Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Meet our Sommeliers ~ Cortney

In 2004, while Cortney Lease was working towards her Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry at the University of Washington, she began her adventure with Wild Ginger as a server assistant for The Triple Door. Upon graduation, Cortney moved to England to pursue an education with the Wine Spirits Education Trust in London and found a job working at a wine shop called Odd Bins. In London, her love for wine took on a whole new meaning.

It was at Odd Bins where an unexpected act of benevolence introduced Cortney to her all time favorite bottle of wine- 2001 Château de Beaucastel. One night, while in the midst of recently discovering the Grenache/Syrah blends of Southern Rhône, Cortney raved on about Beaucastel, and the history of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, to a costumer interested in purchasing a bottle of wine. She began to recommend the 2001 Château de Beaucastel vintage, but when the costumer asked if she tried the wine, Cortney admittedly replied she had never been able to afford it. He smiled and asked to purchase two bottles, one for himself, and one for her.

"It was that act of generosity that introduced me to one of my favorite producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, and made me want to share wine with others for a living," says Cortney.

Cortney's fondness for Rhône wines doesn't stop there. She notes, without hesitation, that her favorite variety is Syrah from Northern Rhône and says she appreciates that her current backyard, Washington state, has a rapidly increasing market for this varietal. However, when asked to compare herself to a wine variety, she finds her alter ego is best represented in a Burgundy wine, but jokingly admits she thinks a Loire Valley wine fits her personality best.

"If I flattered myself, I'd say I'm like Pinot Noir because it's smooth, delicate, cerebral yet approachable and loved by all," says Cortney. "However, in reality, I'm more like Chenin Blanc- good structure and complexity, but a little weird and tends to show more immature characteristics with age."

In January, Cortney was named Company Wine Director and oversees the wine departments for The Triple Door as well as both Wild Gingers. The occasional kitchen smells, of cilantro and Sambal sauce, lingering on her clothes when she gets home doesn't stop Cortney from enjoying her job.

"It's always a fun challenge to show our customers how well Asian food can pair with wine," says Cortney. "We have some of the most adventurous diners in that regard."

Her immediate goal is to work her way through the Court of Master Sommeliers to eventually become a Master Sommelier. As of 2011, there are 118 Master Sommeliers in North America; it's not an easy endeavor, however, Cortney is currently a candidate for her Advanced certifiation. As Wine Director, Cortney continues to foster numerous educational opportunities for wine staff and states she's grateful for the focus and long-sightedness Wild Ginger has shown towards its Wine Program over the years.

"Our wine list is constantly evolving and every chance we get we showcase our wine collection with events like the Summer of Riesling," says Cortney.

Yet, working in the restaurant industry isn't the end for Cortney and she says, "down the road, I would love to use my degree in Chemistry to make wine of my own."

What do you think? Years from now, will Cortney end up making a Rhône, Burgundy or Loire Valley inspired wine?

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