Okay, so the theme today is about Sommelier, or Wine Waiter? Something else seems to have changed in our wonderful, colourful, as if you hadn’t noticed, world of vinous opportunities. The meaning of both these titles or job descriptions (it does sound a bit like an advertisement in the window of the job centre) have apparently changed, for the better or maybe for the worst, depending on which side of the table you are sitting on. So, for those of you who can be bothered to read most of my rubbish, and for those unfaithful enough, and who have left the readership (probably with good reason), ciao for now!
Everyone else please sit down, grab a decent glass of Riesling (up to you of course) and let me explain something that has crept up on us, or is it just me? (probably so!)
I was always lead to believe (how innocent am I?) that the Sommelier or a Sommelier, is the person responsible for serving the wine in a restaurant or a hotel with a wine cellar to speak of. Usually, he or she is the person in charge of the wine(s) and hopefully the wine service as well. A wine steward, we could say. I am understanding the origins of the word, Sommelier, go way back to Middle French, Soumelier, or Sommerier (Somier means pack animal. Or more recently, 19th century, it could mean an official in charge of the transportation of supplies) So, how is it that in 2017, today, I can go to lunch or dinner in a lovely restaurant somewhere, normally in Buenos Aires or in London (lucky olde me) as those are my two main stomping grounds. Where, if I have to ask for the wine list, as if it has not already been presented of course. And, if the establishment is a good one, the wine list can be really quite an extensive programme. I like that. Now, me being me, I do sometimes like to get stuck into reading the old ‘wine list’ to see where it`s going, and what bottle (or bottles) am I going to order with the meal, after all it is quite a responsibility, and maybe why the person in charge of the wine purchasing has chosen this or that wine, whatever the interest is? Also, maybe to learn a little of a new wine or a new vintage. Who knows, but it’s part of the treat of dining out, for me. As most of us know in this business, there is a way of reading a wine list so that one does not fall into the preverbal trap or the `buco soldi` (hole in the ground to only throw money into). It can seem like a game of wine choosing, vinopoloy? So sometimes, one has to keep a polite eye on one`s guest(s) while dabbling through these vinous pages, without causing too much offense. I have learnt that if one does the odd, oooH and the odd ahhhH, and what would you think about trying something from North Africa?, can keep one’s dining partner(s) contemplating in that moment as apart of the decision making. Of course if I am with a chum who has a good wine knowledge, I would also like them to chose the wine for us to enjoy.
So, after a few minutes go by, a waiter, who thankfully is still doing what we expect of him as his job title would suggest he does. And when I come across a good waiter, a ‘proper sensible’ one that is, as you know it is an unbeatable and good moment (rare). The waiter will sometimes come up to the table and say, “would you like to see the sommelier“, or “do you know what wine you would like to order“. Well, … I do know what I want to order, but “can I ask the sommelier a question?“ about the vintage, or does he have another wine that I may have missed, or that he or he/she can suggest? “No problem“ comes the reply. Time goes by, and I am getting a little bit thursty by now and the waiter comes back to the table and says, “I am so sorry sir but our sommelier is not here, he is in Hong Kong, or Madrid or“? Berlin or somewhere, but just not here. I do not know exactly why, but basically he is out there somewhere, along way away from our table, doing what is now called a Masterclass (what!) or acting as an Ambassador (another strange change of employment definition, as it used to be called a Salesman or Brand manager or something of that like) for a specific wine brand or wine label. So, the wine-waiter, the said sommelier, who I guess is paid handsomely by the restaurant, establishment, to keep the customers happy with their vinous requests, just happens to be on the otherside of the world, not doing his job at all. Surely he is supposed to be waiting wine at the table, our table, No? I cannot think otherwise.
The question could be, why has this wine waiter been allowed to leave his post? It seems if I read the wine press correctly (and maybe they are to blame for a lot of this kind of misunderstanding) that all these dear chaps and chapesses, sorry but it has to be said, have been elevated into an almost legendary status, as bee all and end all to wine knowledge, and what they call today, wine communicators. Or wine experts! ouch!!
Quite frankly, he/she is needed at his place of work, doing I guess what he is paid to do. Pour wine and offer friendly wine advice, and maybe even suggest a delicious dish to go with the chosen wine, that he should also know about as the contact with the kitchen is so important here. But to gain this sort of confidence with the clientele (restaurant that is) the sommelier needs to be there day in and day out. Where are you wine-waiters of the world? Why are you constantly flying around the place, doing something else and yet still attain the title sommelier? Who pays for all these flights (plane and wine flights as they are now called) and vertical, horizontal wine tastings. There was a term once introduced in the USA (EEUU for our South American readership, that is dwindling by the second here), flying wine-maker! Please, let’s keep things simple here and introduce a new job description, you are now ‘flying sommeliers’ or ‘flying wine-waiters’. And for those of you who are not ‘flying sommeliers’ we need to make a note of where you are, and come visit.
In the words of H.Waugh (for those who are not versed in proper English you can pronounce it as, ‘War’ if you so wish). “The first duty of a wine, is to be red .. and the second is to be a Burgundy”. So, I would like to add that now we can say `the first duty of a sommelier, is ‘wine pour’, please, and then ‘more wine’ if it’s on hand, but by yours or by someone you trust wholeheartedly, and with your local knowledge and well earned skill. My last contact with a flying ‘wine-waiter’ proved most interesting for the man sitting in the row next to me. (please see cartoon*)
The following is a list of sommeliers, who stay at their post and do a wonderful job. There is another list of flying sommeliers, who are also of course wonderful, but just don’t except them to be around on your next visit to that establishment, they may just be pouring wine on an airplane.
List available from me: email@example.com