So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Tag Archives: wine and food pairings

“Don’t be scared of the sommelier”

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).

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110216/LIFE02/102160313/On-Wine-Don-t-scared-sommelier?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CEntertainment%7Cs

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.

Elise Loehr

Viognier

It’s French., It’s sexy. It’s a rising star. It’s Viognier.

Pronounced “vee own yay”. it’s a white varietal that has long been famous in Europe, especially for it’s use in Condreau, one of the more exotic French whites. I say “exotic” because it’s flavor profile is different from the typical Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio-based wines that Americans have become accustomed to. If there’s a white grape that most closely resembles it in terms of flavor notes, I’d say that it’s Riesling, although Riesling is sweeter than Viognier. Viognier is usually described as “perfumey”.

Viognier at its best produces a floral, rich-tasting wine. It’s not done as often in an oaky style because oak can deaden the wonderful floral, tropical fruit and spice notes, but there are Viogniers that feature oak flavors.

Due to the increasing US consumer’s expanding interest in wine and a desire to get away from the usual suspects, Viognier is on the upswing here in the States. This is a good thing since Viognier almost vanished from the wine world back in the 60s. Not only has it made a bit of a comeback in France, where only a relative handful of acres were devoted to Viognier plantings, it’s starting to make a foothold in California.

Like Pinot Noir, it’s a fussy and hard-to-grow grape. If proper care isn’t taken, it can produce a flat, somewhat flabby wine. But when it’s done correctly, it produces a full-bodied white with such floral notes as apple blossoms, violets, honey, honeysuckle, jasmine and roses, spicy notes such as mint, tobacco (!), anise and vanilla, and unctuous fruits like guava, earthy fruits like pears and apricots and tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. As you can see, it shares some of the flavor characteristics of Riesling, but without the sweetness. There are two other things that it shares with Riesling and those are it’s luscious, oily mouthfeel and nose. When oak is employed, it’s often of the more “buttery” kind.  These characteristics can move a guest who likes the “fruitiness” of Riesling to the drier and more food-friendly Viognier.

So, what do you pair with Viognier?

They go well with salad-based dishes.  They are one of the few wines that pairs well with Oriental food, especially spicy Thai dishes, and they pair well with coconut spicy curries (I don’t find it as good of a match with Indian-style curries, but that’s a personal choice). They go well with fatty white fish like sea bass and halibut. And they are marvelous with fruits and fruit sauces.

We’re starting to see dessert wines made from Viognier. Since Viognier isn’t particularly susceptible to boytritis, growers usually rely on late-harvesting and manipulation in order to produce a sweet product.

Viognier doesn’t produce a wine conducive to aging. It should usually be drunk within 3 to 5 years because it tends to lose it’s “perfumey” character.

We’re increasingly seeing Viognier used in blending with Chardonnay because it brings a lot of freshness to the sometimes overbearing qualities of Chardonnay. It’s also used in exotic blends like Conundrum (I only suspect this since they don’t really list their varietals).

I’m not going to recommend any particular wines since it’s likely that if you’re even lucky enough to have Viognier on your wine list, you’ll only have one or two to choose from. The best thing to do is to buy a couple of them from your local wine store and get familiar with the flavor profiles. Or perhaps you could convince management to do a tasting.

It’s time for you to add Vigonier to your wine palette.

Image courtesy of http://wine.appellationamerica.com/

Seasonality

As the weather changes, people’s tastes change. More and more restaurants, even large corporate chains, are making seasonal changes to their menus; some having strictly seasonal menus and others offering limited seasonal menus in addition to their fixed menu.

As a server, you should be adhering to this as well with your wine selections. Instead of just working varietals, the great waiter will know which wines are generally lighter or heavier within those specific categories. Some cabernets are lighter and softer than others,  for instance. Some chardonnays are heavy and oaky and some are lighter and more “refreshing”. Not only should you do your best to pair wine with a specific food, you should also consider the season. Now’s the time to recommend fuller bodied wines and fall makes its presence known.

What? You didn’t recommend lighter bodied wines during summer? Well, you should have. When you pay attention to the smaller details, you perform a greater service for your guests. While I’m not saying that you should mock someone for drinking pinot grigio in the dead of the winter, you can guide your guest to season-appropriate choices.

This is where all of your wine homework comes in handy. As you learn more about wine, you’ll be able to identify vintner’s general styles and then hone in on specific bottles on your list that typify light, medium and full body characteristics. Flavor profiles are important but so are body characteristics. For instance, you wouldn’t want to pair up a light California pinot noir with osso bucco in the middle of winter, although you might pair that same pinot noir with salmon, even as you’re knocking the snow off of your boots. Or, you might actually be able to get away with pairing a big Chambertain (for the unintiated, a generally big-boned pinot noir from Burgundy) with the osso bucco, showing that you can’t always make sweeping generalizations. The more specific knowledge that you have about the wines on your list, the better.

 Even if you have a fairly limited wine list, try to learn your wines from light to heavy in each category. The advantage you have is that you don’t have a lot of wines to learn,  and they probably don’t change all that often. And you’ll set yourself apart from your peers. Unless they read this blog too…

pork-osso-bucco

Image of osso bucco courtesy of the blog, “Eating in Dallas” and can be found here:

 http://eatingindallas.wordpress.com/2009/02/page/2/