Interacting with Sommeliers
How to Interact with Sommeliers at Restaurants
A good sommelier will know his/her wine list and his menus intimately and will be well suited to provide you with selections that will enhance your overall dining experience.
Once you ask questions and the sommelier has an idea of what you are looking for, navigating a lengthy wine list will not seem so intimidating. However, it is always better to have a basic idea of what you are looking for that can be refined with intelligent questions.
Since there is no practical limit on how much one can spend on wine, it is always good to hint or even specify your budget. For example, you could say, “I’d like white wine to go with our starters, something on the drier side, under $40. What do you recommend?” The sommelier will examine his list and usually name of a few selections and their flavor characteristics.
If one of the descriptions sounds just right, order away! However, more often then not, I find myself unable to discern one over the other, at which I point I smile at the sommelier and tell him to bring us, “whatever you think is good.” But never feel pressured to order anything out of your budget. Establish a price limit, and let the sommelier worry about making a selection within your parameters.
When drinking multiple bottles, you can wither order all of your wines at the beginning of the meal or along the way as you progress into your dining experience. If you are ordering nicer bottles, it is a good idea to order your later course wine(s) at the beginning. If the sommelier doesn’t ask you, you can request to have it opened and decanted to let it breathe while you eat your first course.
Of course the more specific you can be with your sommelier, the more you can take advantage of a restaurant with a vast wine selection. Once you get more comfortable conversing about wine and talking about it with some basic level of enthusiasm, ordering wine becomes fun. Too often people ask sommeliers what they recommend with no other information.
After ordering, sommelier will retrieve your selection, and then present it, label forward, to the host of the party. This is merely to verify it is the correct wine. The cork is removed and placed on the table. Unless it is clearly tainted, (the sommelier should notice if it is), do not touch or smell it. Corks smell like cork, not the wine inside.
A small amount will then be poured for the host. Swirl the wine in the glass, smell, and then taste. This is to make sure the wine is not spoiled and is not an opportunity to send back a sound wine that you are not crazy about. After approval, the wine will be poured clockwise to the right, ladies first. The host’s glass will be topped last.
Some sommeliers can have a certain way about them that discourages communication and fosters intimidation. But, their primary role is to serve you, the customer. Confidently approaching this exchange will make for a better dining experience.
Once you have established that you can hold your own, ask sound questions, and be confident when ordering wine, you will not be intimidated by the wine list but excited by it. Remember, know what you like and be mindful of your budget. The sommelier will do the rest.
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