Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
- 4150 North MacArthur Boulevard, Irving, Texas, 75038, U.S.A.
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2002
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Erna’s Elderberry House, Oakhurst, California; Restaurant Serenade, Chatham, New Jersey; Liquorama Wine Cellars, Hyde Park, New York; Grapevine Wines & Spirits, Little Rock, Arkansas
- Many, Louisiana, USA
- Bachelor of Science, International Trade and Finance, Louisiana State University; Culinary degree, Culinary Institute of America; Diploma, Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Certified Wine Educator, Society of Wine Educators; Certified Tea Specialist, Specialty Tea Institute; Certified Sake Professional, Sake Educational Council
“It’s always fun to have a blank slate,” says James Tidwell of the enjoyment – and challenges – of devising the standout wine program for the new signature dining experience, LAW, at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. As Master Sommelier for the Resort since 2002, Tidwell knows quite a bit about the preferences of Resort guests and locals, as well as how to encourage them to dazzle their palates with something they may not have previously considered.
For LAW, whose menu is lined with delicacies from “land, air and water,” Tidwell worked to satisfy management desires for a wine list with something for everybody, though he notes that the wine-consuming public “is not an everybody. Baby boomers and millennials are buying more wine than anybody right now, but they have very different buying habits.”
The wine list Tidwell created for LAW ranges from 250 to 300 selections. Playing off the restaurant’s focus on Texas-produced ingredients, it starts with a page of Texas wines – “a hot topic in the wine community these days” – and finishes with dessert and fortified wines. In between is, well, something for everybody, albeit divided into three sections for ease of perusal at the table.
First comes “Cool Kids,” which Tidwell describes as “wines that are more experiential and experimental” to tempt foodies, sommeliers and younger diners thirsty for something other generations might eschew. Next comes “Popularity Contest,” with more visible wines that diners are likely to recognise from wine stores and the press. And last comes “Mature Wines” with a nice, meaty selection that is sure to be well thumbed by diners hungry for the steakhouse and chophouse-style offerings on LAW’s menu.
Which section excites Tidwell the most? “All three!” he says. “I knew what wines I wanted on the list, but it took me a long time to decide how to organise them.” The beauty of the list, he continues, “is that it really allows us to highlight what is going on in the wine world. We’re editorialising on it rather than just reporting it.” He also consults on the restaurant’s locally focused cocktail and beer programs.
Tidwell has had quite a bit of experience creating new wine programs during his time with Four Seasons. Over his continuing tenure with the company, he has helped open or reopen restaurants at several Four Seasons properties, including the popular Culina, Modern Italian at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
It also encompassed shedding wine inventory from LAW’s long-running predecessor, Café on the Green, which regularly offered close to 700 wine selections. “Selling wine inventory is one of the most difficult aspects of a re-conception,” Tidwell explains. “Wines that suit one restaurant are not necessarily going to suit another, and you can’t just sell a collection overnight. But we really did quite well with it. By the time Café on the Green closed for remodeling, the inventory was down to around 150 selections, and when it reopened as LAW we had very little that we no longer needed.”
Raised by an evangelical minister in small-town Louisiana, Tidwell fell hard for cooking at a young age and earned a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, from which he graduated with honours. After dividing time between wine shops and the kitchen, he decided that wine held the most appeal.
Tidwell has pursued his profession to the fullest, with particular focus on education and enhancing the talents of sommeliers within Four Seasons and elsewhere through his involvement with the Court of Master Sommeliers. “As the popularity of wine continues to grow, it is important for sommeliers to grow with it and distinguish themselves with their knowledge and abilities,” he says.
His run at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas has really been remarkable, as he transformed the property into one of the company’s most exciting destinations for wine, as well as a standout for the same in the industry across the US. Under Tidwell’s leadership, the Resort was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program five times from 2011 to 2015, while he himself was a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in 2015.
Each August, the Resort hosts TEXSOM, which has grown into a must-attend event for sommeliers from around the world. Indeed, thanks to the Four Seasons setting and Tidwell’s tireless efforts, TEXSOM has become the largest sommelier conference anywhere. Tidwell is also behind the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, held in February. In 2016, an international assemblage of 72 judges gathered at the Resort to consider 3,200 wines and award 2,133 medals.
Meanwhile, Tidwell remains one of just over 140 Master Sommeliers in the Americas. His intimate involvement in wine education and the North American wine scene pairs with the ever-expanding focus on beverages in Dallas and across the Four Seasons portfolio. He is a sommelier representative on the company’s core wine committee and corporate beverage committee.
So how does Tidwell like to spend his time when not focused on the new wine list at LAW? “Lately, I’ve been buying a lot of older wine books to use for research,” he says. “I have such a fun job. It’s a hobby, a passion and a profession at once.”