire Pitcher

Blending Old & New

Today P2P met @CruWineOnline (visit for a delightful late lunch, delicious Gewurztraminer (Helfrich, Alsace, France) and discussion. We shared our paths into the wine and pairing business – his is far more entertaining. We talked about our families, we laughed – alot. We shared stories about vintners we admired and funny, quirky things we discovered on the path to becoming Sommelier. We have such compatible tastes and appreciations for professionals that it seemed odd driving home to think I had just met this fun, wine entertainer. It felt like we’d been friends for years.

We talked a bit about our perspectives on being a wine consultant in the old school and new, concepts, visions. We discussed whether it was more of an advantage to be young and not able to hear the “NO!” and yet, stumble into great success… or to be older and “realistic” and yet become frozen in the “yeahs; buts; maybes”… Having lived both sides of that discussion, P2P thinks both have advantages and risks, but the main determining factor in determining success has nothing to do with age, it is passion for the vision. Cru definitely has passion and success.

There was talk about the path to becoming a certified Sommelier. Already certified, Cru had several funny stories. P2P, facing an exam in a few weeks, had questions. The conversation turned to concepts about how to best implement the knowledge to reach our markets whether restaurant, club, non-profit, event planner… quite the wide-ranging discussion. The neat thing about two people of goodwill meeting a new colleague is the willingness to exchange ideas but more importantly to share knowledge of what has worked and concrete offers to help one another succeed. That spirit was abundant today.

As our lunch meeting was winding down, Cru shared the story of Helfrich Gewurztraminer. How the family turned the reins over to a daughter, in her early 20′s, who took the helm brilliantly and is leading this distinguished winery to new levels of innovation in quality winemaking. And how the old guard had the wisdom to support and encourage the new guard in this transformation on every level – the main staple being devotion to the high quality wines they have long been known for, made with new equipment in a new mindset and the winery is flourishing. Here is an “amuse de bouche” of this remarkable story ~ ”Anne-Laure Helfrich, one of the proprietors of the Alsace wine producer that bears her surname, strikes the perfect balance between enthusiastic cheerleader for Alsace wines and a hard-driving force for change. Her mature demeanor belies her youthful 23 years. Only her angelic face gives away her true age.”  Read more at the Washington Examiner:


Blending Old & New. It was the best day. A passion for good food and wine is old as time and suddenly new as every menu, wine list, inbox, TV, newspaper and magazine will attest.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Barbara Claire Pitcher