A nice article about how to take advantage of the sommelier, written by Nashville’s only sommelier (as far as I know, she’s the only one).
Statistically speaking, most restaurant guests will never interact with a sommelier. There can’t be more than 1% of all restaurants in America that employ the services of a sommelier, and I think that 1% is probably being generous. And most people won’t dine at a French Laundry or Aureole. Nashville is lucky to have a pair of restaurants that are moderately priced and still have a sommelier (F. Scott’s and Table 3). This is only possible because Loehr is a co-owner of those restaurants and happens to be an über wine geek who has received her Advanced Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers, which puts her one step away from getting her Master Sommelier Certificate (there are only 120 people in the US who have received that certification).
I place so much emphasis on wine knowledge because, in most restaurants, waiters must take on the role of the sommelier. Even if you work at Applebee’s and only need a limited wine knowledge, you won’t always work at Applebee’s if you intend on staying in the business. So you should start learning as much about wine as you possibly can. You will never know everything about wine even if you’re waiting tables for 40 years. It’s a matter of constant attention and there’s always more to learn. Every vintage, every blend, every vineyard, every region is different. In fact, there are infinite variations in each individual region. There are new processes, new trends, new vintners. This requires staying as on top of the wine world as you can.
Waiters will never have the resources that true sommeliers have. Sommeliers taste every wine that they serve. They do comparative tastings with other like wines. They meet with wine representatives almost daily. They are fed huge amounts of information about currently produced wines. Waiters only get a sprinkling of this massive amounts of information. So it’s extremely important to take advantage of the information that trickles through the sommelier or person responsible for the wine program, whether it be tear sheets about specific wines, tastings or staff meetings with wine reps. And, there’s an additional burden on waiters to maintain an independent study program.
You can’t be a great waiter without this knowledge. You can’t be expected to know everything, but you should be able to advise and educate your guests, without being a Wine Nazi, in choosing the perfect wine from your list with the food that they will be eating. I hope that you use this blog to help in this process. I have written about wine on occasion and, even though the amount of coverage that I can give wine is limited, I think that some of my thumbnail sketches can help distill knowledge from the wide world of wine. Just search for wine and you’ll find a dozen or more articles about commonly available wines. I hope to continue this series as I go forward. What I try to do is give practical information and be as complete as I can in this format. I can’t really cover the subject like a dedicated wine website or book, but I can try to give the information that helps when trying to guide a guest in their dining experience. I try not to clutter my articles with so much information that it becomes unwieldy. I try to simplify as much as possible while still imparting the essence of the subject.