5 Things You should Never Ask Your Sommelier
What is your favorite wine?
This is like when someone asks what is your favorite movie. The question is flawed for so many reasons. Who can pick their favorite movie on the spot? The answer really depends on who is asking. If my 10 year old niece is asking, that answer may differ from the answer I give to someone while on a blind date. Therefore, asking this question will only lead to hearing what they think you want to hear. A sommelier tastes thousands of wines, there is no way he/she could pick one out of thousand. The answer you will get, is probably something they recently tasted and stuck with them long enough to stand out over the past week. Wines are in constant evolution, so the 1989 Petrus the sommelier tasted 10 years ago which was his/her favorite wine, will never taste the same. Bottle variation, time, environment, glassware and the company they’re with all effect the way the wine was received. It will never be the same, so the question is really an open ended question. Finally, the answer you get might not be the one you are looking for. Somms typically like austere high acidic wines. If you are looking for a recommendation on a wine, don’t order what they like, you probably won’t like it. Instead, tell them what you like to drink and then ask for a recommendation based on your favorite styles. If you are sincerely looking to be adventurous, then ask the question and go with what they like; otherwise, don’t ask.
What is the oakiest and butteriest Chardonnay?
Okay some of you might think this is a fair question, especially if you like this style of wine. However, many people who ask this question really do not know what they are asking. They use this particular jargon to seem like they know about wine. They assume they are going to impress the sommelier. The sommelier will smile, hold back an eye roll and recommend the one Chardonnay on the list reserved for this particular guest. The unfortunate part is the Somm will never recommend anything too interesting. If your goal is to start a conversation and receive their honest suggestion on a great bottle of wine, do not lead with this question. They will simply steer you to something that you are familiar with and then recommend you order the lobster.
Did you watch Somm The Movie?
I don’t think there is a sommelier out there that has not watched the movie. There are so few sommelier jobs, I find it difficult to believe there is a somm who has not watched this movie. Come on, it is a well-made movie about their career. The sommelier exam is a life altering examination, there is no way that anyone that has gone through it would not sit through this movie. Those of us in this industry are no more than 2 degrees of separation from that movie. It was the catalyst for the growth of our industry. It’s like asking a 12 year old boy playing with a Star Wars Leggo set, “have you seen Star Wars?”
I had this wine in Italy, do you have it on your menu?
This question is usually brought up by the person who just returned from Italy and is reminiscing on the magical experience of drinking inexpensive house wine from a clay jug in a water glass. “The wine was absolutely amazing and cost like 1 or 2 Euros!” Naturally they ask if they can get it here. First of all, that wine was probably made by the proprietor of the restaurant and most likely not in distribution. Secondly, even if we had the wine it would never taste the same. So much of our enjoyment of wine is made up of our surroundings. Enjoying a glass out of a clay jug in Tuscany while enjoying a three hour lunch without the daily stress of life, will change the flavor of the wine. Drink that same wine at home in front of the TV and the wine will not be the same. Lastly, Italy makes so much wine. It is very unlikely that the wine you had is in US distribution. And if it is distributed, the likelihood of that wine making it to the restaurant you decided to share the story with somm, is virtually .01% of probability.
Is that a dry red wine? I only drink dry wines.
A proper response would be “sorry, but they are all wet.” 99% of red wines on most wine lists are dry. Remember restaurants are not tasting rooms in Temecula. And it will be very unlikely the sommelier will start you off with a port; anyways, ports will usually appear on a dessert wine menu and not the main wine list. I think people say this for the same reason that they ask “what is your oakiest and butteriest Chardonnay?” Their intent is really not to get your opinion but to let the sommelier know how much of a wine aficionado they are. They abide by the ridiculous fallacy that only seasoned wine drinkers drink dry wines. What a load of cockles and mussels! The most revealing thing about these sort of people, is that serve them a blind tasting of red wines, and they will probably pick the one with the highest RS as their favorite. The lesson here is to only asks questions you want answers to, do not ask leading questions. Do not use the question process to overcome your wine insecurities. Remember, wine should be enjoyed, shared with friends and pretentious free. A good sommelier is not pretentious and only wants to turn you on to a new experience. Let them, ask the right questions and do not try to show off.