Good somms know what’s on the menu at their restaurants, and understand how what’s in the cellar will enhance each menu dish. Great somms dig for information from customers, honing in on the best possible combination of food, wine, and customer. Why, then, are so many people afraid of a little chat with the sommelier? Dispel that notion. No need for somm fear. Here’s why.
Somms want you to like the wine you’ve ordered. They want you to be comfortable with all aspects of your choice, from the palate to the price. If they put a wine in front of you that picks a fight with your taste buds, or your food, or that sends your credit card cowering to the back of your wallet, it’s not likely you’ll return for a repeat performance.
It’s the somm’s job to make you happy with your wine choice, returning to enjoy a similar experience, time after time. If you’re not pleased, you won’t return. If you don’t return, business gets slow. When business slows down, you know the drill.
A little tête-à-tête with the person carrying the corkscrew can deliver big benefits. Telling the somm a few things about your preferences significantly increases your enjoyment of the wine you select. Here’s what the somm wants to know about you:
- Are you eating or just sipping? If you’re eating, what are you up for? Your menu choices help determine wine choice. Clueless? No problem. That’s why the somm is there. Fill in the blanks with what you’d like to have on your plate. Perhaps even add whether a special occasion is behind all this, like a birthday, an anniversary, a promotion, or another personal milestone.
- What’s your budget? It’s not necessary to announce your price range to the entire dining room. You can subtly point to a bottle within your range on the menu, and suggest you’d like to stay within 20 percent of that.
- What types of taste do you prefer? Crisp and light? Something with a little substance? A wine you can almost chew? Is sweetness thumbs up or thumbs down? Give the somm a hint about your likes and dislikes.
Conversely, it helps if you understand a few things. Here’s what the somm wants you to know:
- Somms are there to make you comfortable about your wine selection. Of course, they like to hear you order expensive bottles but only if it promises to be a worthy trade off for your hard earned bucks. They would rather steer you toward something they believe you will enjoy, creating an evening you’d like to repeat sometime soon in the future.
- Somms enjoy educating customers about wine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just don’t expect an extensively detailed discussion during the restaurant’s peak service, as there are lots of other tables demanding the same attention.
- Somms like to share. And they deserve your trust, at least the first time. Ask what they’ve been drinking that’s a mind-blowing delight, and you could discover a new favorite they’ve been keeping to themselves.
Like a tour guide through a foreign country, the sommelier can make or break your wine experience. Wine is, in fact, a lot like travel. The more open and flexible you are about your itinerary, whether it’s visiting ruins and museums or navigating a three course wine list, the more rewarding the experience is likely to be. Bon appétit, and bon voyage!