The SOMM Journal
planet grape by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
FOR SOMMS ON THE FLOOR, HOSPITALITY COMES FIRST
Food servers have it down to an art, whether by training, instinct or experience. No server would earn big bucks by selling the restaurant’s food with ego-infused technical geek speak. Beyond that, no chef would tolerate it. Sure, on occasion they might ramble on with time-consuming, tedious detail about oak moss vapor as required by their maitre d’ or chef, but for the most part, servers use appealing language that gets the mouth watering and builds anticipation.
It is time for every sommelier to be required to be a server first. The very nature of the job is to serve wine, after having sold it. The number one requirement of the sommelier is to make offerings available that are appropriate with the meal, that showcase the food, that elevate the experience and ultimately, that flatter the chef.
While there may be a smattering of clientele that select a restaurant based on its wine list and sommelier – Philippe Jamesse and Les Crayeres comes to mind – most folks choose a restaurant for its food. Wine is an add-on and should be described with as much sex appeal as the food.
For years I have coached upcoming sommeliers to refrain from lab words like “fat,” “tannin” and “acid” tableside, noting that by a sommelier saying, “this wine is acidic and bitter so it will cut the fat of the dish,” they are is implying rightly or not the dish is high in fat, not a good sales technique. This is an easy fix. The larger problem is the ego.
Late last year I was invited to judge SOMM SLAM at the ICC StarChefs convention in Brooklyn. The finalists represented the USA’s top establishments at the highest level of fine dining. What was shocking was that when it was time to “sell” the pairing, all but one of these top somms used technical geek speak and long-winded stories about why they liked the wine, leaving out why it worked with the dish and why the guest would enjoy it. Only one spoke with passion and humility, clearly demonstrating the disappearing art of salesmanship and hospitality. Hospitality is about welcoming the guest as is they were coming into your home. Hospitality is not about showing off an encyclopedic knowledge of minutiae about wine. Unless the guest wants to tap your vast knowledge, keep it to yourself. In the meantime, listen to your server next time you are out and pay attention to their skills and savvy at getting your mouth to water and wallet to open.