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Notes from a Sommeliere -- Pet Peeves

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Lately there has been a deal of bitching and moaning http://www.slate.com/id/2191912/ about restaurant waitstaff and wine service.

Having been on both ends of the wine bottle (see my previous entry), I can tell you that the feeling is often mutual. If you ask restaurant wine staff for their pet peeves about customers, these are some of the things you'd hear:

They talk dry, but drink sweet.
People say, "I want a nice, dry white wine with these soft shell crabs." But when you bring them a tangy Sancerre and they taste it, they wrinkle their nose and make it clear that they what they want is something much sweeter. Like white Zinfandel.

Speaking of white Zinfandel...
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, "how come you don't have any white Zinfandel on the wine list?" I'll tell you why: Zinfandel is a red wine.

"And bring me an ice bucket."
Most white wine served straight from the refrigerator is already way too cold. You need to let it warm up for a few minutes to be able to taste it properly. Asking for an ice bucket when the wine is already the temperature of a frozen ice pop does not make you look cool. It tells everyone that you are a wine newbie.

Sommeliers don't have to look like dead presidents.
Nowadays, your sommelier many very well be young, female, a person of color or all of the above. So, please don't ask me to send out the sommelier. I am the sommelier. (Actually, I am the sommeliere, but we need not go into the gender of French nouns.)

"How did you become a somm?"
I studied for it. In my previous careers, no one ever asked me how I got an MBA in Finance or an MA in Linguistics. But show them you know something about wine, and they think you had a private audience with the god Bacchus.

"I don't want to sound like a wine snob, but..."
When the good old boy finally figures out that his sommelier is a woman, he will often feel the need to show off his wine erudition. Sorry fellas, it does not impress me, especially when you mispronounce Duval Leroy. (No, it's not Lee-Roy!)

Brand name Champagne.
The reason that the Champagnes you see in the media are the most expensive is not necessarily because they are the best. It's because they spend a fortune on advertising. If you really know Champagne, you know that some of the best are the ones you never heard of. (Henriot Brut Millesime, anyone?)

"I ordered Burgundy, how come it's white?"
Your burgundy tie may be purple, but the Burgundy region of France makes wine in two colors, red and white. (For those of you keeping score at home, the red is Pinot Noir and the white is Chardonnay).

Speaking of Chardonnay...
When I suggest a good unoaked Oregon Chardonnay to go with a seafood dish, I often hear, "I don't like Chardonnay." Buy a clue: What you don't like is the cheap, oak chip-soaked, artificially sweetened Chardonnay that you've been drinking. Try spending a few more dollars per bottle and you'll find that you like Chardonnay just fine.

Take your time ordering wine.
But don't linger over the wine list for half an hour. Tell me what you like in a wine and I will suggest something for you.

Order an expensive bottle and send it back.
Nothing says "arrogant poseur" like someone who orders an expensive bottle, takes a big slug and sends it back, claiming the wine is "off." Especially if it's not.

Smell the cork.
When you rent a bicycle, do you smell the seat? If I hand you a cork and it's mushy, then you should smell it. Otherwise, just finger it and put it down.

"I'll pour the wine myself."
That's fine for most somms, as it takes the pressure off us. But don't whine that your servers neglected you and leave a niggling tip.

Complain about corkage fees.
Most restaurants, for obvious reasons, do not allow you to bring in a bottle that they already have on the wine list. And please do not bring that bottle of $5.99 plonk that you found in the bargain bin of the 24 -hour drug store, and then bitch about the $20 corkage fee.

I'm from the restaurant and I'm here to help you.
Unlike the government, I really do want to help you. I want your wine and dinner to sing in pure harmony. So take advantage of all the years of wine knowledge that I have and ask me questions. Just not dumb ones.

It felt really good to get all that snarking off my chest. Stay tuned for my next blog, when I return to my usual helpful persona.