Photo courtesy of Chris Tanghe
As a kid just out of high school, one who had already worked his way up from dishwasher to sous chef, Chris Tanghe knew culinary school would be his next step. Then, his introductory classes at the Culinary Institute of America taught him how much he wanted to know about wine.
There was just one problem. He wasn’t yet legal drinking age. He had to wait a few years to start the introductory classes of the Court of Master Sommeliers, an international organization with a notoriously grueling, obsession-fueling, years-long series of study. (The “massively intimidating” process even inspired a new documentary film playing at SIFF this weekend.)
Only a few experts make it through the final invitation-only level of the exam, where candidates have three years to pass the required three sections of theory, blind tastings, and wine service. The effort paid off for Tanghe this year, when he was one of the four people awarded the Master Sommelier certification when the test was held in Aspen earlier this month. Sixty-three candidates from three countries made the attempt. (Thomas Price of the Metropolitan Grill, who shares a study group with Tanghe and James Lechner of Bastille, was one of the 11 Master Sommeliers named last year.)
Practically, it shows that Tanghe — who just left his position at vino-centric RN74 to become wine and service director for Jason Stratton’s in-the-works Aragona — can discern the origins of just about any glass of wine after a single sip, and can expertly handle, discuss, and pair different vintages, as well as running other practical aspects of a restaurant’s wine service. Emotionally, it’s a jubilant win for Tanghe and the rest of Seattle’s tight-knit sommelier community, where regulars meet up for intense weekly study groups, memorizing obscure facts and teasing out the subtlest distinctions between their drinks.