Ask Steve Sanchez what inspired him to undertake the arduous road to receiving his tier two sommelier certification, and he immediately says, “because I’m a masochist.”
Take it one step further, and he admits it was a dare between his buddy and himself, who had joined a wine-tasting club and eventually dared one another to take the test, which was given in four parts and involved theory and service, blind tasting of one red and one white wine, and “a lot of spitting.” Steve began actively studying a year ago, joined a tasting group with blind tasting and hit the books hard for two months ahead of the test that was given in Reno.
“I decided it was time,” he said.
But given a bit of time and reflection, and as he begins to speak about the process of intensive study and commitment required to achieve this standing, what comes across is Steve’s love and passion for wine and for food, as well as his profound understanding of the art of wine and his respect for the role it plays in the fabric of a life well lived.
He’s a bit reticent to talk about the test, because what actually occurs is pretty closely guarded and also because Steve is a humble and gentle soul.
“It’s a crazy thing what this means to some people, and most people if I were to tell them I had this title would ask what it means,” he said, relaying a story he had read about Silicon Valley titans with more money than God, who challenged themselves to complete certification for one reason: to obtain the sommelier pin, the one thing they can’t buy.
“I have the pin, I don’t wear the pin; for me, it’s an accomplishment about what’s in a bottle or glass, and it’s about enjoyment,” he said. “It is not about the titles, it is about putting the right glass in front of people, so they can learn about and enjoy wine.”
There are those people who pay thousands of dollars for a bottle, or who purchase wines to commemorate memories and put it away for a special occasion. Steve notes delicious wines can be found for $20 or less.
“The one constant over time is that wine is made to be consumed, and while there are collectors, or folks keep a bottle around to memorialize a event and some wines actually do improve with age, I tell people they don’t have to spend a lot to get quality,” he said. “Once you get into wine it never stops; you could know everything about every vintage, and each year’s harvest will bring something new, so there is literally no end in learning.”
As far as taking the next steps required, he does have ideas about what he wants to do, though there’s no set time line.
“It is stressful, but I will do it because it’s my passion,” he said.
Steve finds everything about wine, from how grapes are grown and what affects them, right through to bottling, of great interest.
“It is fascinating when you begin to consider the influences such as regional soils, rain fall, temperatures, literally all of that and how you could have the exact same grapes grown a mile apart with variations on all those factors and come out with two completely different products,” he said.
With his certification has come a change in his role at Cafe at Adele’s in Carson City. Chef and co-owner Charlie Abowd now has Steve handling all the wine purchasing, and he’s on the floor each evening ensuring patrons have access to his extensive knowledge, answering questions and making wine pairing recommendations. Steve is now officially an educator and guide for restaurant patrons. And since wine is his passion, he’s thrilled to share with others.
“Steve has an excellent pallet, and he’s an excellent chef with an understanding of food and nuances and how food and wine go together,” Abowd said. “His understanding of food and flavor profiles are as well developed as anyone I’ve known, and in fact I listen to his critiques, and he helps me fashion what I do when preparing a new dish.”
Even in this time when bartenders are transitioning to becoming mixologists, Steve has been working hard to take that to another level.