A visit to a restaurant can be equated with going to the theater. As in theaters, each city has at least five institutions of a different genre, in which a different repertoire is played by certain actors and which are attended by audiences of different levels. In addition, etiquette requires appropriate clothing, demeanor, and at the same time offers various forms of enjoying the performance. Waiters, cooks and sommeliers put on different productions every day, any of us can become a spectator, participant or critic.
Sommelier – King or Page?
You enter a restaurant, take a reserved table with dignity and with a serious expression delve into the menu, as if reading the latest messages about the expected end of the world. The appearance of a smiling sommelier sometimes puts you into a stupor, and you break out in a cold sweat – like in school, when you were called to the blackboard, and you did not know the lesson. Familiar feeling? What does he want from me? What if I don’t know the answer?
Well, in most dictionaries you will find the same interpretation of the word sommelier. A sommelier is a restaurant employee responsible for ordering, storing and selling wines and other alcoholic beverages in a restaurant. He also has an in-depth knowledge of the history, culture of wine serving and food pairing. Make a conclusion yourself – he is here to help you. However, experience has shown that the average restaurant visitor is uncomfortable with the help of a sommelier. Like any self-respecting member of the consumer society, you knit your eyebrows: again someone is trying to foist something on us. Perhaps, in many cases, intuition does not lie, but I will tell you one secret: no self-respecting sommelier will do anything that can harm a visitor who comes to a restaurant to enjoy wine and cuisine. Believe us, we have our own code of ethics.
Prince with a black bow tie
Firstly, the sommelier in the restaurant is not in order to laugh at you (“How, you don’t know which of the two hundred wines in the wine list would best suit your chosen beef carpaccio with shaved black truffles ?!”) Remember that visiting a restaurant is an adventure, and the sommelier’s job is to make it memorable. For example, do you guess that choosing the wrong wine for a particular dish can completely ruin the whole meal? A dish with spicy nuances, which you add with a bitter, astringent (with tannins) red wine, will become almost inedible. But choosing a white wine that has a medium sweetness or fruitiness will create the perfect pairing.
Wine serving is a real spectacle. The way the bottle is opened, the wine is decanted, the way the cork is offered to you for sniffing, the way the wine is served for the first sample – all this is done in order to entertain you. Nothing will delight a sommelier like the question of what is happening at this moment, why and how you should act next time. The sommelier spends most of the day delving into books, so the opportunity to share the knowledge collected over the years with someone is like a breath of fresh water in the desert. The more educated or inquisitive the client is, the more pleasant the communication.
The first step is choosing a wine
You have explored the menu, overcame the embarrassment in front of the sommelier, so the show will start soon! Your first task is to understand in which direction you will plan your meal. In fact, there are only two paths from which you have to make sometimes difficult choices. The first is the gourmet’s way, when the wine is matched to the chosen dish; the second is the path of an amateur, when the choice of wine is primary, and the selected food is only a by-product.
In the first case, the sommelier plays a particularly important role, especially if the client is open to taste experiments. It is the sommelier who will tell you the classic pair of wines for the appropriate dish. But in the wine list there is always some exoticism that will surely refute the stereotypes. For example, did you know that a steak with blood goes great with a variety of white wines, and not all red wines are an excellent pairing with red meat?
The second way, in which the choice of wine is mainly based on your personal experience and desires, will be easier, since before going to the restaurant you already have a concrete idea. In this case, the sommelier’s task is to suggest different options for your chosen wine style, as well as entertain you with some interesting story about the corresponding drink.
Second step – serving wine
Hands sweat, throat dries up and knees begin to tremble … Yes, it’s time to go on stage myself! Participate or observe is, of course, your choice. The wine serving ritual is essential so that you make sure that the wine you have chosen – by the way, often not cheap – is not spoiled and is exactly what you need. If you are not sure yourself, you can ask the sommelier’s opinion.
Remember the moment when the sommelier introduces you to the selected wine. Remember that the one who orders the wine plays the main role in the whole performance – it is he who will communicate with the sommelier, taste, test and confirm the quality and choice of wine. Remember that the sommelier is also only human and makes mistakes, therefore, at the moment when you will be informed about the brought wine, make sure that this is exactly the wine you ordered. If everything is in order, the sommelier will bring the glasses provided for this particular wine and open the bottle. If you choose white wine, make sure to have an ice bucket nearby to keep the wine at the ideal temperature, as this will significantly affect its taste.
The first thing the sommelier will ask you to do is to smell the cork. This is usually done only with natural cork corks – to make sure the wine is not “corky”. If the cork smells like wood, the wine may be spoiled, but if the cork smells like wine, it’s okay. Since cork is not an absolutely accurate test, the next step is wine tasting.
Smell it first. Typical wine aromas are just berries, yeast, tropical fruits, sometimes tobacco and something natural. The main indicator is that the wine should smell nice. A spoiled drink may have odors of damp old wood, mold, and similar odors that are unpleasant to your sensitive sense of smell. They are, of course, natural, but they should not appear in wine notes. Remember that taste goes hand in hand with aroma. The glass does not need to be full for you to savor the wine. Better to let the sommelier fill it several times.
Step three – don’t be afraid to ask and demand
The world is imperfect and a sommelier can have a bad day when he gets up on the wrong foot. Common mistakes or ignorance – let it remain on his conscience, but you have the right to receive only the best quality order. Don’t be afraid to object if there are things that don’t suit you.
You have the right to refuse the brought drink if it is of the wrong temperature. For example, white and sparkling wine should be chilled, red wine has the best taste if it is at room temperature, and cognac, in my opinion, still should not be served in a warmed glass. Also, the sommelier must change the “cork” wine.
And they lived happily ever after
I applaud you if you survived your first baptism of fire! All that remains is to enjoy, rejoice and remember: the wine doctor Petersons advises to drink enough water before going to bed so that the morning after wine libations is sunny and pleasant.