GUIDANCE WITH THE GODDESS – More on Wine in Restaurants

wine book cover
Catherine Fallis Master Sommelier, aka grape goddess

Yeah, the Wine is Here!

When the sommelier approaches with the bottle, scrutinize the label. Make sure it is the exact wine that you ordered—vintage, region of origin, varietal if noted, etc. Often if the
wrong bottle is presented to you, it is the result of a miss-shipment from a distributor. More often than not these are honest mistakes. Ultimately you are paying. Act within your own comfort zone, but do try and take a look at the label just to be sure. After the sommelier has poured a small taste for you, pick up the glass, take a quick sniff, and quick taste, and just nod your approval so that they can move on to their other duties including filling the glasses of your guests. It is good form to expedite this process. You are simply assessing the soundness of the wine.

What To Do When they Hand You the Cork
Smile and politely accept it. Look at it, roll it around in your hands, even squeeze it if you like. There is no need to sniff it, however, unless you enjoy the smell of natural cork bark or plastic. Just set it down, and hopefully the wine steward will ask if they may remove it from the table for you. This is one of the many traditions surrounding formal wine service. Since you are paying for the bottle, you have a right to watch the opening and cork extraction, and to physically examine the closure. Just keep in mind that the only way to tell if your wine is corked, or tainted by TCA, is to smell and taste the wine itself.
If you sense there is something wrong, engage the sommelier in a conversation about it, and make a quick decision. If you simply just do not care for the wine, remember that your guests come first. Try and suck it up so that they are not kept waiting.

Don’t Delay
The worst thing you can do is to send a wine back after the fact, or several minutes after you accepted it and had it poured into your glasses. Now there is no way for the restaurant to recoup the cost of that bottle. If you reject it at your first taste (and if the wine is not faulty-perhaps you just didn’t care for it or it wasn’t what you were expecting) the open bottle may be sold off by the glass, “comped�? to regulars or VIPs, or tasted with the staff at the end of their shift. By all means, send back the wine as you would a piece of undercooked fish, if there is something wrong with it. Be open, apologetic, charming, and frank. It’s your dime, but don’t be a wine bore.

Get More
A good sommelier will keep your glasses half full, and will be at the ready with additional bottles. The sommelier should present a new glass to the host with each new
bottle, for the host to check for soundness. A top-notch sommelier will ask the host if they would like new glasses set around for each bottle, but this is not necessary if the wine is similar. When entertaining Europeans, be aware that there are certain superstitions about mixing different bottles of wine in the same glass. Also don’t overlook dessert wines. Save room for a small sip of sweet nectar with, or instead of dessert.

The Golden Handshake
Sommeliers are compensated usually with a percentage of their sales plus a small base salary. They rarely are in the servers tip pool, though most guests assume they are.
If you are pleased with the sommelier’s service and would like to give them a little something extra, please tip them directly. It is rare that they are given a percentage of the server’s gratuities, even if you indicate this on the check. If you order a very expensive bottle of wine and don’t want to leave the standard 15% or generous 20% on the bottle, simply say this to the sommelier and place cash in their hand.

Dealing with a Snobby Sommelier

What do you do when faced with a snooty sommelier? Take a deep breath, try to relax, and concentrate on the fact that you are the one spending the money. You are the customer. Remember, it’s your dime. Take your time. When you are faced with a snooty sommelier, one who prides themselves on their knowledge of irrelevant minutiae about wine, try your very special extra best to establish a rapport. Think of something to make them crack a smile. Come on, I know you can do it. Bite the bullet. This may not be easy the first time around, but after a while it becomes a game.

Can’t Get Them to Smile? Okay, Try This.

Ask their names. Smile warmly. Look into their eyes. They are Earthlings just like you. Ask for their opinions. Listen to their advice. If they start to drone on in hideously boring wine speak, smile and look down into your menu until they go away. Then you know you must divide and conquer on your own. Again, just relax, and get on with it. Say “It’s just fermented grape juice�? three times and click your heels together.

Excerpted from the grape goddess guides to good living, “Wine in Restaurants�? with permission from the author.
�?2003 Catherine Fallis MS, Planet Grape LLC

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