Wednesday, September 15, 2010

WILLIAM SHERER, MASTER SOMMELIER


William Sherer

The Taste of Beverly Hills was just getting underway for the first Saturday session, when I found myself drawn into one of the giant tasting halls.  There were hundreds of foods and wines I wanted to taste and quite a few things I wanted to see at this event.  There were only a few people I knew I wanted to meet, and William Sherer was one of them.  And it was Sherer who greeted me at the very first stop I made that morning.

Sherer was there promoting his line of wine, Iberian Remix.  "Want to taste some Albariño?" he asked as I approached the table.  Still a little sleepy, smiling with rumpled shirttail out, he seems to be the living, walking definition of "affable," not what many might expect a genuine wine expert to look or act like.

Accomplished

Sherer has spent the last five years as Wine Director at Aureole, Charlie Palmer's restaurant in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  He has also spent time walking restaurant floors in Monterey, San Francisco and New York City, and he earned the James Beard award for Wine Service in 2006.

What really dazzles, though, is the fact that Sherer has accomplished something only 170 people in the world can lay claim to - he's a Master Sommelier, a certified, card-carrying wine geek.  It's not an easy status to acheive.  The Court of Master Sommeliers puts it this way:
"Achieving the distinction of Master Sommelier takes years of preparation and an unwavering commitment.  The Court’s intensive educational program guides aspiring Masters through four increasingly rigorous levels of coursework and examination, culminating in the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination."

That final step is by invitation only, after one has completed the other four levels.  I asked Sherer about the difficulty of the road to becoming a MS.

"Yeah, it's hard, and I passed it twelve years ago.  It's actually harder to do today, due to the expansion of the wine world in general.  There's a lot more to know today."  He's certainly in the right place for a person with such status.  The Court of Master Sommeliers cites Vegas as a popular location for those who belong to this exclusive club.  In fact, Las Vegas has more Master Sommeliers than any other city.  "Out of the fifteen that are here, probably only four work on the restaurant floor," he said.  "There rest do other things - administrative directors, wholesale, import.  What I do is a rarity, even in a small field like this.  A lot of people don't want to work nights, or just have other interests."

Remixed

Sherer himself has other interests, a white one and a red one.  He calls his Iberian Remix wines "California wines from Spanish varieties."  This notion was his answer to an importer who once told him Albariño grown in America wouldn't work.  "He said we didn't have anything like the cold, Atlantic climate of Galicia," Sherer continues, "and that anyone who tried to make an Iberian-style wine with American grapes was destined to fail.  I want to prove that person wrong."

Sherer uses Albariño grapes from Edna Valley's Paragon Vineyard and Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan from the Central Coast for his red blend.  "The whole thing would not have happened had I not found the grapes that were available," he said.  "Growers appeared who found that they had planted too much of the grapes I needed.  I was happy to help relieve them of some."

"Iberian Remix is not a recreation of the Spanish originals, but that doesn't mean they're not high-quality wines.  And they're true California wines.  Even the label design evokes 'Endless Summer.'"

What's next on the horizon for Sherer?  "Austrian wines," he says, not missing a beat.  "I'll call them Danube Remix.  A Grüner Veltliner for sure.  Those grapes will be harvested this year and the wine will be released in early 2011.  The Grüner is fresh and aromatic, like the Albariño, but with a little more complexity and palate weight.  I might do a Blaufränkisch, too.  The labels for the Danube Remix will evoke the work of Austrian artist Gustave Klimt."

Aureole

Sherer's position as Wine Director at Aureole/Mandalay Bay puts him in charge of one of the most incredible wine storage systems in existence.  "It's a four-story wine tower holding 10,000 bottles - and that's just the young reds," he said.  I chuckle, but he's not joking.  "We keep the whites and the vintage wines in a different area.  Our wine angels get up and down the tower on cables to retrieve specific bottles."

"My predecessor installed the tablet PC wine list eight years ago, but it's not something that will allow a customer to surf the web for information about the wines, and that's by design.  We like to be able to interact one-on-one with a diner and offer our assistance personally.  You can always go online at home and look at the wine list.

Certainly, Sherer envisions a time when walking the restaurant floor will no longer be what he wants to do.  What happens then?  "Willi's Wine Bar!" he says with a big laugh.  "Actually there are already two places by that name - in Paris and Santa Rosa - so I guess I'll have to come up with something else."  I suggest "Willi's Remix," and he roars again, telling me he'll take it under advisement.