How to: Speak With a Sommelier(e)
Sommeliers can be great and can completely enhance a meal. But some can intimidate us intensely. Here’s a quick guide from our Founder Joanne on how to manage the performance anxiety.
5 minutes read
"Have some stock phrases in your back pocket like 'I tried it before and absolutely loved it' or 'I just really fancy a Rioja right now."
Ordering wine can be daunting. It feels like everyone goes silent as the decision is made and all errors are massively public. I used to sit there thinking ‘Oh god, friend number one says she won’t drink Chardonnay. Is Chablis Chardonnay? Friend number two wants Picpoul. WTF is Picpoul and why does everyone love it?’ All while wondering whether or not I could even pronounce the grape I wanted to order. Then I’d just resort to saying ‘That one’. While pointing.
Throw a Sommelier into the mix and it can make the performance anxiety even greater. I dread the response: ‘Are you sure? This is a much finer vintage’. Cue the Sommelier pointing to something I don’t recognise that’s much more expensive. That leaves you in the invidious position of having to say ‘That’s way too expensive’ publicly, which is like saying ‘Hello, I’m cheap’ or ‘No, I don’t care about these people enough to spend more money on them’. I’ve even had a Sommelier ask the man I was with whether he was happy with my choice…infuriating.
Throw a Sommelier into the mix and it can make the performance anxiety even greater. I dread the response: ‘Are you sure? This is a much finer vintage’.
Here are five suggestions for navigating the complexity. Feel free to add to them.
1. Decide if you actually want a Sommelier’s help or not. Some people love to have a good old chat with the Sommelier as they like to hear about new wines and are open to ideas. But if that doesn’t appeal to you, just say you don’t need help and then read the wine list at your own leisure.
2. Take your time with the wine list, once you’ve made your choice, don’t be swayed. If I could, I would drink Moscato d’Asti with every meal. It’s the slightly classier cousin of Asti Spumante. It has a cork! See, classy.
3. Have some stock phrases in your back pocket like ‘I tried it before and absolutely loved it’ or ‘I just really fancy a Rioja right now’. If they recommend something more expensive but similar, just lie and say ‘we’ll start with this and see how we get on’. Remember that you don’t need to explain your choices. You’re the customer. Even if sometimes we feel like a kid at the grownups table, we are not.
4. If you don’t know how to pronounce something, which happens to absolutely everyone, just look at the grape pronunciations on our website. You’ll sound like a European MEP or one of those Dutch people that just ‘picked up’ their sixth language in no time.
5. If a Sommelier asks you other questions like ‘Do you want me to decant it?’ Just look pensive and say ‘Do you think it needs it?’. Then say yes or no.
6. Sommeliers certainly know their stuff when it comes to wine. But remember, you don’t need to have any formal training to become one, which means that maybe they’re not in possession of ALL of the wine wisdom. At the end of the day, there is no ‘right wine’ so if it sounds good to you, just go for it and enjoy.