Hip to be screwed

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By Deborah Giattina

As always, a trip to the Commonwealth Club proved to be an edifying venture. For last night’s event, Hot Young Sommeliers (that’s pronounced so-mol-yay), the club rounded up three of the aforementioned creatures from the front houses of our city’s finest restaurants.

Now, I don’t know very much about wine, and young is such a relative term, n’est-ce pas? But I know hot, as in wouldn’t kick ‘em out of the sack, not as in a wine that heats your palette because it has too much alcohol (ew). And all three panelists--Mark Bright of Oola, Christie Dufault of Quince Restaurant, and Courtney Cochran, steward of the monthly Hip Tastes events--definitely met my grape expectations.

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Oola's hot sommelier, Mark Bright, gives his girlfriend a cool look

Bright, at 24 years old, is just ridiculously young and, yes, his brain is like a gazillion-watt bulb. He knows the histories of various vinifera and such. Nevertheless, he says he wouldn’t turn down a cup of Two Buck Chuck and the last time he bought a bottle from a corner store, it was a Yellow Tail chardonnay, so it’s good to know he can still party with the rest of us philistines. Though more likely you’ll find him living on the edge by pairing a sparkling rose with a rack of lamb.

Meanwhile, the vastly knowledgeable yet reserved Dufault is dangerously close to becoming the thirteenth woman alive to qualify as Master Sommelier, of which there are only a hundred on the planet. Apparently the certification exam is brutal.

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Christie Dufault, who designs Quince Restaurant's wine list, sucks it up and spits it out. So hot.

Let us not forget Cochran. The business-savvy ingénue is making learning your pinot noir from your pinot grigio a suave affair by hosting Hip Tastes events (sadly on hiatus while the vino expert finishes her Hip Tastes guide book) every month at local bars, like Sip in North Beach.

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Courtney Cochran wants to be your personal sommelier. How hot is that?

During the hour-long panel discussion moderated by Leslie Sbrocco, noted wine writer and host of KQED’s Emmy-winning “Check Please! Bay Area” show, we learned a) what the hell a sommelier is (duh, a wine steward); b) how to select a wine that goes with dinner (duh, ask the restaurant’s sommelier); and c) what happened to the corks (“Hey, it’s hip to be screwed,” cracks Sbrocco).

Once Sbrocco had thoroughly put the screws on our gracious panelists’s vinographic acumen, a few guests in the audience got to step up to the mic and ask some questions of their own. “So, how do you keep from getting drunk?” asks one attendee. “Learn to spit gracefully,” responds the sly Dufault. Triple duh.

Finally, it was time to retire to the lobby and start swishing grape juice around our tongues. Bright introduced me to a zesty but not overblown 2004 pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast vineyard. Cochran and I tried Mahoney-Carneros very light and crisp vermentino, an Italian grape only recently to thrive in California. Finally, Dufault got me tossing back a taste of Merryvale’s 2006 sauvignon blanc. All were terrifically yummy. And, oh la la, I swallowed every drop. Hot, huh?