Erik Neilson on January 13, 2017 0 Comments There are few things that people who aren’t used to fine dining find more uncomfortable than interacting with a sommelier for the first time. This is especially true for those who don’t particularly hold a wide breadth of knowledge about wine, in which case they may feel inadequate or out of place. The fact is, the sommelier (or “somm,” as they’re often called) is there with one single purpose — to improve the dining experiences for you and your guests. If you’re not sure what questions to ask or how to talk to a somm, you’re not alone. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. 5 Holiday Wine Buying Tips From A Sommelier 1. Know the Drill For many people, the sommelier experience is unknown until their first time at a fine dining establishment. Typically, the somm will approach the table when alerted that the party is interested in ordering wine to explain the offerings and answer any questions. Think of the sommelier as to wine what your waiter or waitress is to food, and you’ll get an idea of how your interactions should go. So long as you know what to expect, working with a sommelier won’t be a surprise. 2. Express Your Tastes/Interests One of the largest benefits of working with a sommelier is that it can serve as an educational experience. Most people have at least somewhat of an idea of what they enjoy in a glass of wine and can talk about it to some extent — fruitiness, bitterness, heavy tannins etc. The problem, however, is that people get so nervous when talking to somms that they feel self-conscious about using terms that aren’t wine-centric to express their likes and dislikes. It’s essential to remember that no sommelier ever expects their guests to be wine experts, so there’s no need to feel insecure about talking about what you’re looking for in a wine — in fact, it will help the somm make the right recommendations. 3. Be Open to New Wines It’s very tempting when sitting down to a multicourse meal to choose only wines that you’re familiar with and know you enjoy. After all, adding even just one bottle of wine to a tab can cause a marked increase in the bill, which is enough to cause anxiety from the very beginning of the meal. The fact is, however, working with a sommelier is one of the best ways to experiment with new wines without risk of failure. The chances that you’ll be steered in the wrong direction will be quite low, so if he or she offers a recommendation of a wine you’ve never heard of or tried before, now may be the time to trust the expert in the room. 4. Consider What You’re Ordering Most people know that food and wine can be paired together with a little bit of careful thought and that the results can be stunning. Did you know, though, that the wrong wine can actually sour an entire meal if the pairing is off? Consider being served a crisp, light salad and washing it down with a tannic glass of Monastrell. In this scenario, the wine would completely overshadow the salad and cause the diner to forget it’s even in front of them. Contrary to this, a light-bodied wine will never be able to stand up to a rich, opulent entree. Food and wine pairings are where the somm’s knowledge can really make a difference. Be sure to plan your order before ordering wine, as the menu you create will serve as a guide for the bottles that make it to your table. 5. Ask for “Progressive Growth” In some cases, wine is capable of framing an entire meal from start to finish over the course of multiple bottles. This is often referred to as “Progressive Growth,” which essentially speaks to the notion of starting with the lightest wine (often sparkling) and ending with either a heavy red or dessert wine. Of course, the progression of the meal itself will heavily influence the progression of your wines, which is why it can be so helpful to work with a somm when making these decisions. Note that you can often create a “Progressive Growth” experience via by-the-glass offerings, which can help to save some money at the end of the meal. 6. Articulate Your Opinions It’s easy to assume that the sommelier is too busy to listen to what you have to say about the wines he or she has chosen for you, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The somm wants to know how you feel about the wine you’re drinking, especially if you’re not happy with it. In some cases, wines can be “corked,” which means that they’ve changed in the bottle to the point of no longer being palatable. This is something that simply comes with the territory, and every good sommelier knows this. If you kindly articulate to the somm that you’re not happy with the wine you have in front of you, he or she will most likely make it right. 7. Take Notes! As stated above, one of the reasons to go to a restaurant that allows you to work with a somm is to learn more about wine. It’s easy to assume that you’ll be able to remember everything you drink when dining out and what you enjoyed or did not enjoy, but this information leaves the brain just as soon as it enters it if you don’t take the time to capture it. Bringing a small notepad out to dinner with you is an excellent way to ensure that the bottle of wine you’ve fallen in love with doesn’t get forgotten about, and it’s much more low-key and polite than using a phone to take a picture of the bottle. Sommeliers are becoming more and more ingrained in the restaurant world with each passing year, and to the benefit of everyone involved — especially the dining public. Check your reservations at the door and remember that working with a sommelier should not be stressful. Then, sit back and enjoy the meal.