Lecturer and coach Cheryl Stanley ’00 and her Cuvee team took first place on Saturday at an international wine tasting competition, the ninth-annual Science Po International Tasting, held at the Champagne region of France.
The Cuvee team included Sarah Dewitt ’17, Warner Hazel ’17 and Mathew Guarani ’18, all students in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
Cornell Cuvee, Cornell’s Wine Education and Blind Tasting Society, trained hard for the competition, meeting twice a week to participate in practice exercises.
“This involves presentations so members of the different teams can become subject matter experts,” Stanley said. “We do blind tastings in practice so the students can practice and compare wines of the world in a blind tasting context.”
The members also work hard outside of practice, including attending special seminars and tastings when guest speakers come to campus for Introduction to Wines and Beverage Management, Guarani said.
“My team members and I met a few times outside of Cuvee to divide the content and make experts in certain topics so that we weren’t all studying the same content,” Guarani said. “We also had help from other cuvee members who held blind tastings outside of cuvee to prepare for their own competitions.”
Cornell Cuvee beat out Oxford University, Agro Paris Tech, Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Saint Andrews and several other teams at SPIT.
“The experience was surreal,” Dewitt said. “I can’t imagine I’ll do anything like it again in my life. I just feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity, not only to study wine and compete internationally, but also to win against the French on their home turf.”
Cornell University first competed at SPIT in 2015, finishing in ninth place.
“The experience pulls not only on basic wine knowledge of grapes but also on world geography, method of production for both still and sparkling wine, vintages and their associated climatic conditions, food and wine pairing and worldly producers, such as Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau de Beaucastel,” Stanley said.
The first round of the competition consists of three sets of questions based on champagne, red wine and white wine.
“First, we answered written theoretical questions and questions based on four wines that are poured blind,” Dewitt said. “Scores are then calculated and the top three teams, traditionally, make it to the final round, which involves presenting two blind wines to the panel of judges. The presentation has to include sight, smell, taste and food pairing as well as an identification of the grape varietal, producer, region and vintage.”
This year, Cornell Cuvee tied for third place and had to complete a blind taste off with Essec, where they were expected to identify grape varietal, producer, region and vintage.
“The coordinators hadn’t prepared for this, since it has never happened in SPIT history,” Dewitt explained.
Because neither team got any portion correct, both were allowed into the finals.
The final round consisted of two wines, one sparkling and one still. Teams were expected to determine what the wines were, pair them with food and present the two blind wines to a panel of judges.
Guarini was selected as Cornell’s presenter.
“His presentation was eloquent and to the point, which the judges appreciated,” Stanley said. “With his previous studies at The Culinary Institute of America, his wine pairings showed creativity and thoughtfulness in relation to the wines.”
So far, Cuvee has competed in the qualifying round for the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup and SPIT. They will be competing at Cav’it — another Champagne competition hosted by Ruinart — and Millesime, a Swiss competition hosted by Lausanne, a hospitality school in Switzerland.
“I’m incredibly thankful to Cornell and the School of Hotel Administration for supporting Cornell Cuvee and our competing teams,” Guarani said, adding that the team’s coach serves as “a role model” for the entire team.