Smith wins sommelier distinction |

Smith wins sommelier distinction

Annie AddisonSpecial to The Aspen Times
Sommelier Jason Smith, in Montagnas wine room, received a $1,000 scholarship after taking first place in a renowned competition. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

It was a very good year for Jason Smith, who usually says those words about the wines he serves to patrons at the Little Nell.Now, patrons will lean in a little closer when the Montagna restaurant manager has something to say about wine. Smith won first place in the world-renowned L’Ordre Mondial National Young Sommelier Competition.Along with the distinguished title of Best Young Sommelier in America, Smith won a $1,000 educational scholarship. He plans to use it for the next test to become a master sommelier. If he passes, he will become one of about 100 master sommeliers in the world.

“If there’s any money left over, I might buy a bottle of nice wine,” joked Smith of the $1,000 prize.The sommelier competition promotes the expertise of young wine professionals and encourages mastery of wine and spirit knowledge; it is conducted by the U.S. chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers.It’s not for the kind who enjoy a glass of wine now and then or believe wine can be served in shorts and flip-flops. It is highly doubtful the wine-loving characters in the movie “Sideways” would even get close to entering the doors of the competition.

The competitors must wear a business suit or a tuxedo with black tie as they compete in such categories as theory, practical services and blind tasting. Theory includes a written exam on all areas of wine, such as production laws, viticulture, vinification and even knowledge of cigars. Competitors must also show skill in decanting, champagne service, appropriate glassware and other tasks. Lastly, competitors must go through a blind, timed tasting of six wines, while being scored on the assessment of sight, nose and palate, as well as variety, region and vintage. That’s a lot to keep in mind, but Smith didn’t sweat it.

“My strong point was service; I kept a cool head about it. I know how to take care of customers the best that I can,” he said.Part of that came from working at Montagna, where he’s been since November, and from his education at the Culinary Institute of America in New York.Here’s a tip from Smith if you’re looking for some good wine with your dinner: Go with a selection from the Burgundy region of France.”The pinot noir is really nice; you can get an incredible flavor out of it,” said Smith.