We’ve all experienced it at least once – wine arrogance from a sommelier, wine steward, server, whomever. I’m going to tell you a quick story.
Suddenly the special date night got a bit scarier. Her eyes darted from the gargantuan leather-bound wine menu up to her date, who looked equally panicked. The sommelier looked them up and down skeptically as he glided toward the table. She stared at the arched eyebrow approaching her and self-consciously shifted in her seat. The sommelier leapt straight into the wine menu, explaining how nicely the $500 bottle paired with that evening’s special.
The couple squirmed a bit and exchanged a glance. “Well, I drink a lot of wine,” she attempted to joke, “but I’m not as well versed as I’d like. I drink Malbec and sometimes Cabernet, would you be able to – “
“Malbec?” the sommelier chided. “From which region? There are many of types of Malbec. As for Cabernet …” As his lecture droned on, she could feel her blood beginning to boil. When she could no longer stand the condescension she stopped him. “Look, we’re not wine snobs. Just bring us this one.”
True [horribly embarrassing] story. You can quickly sour your night out when faced with a sommelier like the one above. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty out there who are known for both their exceptional knowledge and customer service – but there are a number who are known only for the former. While a sommelier’s wine recommendation will enhance your culinary experience, a snooty (snotty) attitude can make you swear off rack of lamb and bordeaux for life in order to avoid the reenactment of emotional and digestive distress that ensued.
Skipping the embarrassing encounter can be as simple as doing some homework, and that doesn’t mean you need to memorize a full wine course on the way to the restaurant. Follow these five simple guidelines and feel comfortable knowing a little preparation can go a long way.
1. Set the right expectations
No matter your preferred source, you’ll be able to get an idea of the establishment’s overall attitude by reviewing the information available from past patrons. Everyone’s a critic in the age of blogging and social media, so a quick Google search should give you a good idea of what to expect. Some places will be known for their relaxed atmosphere and approachable servers, while others definitely will not – knowing the difference is the first step in setting your interaction expectations properly.
2. Review the menu and have an idea of what you’ll be ordering
I understand there are nightly specials, seasonal menus, etc., but if you know you usually enjoy seafood, your sommelier will be better able to assist you in the selection process. When in doubt, fear not, many places are able to cork your first bottle should you decide a switch is necessary for your meal.
3. Know your budget
Going in blindly and asking a sommelier to pick his favorite wine to accompany your beef wellington without setting boundaries will almost certainly guarantee drinker’s remorse when the bill comes around. If you’re afraid of looking cheap, requesting to stick in the mid-range of the menu is generally a safe bet for both your wallet and pride.
4. Arrive with a couple examples
Admitting that your regular reach on the shelf is Barefoot Chardonnay or Black Box Cab is not necessary, but being able to articulate something beyond enjoying a “white” or a “red” is going to get you a bit further in the respect department. If you tend to open up Yellowtail when the girls come over, it’s okay to say you enjoy Australian red and ask if the sommelier might have an appropriate suggestion.
5. Honesty and a smile will go a long way
If you know nothing about wine, go ahead and put it out there right away. Hinting that you’d “love some guidance” or will “trust your expertise” is a gentle way of asking for help while also (hopefully) softening the sommelier with a small compliment. Nothing will set you up for failure with that snooty someone quicker than pretending to know more than you do – and we prefer rosé in our glass rather than on our cheeks.
Q: Ever dealt with a snooty sommelier?
What advice do you have for the rest of us? Please let us know how you handled it – either so we can file it away for future reference – or have a good laugh. 😀