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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Sommeliers Make Some People Nervous

Believe it or not, sommeliers are not the most beloved people in the wine business.

Consumers sometimes treat us with distrust, disdain and even fear. I can understand that we can be intimidating at times. Some sommeliers are downright snobby and condescending, which is unforgivable and class-less. Those sommeliers should learn some humility and remember their first sips of wine.

But what may surprise you is that we are also treated the same way by many wine producers – yes, those who entreat us to help sell and promote their wines.

I realize that the world of wine can be intimidating to any newcomer. There is the normal trepidation that everyone experiences as they first climb into the deep end of the pool to swim – and sip. People can feel the same way when they are ordering wine in a restaurant or wine shop from someone who is supposed to know a lot more about wine than they do. This fear leads to distrust.

Some think that the sommelier is only there to sell the most expensive bottle of wine to the consumer. Worse yet, the guest thinks that whatever they order isn’t going to impress or be “good enough” for the sommelier to even care about. But in reality, the best sommeliers care deeply about whatever it is you order because their job is to enhance your experience in the restaurant. They can do that by giving great advice in finding a great value on the list, creating a great food and wine pairing, and just being welcoming and engaging overall.

If a sommelier doesn’t do that, he or she isn’t doing their job very well.

On the other side of the coin there are many wine producers that dislike sommeliers and share some disdain for them as well, and for similar reasons. Producers think that sommeliers are too often concentrating their time looking for esoteric wines that no one has heard about so that they can look cool and different among their peers. Admittedly, there are some like this, but thankfully not the majority. They are the “geek sommeliers” who find it important to stand out. Quite often the restaurants they work in are also trying to do different things from other restaurants. So why shouldn’t they run wine programs that are cut and paste?

Producers also have the impression that sommeliers only sniff and swirl – that we are glorified tasters – but we couldn’t sell a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet to save our souls. This again plays into the impression that sommeliers are closed-minded to mainstream wines and that they are always looking at what is cool and in-style, rather than the business end, which is making money.

The best sommeliers know plenty about the business end, as many of them are also partners in the restaurants where they work, or their employment depends upon the success of their business. In fact, one of my fellow Masters does $32 million dollars worth of wine business in a year from where he works. Still think we can’t sell wine?

Sommeliers shouldn’t expect to be loved by everyone. Who is? But it is surprising that the people we can help the most are the ones who treat us the worst.

Recommendations: 2007 Darioush Signature Merlot ($49) This is a most impressive Merlot. It is almost as rich as Cabernet Sauvignon but with more roundness and plump mouth feel. It exhibits a tenderness of red fruit that is unique among Merlots. Very impressive, especially for those who like bigger styles of Merlot. 2010 Lo Nuevo ‘Lunares’ Verdejo ($12) This is quite exotic for Verdejo with fruit leaning towards the tropical spectrum with a very appealing rounder texture than the norm. It is really fun wine and a great value.

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