are you, like the british, terrified of sommeliers?

Friday, October 12, 2012

An article in Drinks Business online reports that “the huge majority of Britons are filled with fear when it comes to ordering wine in a restaurant.” Apparently choosing a bottle of plonk is more intimidating than any other part of the dining experience. The article goes on to note that just slightly over 12% of British diners are confident that they will select the right wine.

This raises more questions than it answers, as usual. And if the British are so wine-shy, after hundreds of years experience imbibing fermented grape juice, how bad is it over here in the U.S.?

As per usual when the topic of ordering wine off an impenetrable wine list is raised, some expert – in this instance a fellow named Gerard Basset, who is currently the reigning world champion sommelier – is quoted as suggesting that diners focus on their own enjoyment, and ask for help. “If you know about wines, then great,” says Basset, “but if you are confused or uncertain about which wine to choose, then take advantage of the help to hand. The waiter or sommelier is there to help.”

Are they really? In too many restaurants, the waiter is either bored or busy, and the sommelier is there to sell you something expensive. There is little time for either of them to indulge in a lengthy discussion about your wine preferences, their wine list, and the menu options. Besides which, you are there to enjoy some good food and conversation with your dinner companions, not to jawbone with some geek about vintage variation and cooperage.

There is an easy way to avoid all of this nonsense, and no sommelier in the world will ever suggest it. That’s why I’m here for you!

The clue is in the first paragraph above. The notion that you must “select the right wine” implies that most wines are wrong. Whether the wine list has a couple dozen or a couple thousand options, there’s just one that’s right. The rest are wrong. And if you order anything but the right wine, you will be mocked by one and all as an ignorant meathead. Or hounded by the local Basset into buying what the restaurant wants to sell you.

Here’s the truth: THERE IS NO WRONG WINE! It doesn’t matter. You could throw a dart at the wine list and find something that would be acceptable. All you really need to do is survey your dinner companions as to whether they prefer white or red. If you have at least 4 people, order a bottle of each for Pete’s sake. The only other decision to make is how much you want to spend. Give yourself a price range per bottle. Select the number of bottles (hint: start with one). Choose white or red. Bingo. You are home free. Order something, anything, and enjoy it.

You can thank me later...

Article here


Anonymous said...

I have started bringing my own favorites from home and pay the modest corking fee. Works for me.

Chad - Wine Club Guide said...

Well, I'll offer this: I have always had good experiences with sommeliers. I tell them generally what I'd like to spend and quickly describe what we might be having for dinner (in broad terms, like, "I'll be having one of your fish and my wife will be having the steak") and almost always they are able to suggest something that will be agreeable to everyone. Of course, if you're on a date, or a business meeting or something, perhaps you don't want to make it known what you want to spend. But I agree with your point. Most wines on a resto list will be fine, and it's better to just be decisive and order and get on with enjoying your meal!

PaulG said...

Chad, clearly you are not British!

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