So, who’s the one to taste the wine first?
I’m sure it’s happened to plenty of you- you get a really nice bottle of wine at a restaurant, and someone’s supposed to taste it when it’s opened. Who’s supposed to know what they’re looking for, you?
Honestly, sometimes even I need a little help from my friends (Davide)!
It’s tough! If you don’t know a wine, it can be hard to know if it tastes like it’s supposed to or not. Only professionals really know how to do first tastes like this.
What if… what if we don’t have a professional with us?
That’s where the sommelier comes in! The person serving you is bound to know what it is they’re selling, and can surely help you make decisions.
Anyone know who the sommelier is?
A sommelier’s position is quite complicated, and the job isn’t all wine on the patio like it might seem. Their course of study isn’t easy- they have to pass three levels of expertise and a final exam. Above all, however, they have to taste wines from all over the world. They invest their time, their attention, and… their money!
Of course, there are some extremely comprehensive classes for becoming a sommelier. Basically, think of the Court of Sommelier in America. If that doesn’t sound familiar, you’d probably want to check out the documentary “Somm,” and “Somm: In The Bottle,” which really dives into the intensive studies. More than that, it portrays the grandiose passion that one has to have in order to become a member of the court.
The purpose of the sommelier is to become the translator for the wine. A communicator who mediates between what the wine offers and what the drinker asks. A figure meant to facilitate the dining experience, and to add delight to a meal by creating the perfect pairings between wine, food, and company.
However, this custom has faded from culture a little bit.
The culture of sommeliers today can be, unfortunately, mostly a circle of elites. Inside the circle are wine experts, and outside is everyone else.
Sometimes it seems like sommeliers are making up comparisons, just to let you know how much they know. Like, of course, we all totally know how to detect notes and aromas of cocaine, spiced cyclamen stems, sandwich statues, flower bulbs, camphor, deception, Burmese carob, and David Bowie. I’m not even kidding about that last one- check out the article!
Essentially, a lot of sommeliers can seem like expert-level wine snobs.
What does that even mean?
The wine snobs with their noses in the air might just be people who casually know the difference between a Barolo and a Barbaresco (or something like that), but they feel the need to judge wines with points and numbers just because they know how.
The modern sommelier knows how to leave an impression. But, if you put one to the task, it’s easy to see how they could scoff at a Tavernello when they see it in brik, but not when they come across it in a blind tasting. One could devalue a Lambrusco just to show you what they know, when it’s possible that they’ve only ever tried Lambrusco from a three liter bottle for 89 cents. Maybe one won’t appreciate Prosecco because they drink Champagne. Maybe some are the people commenting “rosé isn’t a real wine” on our Facebook posts! Who knows?
Whose fault is this? We don’t know. I mean, I’m a sommelier- I graduated a few years ago. I can assure you that one of the most commonly repeated words during the courses was “humility”.
And so, I ask myself, why would a figure meant to facilitate simplicity, decide to complicate wine instead?
If you’re at a restaurant, unsure of which wine to choose, go ahead and ask the sommelier. If they’re serious and competent, they won’t disappoint you.
Fortunately for all of us, there are still expert sommeliers available. We just hope that the attitude of “I know the answer and you don’t” comes to an end soon enough.