Somm in the City – Good Days & Bad Days



Somm in the City – Good Days & Bad Days

As a sommelier I start every month by counting bottles. Or depending on the business, I end the month with the dreaded count. But it happens. Every month.

When people get googly eyed when I tell them I am a sommelier, I tell them there are good days and bad days. Inventory is never the best.

The best, for me, is when things are busy. When people are willing to try the lesser-known grape varities. Or when people tell me that the wine I helped them find on the list was one of the best ones they have ever had.

Often it is hard to tell what the night has in store when I look at the numbers late in the afternoon. I have seen it difficult to get through 80 covers or a breeze to do 130. There have been nights when there were only 60 covers in on the books, one waiter is sent home by 7, but 8 the place is packed. “Walk-ins” we call them. Where did they come from? Did the waiter tell them to come in until after their shift was over? Hard to tell, but that is when things get interesting.

When we are that busy, I see it as that scene in the Matrix where Keanu Revees is “learning” to fight Lawrence Fishburne. The screen is white, save for two in battle. Keanu is effortlessly ducking, blocking and hitting back, yet his face is calm and collected.

Sometimes if I am lucky during the best time of night, someone will ask me about the Encruzado on the list. Or what the Grillo is all about or tell me they want to try the Frappato. That’s when I get pulled back into the Matrix, smile and tell them that they should hand me the list, I will pour for them. That they have found exactly what they came for.

Once we see beyond the few dozen grapes we are most familiar with, there are great wines to be had. Sometimes in lesser-known areas, and usually from unheard of producers is where the magic happens. But that magic moment is rare. People don’t often pick them out. Ask any sommelier about these grapes hidden in a good wine list and they will be the one googly eyed.

Other times, busy or not, people ask me to pick a wine for their meal. It could be a party of four that wants a white to start and a red to finish. This provides some time to shop around the cellar myself, and find the wines that remain hidden on the list. Why is that Ontario Chardonnay still sitting there? Will someone please try that Portuguese Syrah?

There are a few questions I like to ask to get some guidelines such as, “what don’t you like? Is there any place in the world you what to focus on? Is there a particular grape you like?” But my very favorite thing to know is price range.

With that knowledge I will always come back with a few selections of white and a red. Wine is not only about taste. Millions of dollars are spent on marketing and labelling, so visually it helps if a wine label is appealing, even though it will be put into a decanter and sit on the table!

People like to look at the wine selection I have whittled down for them. They ask their own questions and I relate the stories of the wines. Sometimes there is help from the other guests. One of the friends might have had one of the bottles before or maybe heard something about that producer and are keen to finally try it.

But the relationship that’s most important at this stage, is the one made between the guest and myself. Hopefully he or she is comfortable with me, they like the suggestion and might even thank me for it. And sometimes, to top it all off, one of the guests at the table will tell me how much he loved the wine and tell me it was the best they ever had!

So I will bring the bottle back and suggest that they take a picture of the label. I will also write it out on a card, and where and when they had it.

These are the fine details that I have found people enjoy. It personalizes the experience and helps them to recall that place they had that wine. And it will help to better explain the wines they like to the next sommelier they encounter (who very well may need some extra help if you find them around inventory time!)

Happy drinking.




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