Jon Stewart’s “race sommeliers” & America’s sommelier saturation

Csaba Chubby OvegesAbove: Little Nell sommelier Csaba “Chubby” Oveges, who has achieved “advanced” standing in the Court of Master Sommeliers, was one of the wine professionals who volunteered to pour at the Boulder Burgundy Festival last month.

About five minutes into his monologue on Monday night, Jon Stewart was riffing on claims by certain talking heads that the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri had been incited by “racial arsonists.”

You have your “your race grifters, your race counterfeiters, your race financial advisors,” he told his audience, and then quipped: “your race sommeliers. What’s wrong with a nice white?”

(Here’s the clip. The joke comes about five minutes in.)

Tracie P and I couldn’t help but reflect on how the term sommelier and the notion of fine wine service have become interwoven in the fabric of pop culture today (we’re fans of the show).

jay fletcher master sommelierAbove: Volnay producer Guillaume d’Angerville (left) and Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher, who was recently profiled by Aspen Peak magazine. Many current and aspiring Master Sommeliers cite Jay as a mentor.

One of the things that impressed me the most at the Boulder Burgundy Festival last month was a comment by Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher, who spoke at the event’s “Old and Rare” tasting, which featured wines from the cellar of the Guild of Sommeliers.

“This year,” he said, “the Court of Master Sommeliers has more than 600 applicants” who want to join its ranks. “We simply can’t handle the number of applications.”

Five years ago, he told me, the number of applicants was around 150.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a reader of my blog wrote me to say that she was sorry that she’d be missing a tasting in San Francisco where I’m pouring in a few weeks.

“I’ll be at the Montage in Laguna,” she wrote, “for [my] Court Certification test.”

Her message, I’m sure, was intended as much to express her regret as it was to update me on her progress in obtaining a coveted post-nominal.

Six years ago, when I moved to Texas, few could have envisioned the pervasive nature of this new fine wine culture and the saturation — as Jay observed — of wine professionals in our country.

Yes, the 2012 film “Somm” played a significant role in disseminating the archetype in American pop culture. But the wine professional tsunami was already in motion when it inspired the movie.

The fact that Stewart could so readily use the term sommelier and elicit a hardy laugh is a gauge of just how familiar the term — and concept — has become among Americans.

Now, whether or not Stewart’s joke was in good taste is another question — a question of taste for the sommeliers to decide.

Yesterday, I posted notes from the extraordinary D’Angerville seminar on the Boulder Burgundy Festival blog.

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