A Conversation with a Sommelier: Richard Poole
Richard Poole has lived in Arizona since his teens. Being raised by a father in the military meant not really having a hometown, he explains, as you tend to jump to different countries and states every few years. He does consider the Phoenix area home now, where his roots are firmly set.
Poole obtained a Bachelor of Science in Management and an MBA in Leadership from Western International University. He’s been in Information Technology (IT) for twenty years, with a focus in enterprise device management, security, and cloud integration. For the past five years he’s been with a consulting company, AccountabilIT, as an enterprise architect assisting many companies with automated solutions to keeping their systems and data safe.
One of the best perks is getting to travel to new places all over the U.S. and Canada, which has expanded his worldview and given him a chance to try wine from areas not yet on anyone’s radar. In his spare time, he likes to vacation to wine areas he hasn’t been, discover new recipes to cook, and appreciate friends and family. While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down his travels he believes we must continue to appreciate some of the simple things, like a fine wine and home-cooked meals (something we’re all doing a bit more lately).
So why would we be talking to an IT guy about wine? His sommelier rating, of course. Level one sommelier: This is the first level in the Court of Master Sommeliers, also referred to as an introductory sommelier, and have the requisite wine knowledge to proceed to the next levels which deal far more with the service side. The next three levels are a certified sommelier, an advanced sommelier, and a master sommelier. Poole is a master sommelier.
Arizona Agriculture: As an IT professional, a totally different profession, what inspired you to be a sommelier?
Poole : I’ve been an oenophile, otherwise known as a connoisseur of wines, since my early 20s and, as with anything I deeply care about, I dove deep into the art and science behind it. After I’d learned the basics, I started becoming an advocate, detailing the flavors and how they interact with food.
Someone asked if I was a sommelier, at the time I wasn’t, and put it on my bucket list to accomplish. I don’t think I’ll ever give up IT to go into the wine service industry, but it’s an excellent main hobby.
Arizona Agriculture: Your parents were both cooks and were inspired by flavors and spices. So, we know that probably inspired you. But you seem to have a deep appreciation for food and flavors. Explain.
Poole : I still blame my parents for my spice addiction. Both heavily spiced the foods they made, whether German, Italian, or homestyle dishes like pot roast and BBQ, each would use blends of pepper, garlic, fennel, oregano, and the occasional bay leaf at the very least.
When one of those spices was missing, or something in the meal was substituted, you could tell. The difference wasn’t bad, but it always felt like a puzzle trying to guess at the change, using each ingredient’s singular flavor to come to a conclusion. It’s like an orchestra, with all the different instruments. If you know how each instrument is supposed to sound you can put together a whole other combination and play a very different and enjoyable song.
Arizona Agriculture: How do you see the relationship between food and wine?
Poole : I take the French approach to wine. I think of it as another spice to accentuate the meal. But as with any spice, you must know how it interacts with the rest of the ingredients. You want flavors that mirror or come close to those already present, or risk throwing things into disharmony. The other thing wine does is act as an astringent, something stripping away layers from your palate. Normally this is an uncomfortable thing, when it’s the only action but, as with oil and vinegar, when you combine this stripping action with the coating action foods with fats in them perform, your palate returns to something of a homeostasis and allows for longer enjoyments of both.
Arizona Agriculture: Talk about the common, basic, layers of flavor or taste in red and white wines.
Poole : Let’s start with white. Your common flavors are going to revolve around apples, citrus, tropical, and stone fruits. Stone fruits are ones with pits (stones) in them – apricots, peaches, and nectarines. Some whites, like typical American Chardonnay, go through a second process called malolactic fermentation that changes the acidic bite into a softer, creamier, taste and feel. Reds have such a big range of flavors, but you can group most into three categories of fruit, red like cherry, raspberry, and cranberry, blue like blueberries and blackberries, and dark fruit like plums, figs, and raisins. Many reds will be oaked, aged in charred barrels, which will also impart vanilla, coconut, and chocolate. Colder climate reds will have more pronounced earthy flavors like soil, leather, stone, and cola.
Arizona Agriculture: Talk about the old and new world tastes of wine and compare the U.S. taste of wine to the old-world taste of wine. That’s part of what you learned as a level one Sommelier, correct?
Poole : Identifying old and new world wines was certainly a fun experience going through the training. It’s probably easier to start with new world wines, those from pretty much anywhere outside Europe, as they are characteristically more fruit forward. Meaning those fruits, I mentioned before for white and red wines are the main star of the show. Old world wines still have those fruit notes but balance with herbal and earth flavors. An example of the difference in whites is an American Chardonnay you’re going to expect a creamy citrus like lemon custard, while the same Chardonnay grape in France, like a Chablis, you’ll get some lime and green apple with a lot of wet stone and granite flavors you might find refreshing in a Perrier or San Pellegrino sparking water. Same with Cabernet Sauvignon, both North and South American ones will be full of cherry, blackberry, and plum, with some green and herbal flavors like bell pepper and sage being common. French Cabs, mostly found in Bordeaux wines, have far more woody and herbal flavors.
Arizona Agriculture: My favorite piece of advice about wine is select what you like. But, once you begin to enjoy wine more, you kind of graduate beyond that. So, what advice would you give a wine drinker when they want to be a bit more sophisticated with selecting wine, certainly not someone that will ever attempt to become a Level one Sommelier.
Poole : The first thing I teach others is the sip-chew-sip technique. It’s a way to get the most out of a good food and wine pairing. Take a sip of the wine, see if you can taste the fruit, herbs, or earth. That’s going to prime your palate for when you take your bite of food. As you’re chewing, but before you take that last swallow, wash the food down with a second sip of wine. That’s where the magic happens.
From there it’s all a big game of finding the things that go together. I advise finding a close wine shop that does tastings. The best way for you do discover what your palate likes or doesn’t is to just try as many as you can. Take a wine journal with you, start being able to distinguish the common flavors from a wine region. From there it only gets more fun.
Arizona Agriculture: So, your profession, IT, is very technical and certainly dependent on developing new technology and then using it. Agriculture is similar. From your IT consultant perspective, where do you see future opportunities for technology development in agriculture. We’re already employing GPS, sensors, highly precise and targeted irrigation systems that reduce water use. Will our advances in technology aid in wine grape growing and wine production especially since we are continuing to mechanize the care of wine grape vines and even harvest?
Poole : My news feed has wine as one of the highlighted topics and the technologies that I’m reading about lately are nothing short of amazing. One that I just read up on was Fruition Sciences’ 306viti, they’ve got handheld and static scanners that are being used in France right now to tell winemakers the health of individual vines so that only the best ones have their grapes crushed together to make award winning Grand Cru wines. All the scans go into a database measuring trends to predict when the best date will be to pick certain vines.
Mechanization is the future. I’ve talked with some growers in California that have these really old Zinfandel head-trained “bushes” that you have to harvest by hand, and many are already or thinking about ripping them all out to change to a trellis system that a mechanical picker can run through in far less time. I’ve heard horror stories of some farmers that couldn’t schedule a team to pick in time and ended up with grapes rotting on the vine, while the mechanical pickers can usually be brought over the next day, which just thinking about that just-in-time processing combined with those vine sensors seems like wine can only get better each year as farmer entrepreneurs and scientists take a lot of the art and turn it into science.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of Arizona Agriculture.
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