“Sometimes it’s easy to overthink the glass of wine in your hand. It’s not always about how wine looks, smells, and tastes. Long before I truly understood the wine in my glass, I only related to how it made me feel. Did it take me somewhere I had never been before? Could I get a sense of its history? I was transfixed by the elements of weather, earth, and physical hardships that it took to make that particular glass of wine.
Over time, my juvenile notions grew into dinner parties. While it was my passion for wine that drove me to study and want to learn all I could, these parties taught me true appreciation of wine. I had studied so many literal things about wine. Words like terroir, producer, AOC, varietal, and harvest were part of a new language, but a language I quickly realized was only spoken by other sommeliers. So, when I was finally given the chance to go on the floor as the sommelier for a restaurant, I quickly realized this new found language was not the ideal way to connect to our guests. I had to find a way to talk to my audience, and then I remembered the dinner parties. We all have our own way we describe wine. We all have our own language. The key to being a good sommelier is listening and interpreting. Someone might interpret a red wine with overripe fruit as sweet; even though I know most red wines are bone dry. Others might find a particular white wine tart and lacking body, while I know it is just young and too cold.
As a sommelier, I am not just a consumer or someone who loves wine. It is my job to sell wine. And sometimes, in a world of quotas, budgets, and ego it is easy to create a sense of division between seller and buyer. In the most arrogant of situations, the professional forgets they can still learn something. So at the end of the day, I remind myself that we are all enthusiasts.
So I offer the three F’s:
The first question I ask any guest is “what do you drink at home.” This question establishes a baseline and it lets me know what you enjoy as a wine consumer. As a sommelier and salesperson, I have created a wine program that caters to all likes and therefore have a wine selection to satisfy everyone’s personal taste.
I am the first one to advocate stepping out your comfort zone, but until you are comfortable with the salesperson, stick to your guns. Make them make you happy. There is a time and place for adventure.
Experience is everything. An environment where all thoughts and opinions are free flowing and comfortable is central to a memorable wine experience. This comfort comes from good company and a mutual respect for different opinion. You tasted cherry. I tasted raspberry. Well, all red wine tastes like cherries and raspberries. Wine is subjective, so you should have fun debating it. “Is that cherry unripe or just cherry pie?” “Are you really tasting raspberry or is it actually cranberry?” I am amazed on a daily basis by the amount I learn about wine by simply listening to another person’s interpretation.
As a lover of wine, I will certainly agree that some wines are delicious as an aperitif or a digestif. I can certainly start the evening with a glass of rosé and end with a madeira, but most wine is made to be enjoyed with food. I’ve never had a Gruner Veltliner come alive until it was married with fried chicken. The bodacious nature of a vintage Champagne gives balance to a ribeye topped with grilled bacon and morel butter poached lobster knuckle meat. Chablis pairs perfectly with oysters. I could go on and on. Wine is food. Not in any literal sense of vegetable, starch, or protein, but certainly as an accoutrement.
The pairing of food and wine is the beginning of the true adventure. Sure, we have to consider what we are drinking. But most importantly, why are we drinking it, who are we drinking with, and what are we drinking it with?”
– Gary Brown C.S