Walking into your favorite restaurant should be an amazing experience; sitting down with friends, family or work colleagues and enjoying a fine selection of wine. But it is possible that just looking at that wine list leaves you wondering where to start.
If you’ve never talked to a sommelier before then now is a good time to try. They know a whole lot about wine and - what’s more - they’re more than happy to share that knowledge with you.
The role of the sommelier
Let’s start with three general misconceptions:
1. They’re only there to sell you the most expensive wine possible
2. They will push products they can earn the most commission on
3. Their job is to show off and sound pretentious
Rather, the role of the sommelier is to guide you to the choice of wine that matches your taste and budget and your favorite styles.
Sure, the sommelier is generally only present at mid- to high-end restaurants but that doesn’t mean they are only for the rich and famous or they can’t be bothered with someone looking at the lower end of the wine list.
Most will receive commission based on the wines they sell but that doesn’t mean all they’re going to do is sell you top-shelf wines, however (or if they are then you’re not dealing with a good sommelier). A sommelier is there to help everyone find the perfect wine – and here’s where you can help them.
Getting to know each other
Let’s take a look at the things you should be asking so saying to the sommelier so you can get the best wine to match your palate and your meal.
Ask them what they believe to be the best choice from the list. Keep in mind that this is only a good idea if you’re willing to expand your horizons a little or if you don’t have a preference for any style or flavour profile of wine. You never know what the sommelier is going to suggest, after all, and while you’re not obligated to take their first recommendation (or any for that matter) it’s generally considered good taste to do so.
If you have a preference for any aspects of the wine that you would like to choose, start by expressing your likes and dislikes in a polite but candid way. There are several different aspects of a great wine relating to the grapes, the color profile, sweetness, intensity, acidity and pricing. Think about the following:
- What is your favorite and least favorite type of grape?
- Do you prefer red, white or rosé wines?
- Do you like a dry wine, a sweet wine or a ‘dryish’ wine?
- Do you like a light wine or a rich wine?
- Do you like acidic wine or non-acidic?
- Which wines would you consider your favorites or least favorites?
- What price range would you like to stay in?
They may ask you also about the type of food you’re eating, but it’s not necessary for you to pair the wine with your food in the traditional sense. Once they know these factors about you, your preferences and your meal, they can point out a few different options that will work well.
Keep in mind that it’s about how open you are to trying new things as well and your preconceived notions or understandings about wine may not be true all the time - there are always exceptions to every rule.
Things Your Sommelier Wishes You Knew
There are things you absolutely should know about wine and that your sommelier definitely wishes you knew. After all, their position is commonly misunderstood and when you can recognize the myths from the truths, you’re going to be a whole lot better off with your wine pairing.
Not all wines must be aged for a long time so trust that your sommelier knows which wines need a good amount of aging time and those that do not. Go with their recommendation of a wine with a very short vintage that they know is going to be a great choice for you, based on your preferences.
Not all wine rules need to be followed. A good sommelier will be able to combine common conventions with your palate to create the right combination. Trust their recommendation even if it doesn’t comply with common convention.
Choosing the right wine is difficult for even the most experienced wine lover. That’s what the sommelier is there for. Whether you have a high budget or a low one, whether you prefer dry wines or sweet and whether you have all the information about your preferences or not, the sommelier can definitely give you the advice that you’re looking for. Even better, it’s advice you can use at dinner and forever after.