Whether it is a special date, celebration or just dinner in a restaurant, most of us will sooner or later be presented with the fear of dealing with the sommelier.
We've all been there, presented with a wine list and the descriptions all start to jumble together. It might as well be ancient Greek. For the easy way out we select the second wine on the list. There is someone who can help!
These days a restaurant does not need to have 3 Michelin stars in order to employ a sommelier, even a gastropub in the countryside will have one or two sommeliers looking after customer drink needs.
The profession has come a long way in the past ten years or so, sommeliers cannot justify being arrogant or biased anymore, they have to be open-minded and listen to the needs of the customer. Forget about French Sommeliers only trying to make you purchase wines from the region they come from. In fact, there are more and more sommeliers from countries that are not producing wines, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Asian countries. One of my previous older customers also commented that he now comes across much more women sommeliers then he used to 30 years ago. The profession is widening.
In fact the last thing that people should do is feel intimidated by the sommelier. Wine knowledge has always been a sensitive subject, however a sommelier is not there to embarrass, but to guide you and help you choose the best wine for your taste, your food and your evening. They are there to help you navigate the complexity of wine and the wine list.
Most sommeliers spend years learning even smallest little details about wine at work and during their free time, as well as attending many training sessions and tastings. Sounds like an enjoyable past time, however imagine having to remember 500+ entries in the winelist, each of it’s taste, food matches and similar style of wines. Majority of the entries are tasted by the sommelier, so it is a good idea to ask as many questions as you can think of! Interestingly, there is a huge difference when a sommelier loves the wine and when they do not think it’s special. You will see the sommelier become very passionate and excited when they adore the wine and you will find them looking for words to describe it when they do not enjoy it themselves.
It is not necessary to describe the wine in a professional matter, you can ask for a match for your food or just use some general descriptive words. Sommeliers are well trained to choose a correct wine using descriptions such as ‘light’, ‘soft’ ‘smooth’ and ‘fruity’. What is more, most sommeliers are not working on commission and customer retention is their priority. Recommending something you will love and enjoy, rather than selling you a ‘past best’ old Bordeaux for a huge amount of money, is what most sommeliers do.
In addition, sommeliers will be pleased and happy if they are able to make you discover and enjoy a wine from a region you have not tried before. Customers are often afraid they will not be able to crack the wine ‘lingo’ when asking for what they want.
Next time going to a restaurant, take your time and use all the help of the sommelier you can get, you may be pleasantly surprised and discover a new wine that will make the evening special, perhaps even your new favourite.
Milda, The Perfect Cellar Team