The Texas Sommelier Conference, aka TexSom, just wrapped its 11th annual session at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. It truly is one of the biggest and best wine education conferences in the world. It’s geared for wine professions and serious aficionados who get deliriously blissful to talk about the most intricate and geeky aspects of wine production, geography, wine sales and the minutiae of the sight, smell and taste of hundreds of wines from iconic producers.
The education at TexSom is top notch, but there is so much more. TexSom is saturated with intoxicating experiences. Even the sounds get me. You know how that ding-ding-ding sound of the electronic slot machine gets ingrained in your subconscious after a few days in Vegas. It gets played back into your dreams even after leaving that hell hole. The same thing is true at TexSom. The lilting ding-ding-ding of wine glasses kissing each other’s rounded hips time-after-time though-out each session, all day long, become a xylophone soundscape scoring the important moments of the conference. That sound is my nightly lullaby easing me into wine-soaked dreams.
What makes it truly intoxicating is the alchemy of so many important elements. Beyond the learning, the wine is insane, the events are a blast, the staff and volunteers are incredible and the camaraderie among attendees is sheer magic.
Education is what TexSom is all about. The presenters are a who’s-who list of the biggest names in the industry with Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine and all sorts of other fancy wine titles. They drop knowledge. It’s impossible for even the best educated wine pro to come away without learning something.
A few highlights for me:
- Josh Raynolds taught us the lineage of the Pinot Noir direct line progenies spreading from Austria, Hungary and Switzerland including reds like Gamay and Pinot Meunier and also whites like Gouais, Alligote, Pinot Gris, Melon de Bourgone and even Chardonnay. Many of these grapes are dying at the cruel hands of commerce. To underscore the point, Raynolds broke out bottles of 2008 Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Gouais from Rutherglen, Australia. It was absolutely the rarest wine imported into TexSom this year.
- Cocktail phenom, Bobby Heugel, explored the buzz for obscure liqueurs by juxtaposing pairs of cocktail darlings like Greeen Chartreuse vs. Dolin Genepy and Grand Marnier vs. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. One of the more interesting comparisons was between a bottle of Campari made in 2015 vs. Campari made in 2006. The difference is that in 2006 Campari stopped coloring its liqueur with beetles using carmine as a dye sourced from the cochineal beetle because it is a lethal allergen. That’s right, Campari used to be Beetlejuice.
- Laura de Pasquala and Charles Butler described how some of the world’s most treasured wines are made with the most human intervention. Wines like Champagne, Sherry, Port, Tokiaj and Madiera all require heavy winemaker manipulation to create their wonderfully unique styles. No natural wine bullshit here. Even biodynamics is a highly interventionist method. One of my favorites of the session was the Nino Negri Chiavennasca “Sfursat 5 Stelle” Sforzato di Valtellina, from Lombardy, Italy. It’s made with 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes that are dried on the vine for 100 days in cool alpine air before they are pressed. The result is a complex Barolo like wine with high tannin, dried fruit flavors and elevated alcohol that will age forever.
Yes we get to taste some of the most amazing wines on the planet; wines that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford; wines I wouldn’t normally be able to find; wines which until now I had only dreamt of. The standout retrospective of a dozen Grand Cru Trimbach Alsatian Rieslings going back to 1975 had the crowd cooing in rapturous enchantment. Oh the Burgundy. Oh the Bordeaux, Oh the Champagne. Oh the Sauternes. Oh old vintage and rare bottles. There are too many to mention.
My absolute favorite part of TexSom is connecting with so many incredible people. There is a Jungian river of shared wine-geek energy flowing at flood-stage levels at every moment. Chatting it up with the people who write wine curriculums, hanging with people are on every Top Somm list, and hearing what’s going on straight from winemakers from around the world is a rush.
How can you beat learning about the vintage variance of Pontotoc Vineyards wines with winemaker, Don Pullam? Or sharing a lively discourse on the state of the Texas wine industry from legendary winemaker Kim McPherson? What could be better than having late night laughs with some of the hottest young winemakers in Texas like Ron Yates of Spicewood Vineyards, Doug Lewis of Lewis Wines and Chris Brundrett of William Chris Vineyards? Or having an impromptu tasting of the Fall Creek Vineyards new releases with the matriarch of Texas wines, Susan Auler, and a fun group of wine writers and sommeliers?
If you haven’t been to TexSom, put it on your list for next year. Check out the sessions, the tasting breaks, the wine lunches, the endless flow of swoon-worthy wines in the Hospitality suites, the crowing of the TexSom Best Sommelier and the Grand Tasting sponsored by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. The event is run like clockwork by diligent staff and volunteers who put in countless hours. You will not be disappointed.
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary media pass to attend 2015 TexSom.