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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently obtained a certificate awarded to Leonard Martin James in 1956 from the Chevaliers du Tastevin. Is there anything you can tell me about the Chevaliers and Mr. James? Is it rare for an Englishman to be recognized by the Chevaliers?
—David, Cambridge, U.K.
La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of the Knights of a Wine-Tasting Cup) is kind of a secret society of Burgundy fans, founded in 1934. You might recognize the word “tastevin"—it’s the silver, shallow metal cup used to evaluate wines in dark cellars, and now sometimes regarded as sommelier bling.
Back to the Chevaliers du Tastevin. The organization started as a way to promote the wines of Burgundy, a sort of tourist initiative and branding fraternity. There’s lots of ceremony to the organization. Member wear colorful, scholarly red and yellow robes; they sing Burgundy drinking songs over elaborate dinners; there are wine tastings, events and contests, which might be where the certificate comes in.
It might sound surprising that there is such an organization, but exclusive wine and gastronomic societies have existed for hundreds of years, and many still exist today, like the Commanderie de Bordeaux. I’m not allowed to be a member because I’m a cartoon character. More than that, you have to be sponsored by existing members. There are written and oral exams to pass, and you better have an impressive collection and knowledge of wine.
It’s not going to be easy to track down Leonard Martin James. There are currently 12,000 members around the world now, and undoubtedly have been several multiples of that number throughout the organization’s history. The only thing you can be sure of is that Leonard Martin James is a guy with three first names who probably loved the wines of Burgundy.
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