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How to Talk About Wine

nanette Feb 18, 2010 12:21 AM

I recently dined at a herdled London restaurant was treated rather rudely by the head waiter/sommelier when asked what kind of wine I liked. I said I like dry reds and wasn't keen on anything sweet, but was quickly admonished and lectured that only white wines can be described as dry and sweet and treated like an idiot. I also wasn't interested in buy a £45 bottle of wine when the list was filled with £30 bottles.

Now, I'm not a connoisseur, but I know what I like and what I don't, and I have cooked enough to have read "dry red wine" in many recipes. Was I in the wrong to describe a red as dry? Are there words that apply only to whites or reds? What can I say in the future to avoid the lecture with my busiate?

In the end, I was peeved to have been treated like an idiot (I'm paying to eat there, not for an education, I'll go to WSET for that, thanks) and ordered a £25 bottle of Bardolino.

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  1. z
    zin1953 RE: nanette Feb 18, 2010 06:45 AM

    Nanette, say whatever the **** you want! It is the sommelier's job to recommend wine(s) based upon your food order, your likes and dislikes . . . .

    There ARE dry reds. There ARE sweet reds (though once you exclude non-fortified wines, they are few and far between, but they do exist).

    The ONLY mistake you made was not lodging a complain about the sommelier's rude behavior with the restaurant's manager/owner.

    Cheers,
    Jason

    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953
      nanette RE: zin1953 Feb 18, 2010 10:42 AM

      Thanks Jason

    2. NickMontreal RE: nanette Feb 18, 2010 10:43 AM

      Sorry but your waiter sounds like a total boob. As Zin mentioned there are in fact plenty of reds which could be described as sweet (e.g. Port and Banyuls). True, they are fortified so they are kind of a different animal. But certainly they meet the criteria of being “sweet”, “red” and “wine”.

      I’ve recently become more interested in wine. It’s true that it can be intimidating to talk about in the presence of people who are highly knowledgeable on the subject. But what I’ve learnt is that there are so many levels of wine appreciation. At its most basic level it can simply be about what you like and dislike, without needing to go into too much detail about why (too acidic, too sweet, not enough body etc). On the other hand there are people who like to study the subject in hair-splitting detail, even down to what chemical compounds may or not be present. Whatever level you enjoy wine on – that’s fine and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because at the end of the day you should be doing it for fun not to impress people. So my suggestion is to ignore some snooty waiter who looks down on you for not being able to talk about the subject like an expert.

      Don’t let this one bad experience put you off your interest in wine. The truth is most people, even highly educated experts, would not think any less of you for not having an expansive knowledge on the subject. Unfortunately wine is one of those things which is completely dogma ridden. There is supposedly a right way to do everything. While some basic principles can enhance enjoyment of wine and are therefore worth knowing, in my opinion a discussion about wine is most interesting when people say what they really think and don’t conform to traditional ways of talking about the subject.

      You really should have just told your waiter that you’re not spending your money to be talked down to and to stop being such a pretentious doornob.

      1. r
        redmeatfan RE: nanette Feb 18, 2010 12:05 PM

        Nanette,

        Just do corkage all the time and avoid the markups and the hassle. The term sommelier is overused and there are some good ones out there but they should know that making the client feel good about their wine selection is their job not making them feel like an idiot.

        With an open book test anyone can get a piece of paper and claim to be a sommelier.

        3 Replies
        1. re: redmeatfan
          z
          zin1953 RE: redmeatfan Feb 18, 2010 01:37 PM

          Keep in mind that corkage/BYOB is not legal in all jurisdictions.

          1. re: redmeatfan
            invinotheresverde RE: redmeatfan Feb 18, 2010 03:57 PM

            Please don't lump all "sommeliers" together. I spent years training for my certification and busted my ass (and wallet) tasting and reading. I don't know anything about an open book test; I had to blind taste two wines, pass a service exam and a written exam. It wasn't easy and most people fail the first time they test (Court of Master Sommeliers).

            Corkage isn't legal everywhere.

            1. re: invinotheresverde
              Bill Hunt RE: invinotheresverde Feb 25, 2010 07:12 PM

              I would hope that the OP would not lump sommeliers into a common basket. Over my many years at this, I rely on many 100%, to save me the "heavy lifting." Hey, I do not know what chef is doing that night, and I also love to be educated and surprised in a very good way. Just did that last Saturday night. Every pairing was not perfect, but was fun and very good.

              Over the decades, I have had maybe six issues with sommeliers/wine stewards/head waiter doing the wine duties. I will admit that two were in London, but they WERE within the same restaurant "group," so I take it to be more of a reflection of that "group." The rest (many hundreds), have all done a good job, to a great job. That is what they are paid to do, and the vast majority does a very good job at it.

              Then, there are those few "others," and they should turn in their grape clusters, and slink into the darkness.

              Hunt

          2. shaogo RE: nanette Feb 18, 2010 04:58 PM

            It's up to a sommelier to listen patiently to your requests, to your likes and dislikes, and then make a choice for you.

            It is the poor sommelier who tries to show-off his or her knowledge when in the presence of those who're obviously less than experts about wine. What happened to you, nanette, was wrong.

            I assure you that there are plenty of sommeliers, captains and servers who, despite being very well-versed in the language of wine, can listen to you and translate what you say into a perfect wine choice. No matter if you say "a very dry, tannic Medoc with great legs" or "something that makes me pucker and is rich in flavor" you ought to get the same, or similar, wines.

            Hey, just go elsewhere next time you dine out. You may want to look at a restaurant's website first before you go. Many restaurants that have great wine programs also train their people to make wine very accessible -- you may just find a place that's reaching out to wine "newbies." You'll get a bit of an education and not feel any pretense whatsoever.

            1. Chinon00 RE: nanette Feb 19, 2010 07:53 AM

              When you instructed the waiter that you liked "dry reds and wasn't keen on anything sweet" what nightmare scenario were you trying to avoid? What red wine, varietal, etc were you interested in avoiding? Have you ever ordered a (non fortified) red wine and gotten one that wasn't dry?

              35 Replies
              1. re: Chinon00
                z
                zin1953 RE: Chinon00 Feb 19, 2010 09:13 AM

                I have. On the other hand, a) it's not me that we're discussing, and b) it is the job of restaurant employees TO SERVE -- whether that is answering questions about the menu or the wine list; placing the dishes on the table, or re-filling water glasses, etc., etc., etc.

                Let us not lose sight of the facts:

                1) The OP "recently dined at a herdled (sic) London restaurant."
                2) The OP felt she "was treated rather rudely by the head waiter/sommelier."
                3) The OP was "quickly admonished and lectured that only white wines can be described as dry and sweet" and felt that she was "treated like an idiot."

                Now, it is clear TO ME that the "head waiter/sommelier" was at fault here. NO customer should EVER be made to feel "like an idiot" and there is NEVER any excuse for the staff of a restaurant to treat a customer rudely -- even IF the customer was being a jerk him- or herself.

                Think of it this way: if YOU the restaurant's owner or manager, and you discovered that a customer left your restaurant feeling that way, would you be pleased?

                1. re: zin1953
                  Chinon00 RE: zin1953 Feb 19, 2010 10:51 AM

                  All we know for sure is how the OP felt. The waiter's behavior could have been completely acceptable in your or my eyes. I recall being at an Italian restaurant as a younger man and ordering a seafood pasta and then asking for cheese. The waiter's eyes widened slightly as he responded "sir, we don't serve cheese on seafood it overpowers the flavor of the fish". I was a little embarrassed in front of my friends but I didn't feel that the waiter had done anything wrong. Anyway in my previous post I was hoping that we could narrow down what exactly the OP did not want in her/his wine and in more precise language.

                  1. re: Chinon00
                    Bill Hunt RE: Chinon00 Feb 25, 2010 07:33 PM

                    I beg to differ. It is not the server's responsibility to lecture, or even to inform. It is their duty to distill what the patron has requested, and provide suggestions. Should clarification be required, then a few, well-thought out questions should be asked. If, after the questions were answered, the preferences were not clear, then a trained professional should have a few more questions.

                    Somewhere along the line, it appears that you have lost track of the derivation of the word "server." There is not a "professor," nor a "judge," but only a "server," and one who bases their employment on the patrons.

                    Given the stated situation, I feel that a discussion on the possible descriptors of various wines is not germane, as the OP was using the best descriptors that she knew, to provide adequate info to the server/sommelier. It is incumbent on that server/sommelier to ask additional questions, should the info not prove adequate. That is part of the job. Any good server/sommelier should have several levels of questions: one for the majority of the diners, one for those, who know more about their wine preferences, and one for those who might well know more about wine, than they do.

                    I've had sommeliers, who could easily be one of my students, who did a wonderful job of pairing, and possibly better than I could have, not knowing the kitchen that day. What they might have lacked in expert wine knowledge, they more than made up for with "local knowledge." Heck, I have been bested by golfers, who were inferior to me, but then they "knew the course," and I did not. It happens all too often.

                    Hunt

                    [Edit] I do not know why the forum insists on adding my comments twice, but no amount of editing can correct this. It is there, regardless.

                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                      Chinon00 RE: Bill Hunt Feb 27, 2010 09:44 AM

                      I can appreciate that the server might have provided more "instruction" than was required, resulting in the OP feeling uncomfortable. Considering the information provided though, the conclusions held by some on this post that the server was "attempting to intimidate" the OP, etc I find unfortunate. Those types of conclusions might be more indicative of our own experiences. 

                  2. re: zin1953
                    Chinon00 RE: zin1953 Feb 27, 2010 11:26 AM

                    Could you please tell me (if you remember) the red wine that you ordered that you expected to be dry and wasn't when it arrived?

                    Thanks

                  3. re: Chinon00
                    m
                    Maximilien RE: Chinon00 Feb 19, 2010 10:15 AM

                    Well, I would classify hyper-fruity/hyper-alcohol red wines as "sweet".

                    1. re: Maximilien
                      invinotheresverde RE: Maximilien Feb 19, 2010 10:19 AM

                      They're not, though. That's one of the biggest misconceptions my students have when they begin my wine classes. You can have a very fruity, high-alcohol, bone dry wine.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde
                        z
                        zin1953 RE: invinotheresverde Feb 19, 2010 12:37 PM

                        Agreed.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde
                          Akitist RE: invinotheresverde Feb 19, 2010 02:40 PM

                          I see; it isn't sweet, it just tastes that way. Sorry, but most folks don't drink chemical analyses, they drink beverages. Coffee with Aspartame is sweet, though it has no sugar.

                          1. re: Akitist
                            z
                            zin1953 RE: Akitist Feb 19, 2010 04:25 PM

                            The difference is that aspartaime physically affects the same receptors as sucrose. This is the also the case with fruit. But it is NOT the case with a "fruity wine." Rather, it's a mental connection based upon the memory of eating fresh, ripe fruit -- which IS sweet -- versus wine, in which the sugar (from the fresh, ripe grape) has been fermented into alcohol.

                            The only way people can effectively communicate is with a common language. You and I can talk because a) we are both speaking/writing in English, and b) we can both agree that the "Post My Reply" button is red. (And so on.) If you and I wish to discuss a wine, it is important to know and understand certain basic facts -- that "Cabernet Sauvignon" is a grape and "Napa Valley" is a region, for example. This is no less true for the proper use of other terms, such as "sweet" and "dry," "tannin" and "corked," and so on . . . .

                            That the OP may or may not have know "the precise term" to use in talking with the restaurant's sommelier in no way lessens the rude and boorish behavior of said sommelier.

                            1. re: zin1953
                              Akitist RE: zin1953 Feb 25, 2010 03:19 PM

                              I realize that there's a certain wine vocabulary. But when it comes into conflict with common usage there will be problems. Corked? No conflict. Tannin (tannic, if you want to use parallel construction), no conflict. Sweet? Conflict.

                              Napa valley? Seem there was a bit of ambiguity there vis-a-vis the Charles Shaw label not too long ago. And for varietals, how about some nice bargain French Pinot Noir?

                              1. re: Akitist
                                z
                                zin1953 RE: Akitist Feb 27, 2010 06:32 PM

                                Q: Why should "sweet" be any different?

                                A: It isn't.

                                / / / /

                                What sort of ambiguity? Please, tell me. As far as I know, it was a completely UNambiguous label . . .

                            2. re: Akitist
                              invinotheresverde RE: Akitist Feb 23, 2010 05:35 AM

                              Perhaps most folks "don't drink chemical analyses", but if they want to speak about wine correctly, they can't make up their own descriptions. Sweet and fruity are completely different. That's not to say a fruity wine can't be sweet; it just doesn't have to be. They aren't synonyms.

                              1. re: invinotheresverde
                                Akitist RE: invinotheresverde Feb 25, 2010 03:31 PM

                                I can see your point, but it shouldn't be outside the realm of reason to expect a sommelier to realize that a customer might lack intimate knowledge of wine terminology, and to both work with the customer to provide a suitable wine and to further his wine education, and perhaps by extension his future enjoyment of wines.

                                Or have I got this whole "service" thing wrong?

                                1. re: Akitist
                                  Bill Hunt RE: Akitist Feb 25, 2010 08:06 PM

                                  That, sir, or madam, is the point. The server/sommelier should be open to the patron not being a wine writer. Terms can easily be confused, and it is incumbent on the server to inquire a bit more deeply, should ambiguities exist. I certainly would.

                                  Very recently an acquaintance expressed an interest in finer wines. He listed some that he and his wife had enjoyed. I dug a bit more deeply, asking some questions that he could digest and answer. We did not speak in "wine terms," but in general terms. I probed, and he responded, as well as he could. In the end, I gave him 6 wines, and handed him 1 each of three of those. When he reported back, 2 of the 3 were great hits, and the third was listed as not bad.

                                  I did offer a bit of background on each of the wines, and tried to distill why I had chose those, plus the other 3, that I did not have in my cellar at that moment. I did this in a sense of sharing, and he was actually "serving" me in another role, not related to food/wine. At no time did I wish to put him down, but only to share. Did he get all of my mumbo-jumbo, though I tried to tone it down? Probably not, but he got to try 2 excellent wines, per his descriptions, and one that was not too far out.

                                  That is how I think that a server/sommelier should approach things. It is about the recipient, and their tastes. Did I lecture him about first growth Bdx? No. I picked three OZ Shiraz-based wines (one was a blend) and all were within is price range, <US$25/btl.

                                  Hunt

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                    z
                                    zin1953 RE: Bill Hunt Feb 27, 2010 06:32 PM

                                    Absolutely right, Bill!

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      maria lorraine RE: Bill Hunt Feb 27, 2010 08:37 PM

                                      Lovely.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        kaysyrahsyrah RE: Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2010 12:05 AM

                                        Bill - very wise, as always. It's time we get you on the road to teach wine service to food servers around the world.

                                        Kind of a thankless job though. Maybe I just make you dinner in SF the next time you roll into town...to say thanks for your years of service on the Chow boards.

                                        Maria and Jason, it would be my honor to have the two of you as well.

                                        1. re: kaysyrahsyrah
                                          Bill Hunt RE: kaysyrahsyrah Mar 27, 2010 06:07 PM

                                          You know, a CH gathering in SF would not be a bad idea. Though I've "known" several of the folk here for years, I have only met one.

                                          As we're in SF often (less often lately), if things could be worked out - I'm in. The AZ CH board group has some Chow-ins, as do other boards. Obviously, with the wine board, people are spread across the globe. Still, there could well be potential.

                                          Just let me know, and I'll do my best to attend. Worst-case, I'll cash in my Southwest Airlines free tickets and take the BART, or similar from San Jose, or Oakland.

                                          Hunt

                                          PS - thanks for the kind words.

                                      2. re: Akitist
                                        invinotheresverde RE: Akitist Feb 25, 2010 09:38 PM

                                        I agree that many customers may have difficulty articulating what they mean when it comes to wine. I also agree that if the somm. can help educate the customer postively, he should do so.

                                        However, I don't think the usage of improper terminology helps the customer, and may confuse him in the long run. There are polite ways to question your guest about what they're actually looking for (example: fruity v. sweet). What's wrong with that?

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde
                                          Bill Hunt RE: invinotheresverde Feb 26, 2010 05:54 PM

                                          I do agree. However, I would question what the proper time for that education might be. If the person ordering the wines is the host, that might not be the right time. We I in the position of the sommelier, I would just ask more questions, until I had it down. If it was a single gentleman, or lady, I might extend the "teacher's blackboard," and offer to share some terminology. Otherwise, it would be only questions.

                                          Hunt

                                    2. re: Akitist
                                      Bill Hunt RE: Akitist Feb 25, 2010 07:52 PM

                                      Often, fruit forward wines are typified as "sweet." The RS levels can be off-the-board low, but the taster will often say, "sweet."

                                      As I commented in this thread, I'd doing a big Zinfandel now, and I think "sweet," though it's actually dry, and pretty high in alcohol (also perceived as "sweet" on some palates).

                                      True "sweet" is about the RS content.

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        invinotheresverde RE: Bill Hunt Feb 25, 2010 09:39 PM

                                        I think your first sentence is missing an "incorrectly".

                                        Nice to see you back around, Bill.

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde
                                          Bill Hunt RE: invinotheresverde Feb 26, 2010 06:28 PM

                                          Help me here. Where should that be applied? Now, I do see some edits, that I should make, but it had to be the Zinfandel - right? I'll be happy to add "incorrectly," but I am not seeing where - back to the Zin.

                                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                                            invinotheresverde RE: Bill Hunt Feb 26, 2010 09:27 PM

                                            "...incorrectly typified..." works just fine. :)

                                            1. re: invinotheresverde
                                              Bill Hunt RE: invinotheresverde Feb 28, 2010 06:56 PM

                                              I was speaking of the wine drinking public, typifying fruit-forward wines as "sweet," and not Andrea Robinson. Sorry if I did not clarify properly.

                                              Hunt

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                invinotheresverde RE: Bill Hunt Feb 28, 2010 08:45 PM

                                                Again, though, incorrectly.

                                                1. re: invinotheresverde
                                                  Bill Hunt RE: invinotheresverde Mar 27, 2010 06:07 PM

                                                  Whatever,

                                                  Hunt

                                  2. re: Maximilien
                                    z
                                    zin1953 RE: Maximilien Feb 19, 2010 12:42 PM

                                    "Sweet" is NOT the same as "fruity." "Sweet" means there is residual sugar present in the wine, period. It doesn't mean that the wine is fruity, is "hyper-fruity," or is "redolent with ripe fruit," as one wine writer puts it; nor does it refer to anything having to do with the alcohol level in a wine.

                                    It is, indeed, the #1 misconception among my students as well, so you're certainly not alone. But not being the only one to make this mistake doesn't mean it still isn't a mistake. ;^)

                                    1. re: zin1953
                                      j
                                      jpc8015 RE: zin1953 Feb 23, 2010 04:14 AM

                                      Agreed 100%. There are many big jammy red wines out there that are full of fruit flavors and are bone dry.

                                      The same can be said of white wines. You can have a Sauv Blanc full of green apple that is not the slightest bit sweet.

                                      1. re: jpc8015
                                        invinotheresverde RE: jpc8015 Feb 23, 2010 05:37 AM

                                        Perfect example.

                                        I frequently use big, powerful NZ sauvignon blanc as the perfect example of how a wine can have 14% ABV and tons of lychee, lime, melon, tropical fruit flavors and be bone dry.

                                    2. re: Maximilien
                                      s
                                      SommleierJon RE: Maximilien Mar 13, 2010 03:08 PM

                                      Hello All, New Blogger here, AND I happen to be a WSET Diploma Student, and a Certified Sommelier. AND the best part is, I'm not a pompous A$$ like so many in my business..... :)

                                      Here's what the whole Sweet and Dry thing comes down to...

                                      These are the 2 most commonly misused words in Wine Vocabulary. Now there are 4 major building blocks of a wine. Called Components. Acidity, Tannin, Sweetness, and Alcohol. These are all things that Everyone feels the same way in their mouth. Acidity causes you to Salivate and feel the sides of your tongue tingle, Tannin tightens everything up in your mouth, alcohol you feel in the back of your throat, and sweetness you feel in the middle of your tongue.

                                      Now Dry/sweet... all these words refer to is the amount of RS(Residual Sugar) Left over in the wine, after fermentation and vinification(The act of turning grape juice into wine) is complete. German rieslings tend to be sweet.... have remaining sugar, Here in NY there are a lot of wines made from Concord (the Welches Grape) that are sweet. There Are also Sweet Reds. When you really get down to it, Yellow tail Shiraz has about 3% RS which is equivalent to Some Semi-dry Rieslings, so that could be considered sweet. In the Finger Lakes of NY there are many Sweet Reds. Someone else had mentioned Banyuls, which is a Bordeaux desert red wine.

                                      Many times people confuse Tannin for dryness... what it comes down to is the two are TOTALLY unrelated. Cabernet?? Dry.. Chardonnay?? Dry... Merlot?? Dry... Pinot Noir?? Dry... Sauvignon blanc?? Dry...

                                      Can be super confusing, but being able to properly use wine vocabulary makes you a better wine customer, because you can tell someone EXACTLY what you are looking for. :)

                                      TTFN!

                                      Cheers!

                                      1. re: SommleierJon
                                        kaysyrahsyrah RE: SommleierJon Mar 27, 2010 12:12 AM

                                        SJ - welcome to the boards, love your enthusiasm...and thanks for trying to discern a few often confused facts about wine.

                                        That said, I highly recommend you don't bust out a first paragraph saying you aren't pompous, but claim you are a CS and WSET candidate at the same time. (Be sure to witness the humility of other seasoned players on the wine boards who are 20 years further down the road than you.)

                                        Also confusing is your spelling of sommilier in your handle.

                                        1. re: kaysyrahsyrah
                                          5
                                          53latour RE: kaysyrahsyrah Mar 27, 2010 05:50 AM

                                          Agreed.

                                          1. re: kaysyrahsyrah
                                            Googs RE: kaysyrahsyrah Mar 27, 2010 07:33 AM

                                            Sommelier.

                                    3. Akitist RE: nanette Feb 19, 2010 09:11 AM

                                      Hokay, this was in London, in an upper-scale restaurant. The sommelier most likely was unfamiliar with the fruit-bomb Cabs and late-harvest Zins that issue from California. Euro reds obviously tend to be lots drier.

                                      That said, I doubt that it's in his job description to denigrate the paying customer.

                                      1. Googs RE: nanette Feb 19, 2010 09:37 AM

                                        While the sommelier may be technically correct, your palate is also correct. There are plenty of red wines that taste sweet regardless of sugar content. The sommelier should close his manual and use his tastebuds, should he have any.

                                        I'd have to agree that his behaviour was abominable. Perhaps he felt if he demonstrated his superior knowledge he could bully you into picking a more expensive bottle. If that's the case I say name the place so everyone can avoid him.

                                        Oh and to answer your question: Don't change a thing. You're perfect just the way you are.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: Googs
                                          Chinon00 RE: Googs Feb 19, 2010 02:42 PM

                                          Isn't there always room for improvement? Does the OP know exactly what he/she means by dry red not to keen on anything too sweet? Maybe he/she means they want more tannins or low oak or a number of other things which approximate dry and not too sweet. Precise language gives one a better shot at getting what they want no? Both Barolos and Beaujolais are dry and not too sweet right?

                                          1. re: Chinon00
                                            Googs RE: Chinon00 Feb 20, 2010 07:09 AM

                                            Of course there's always room for improvement. Such as the enjoyment and relaxation of dining out being complemented by a sommelier who adds to that feeling. They established the diner wanted red that didn't taste sweet. What else did they need to know aside from what main course? If one must stress over the minutia at dinner then you may as well make it yourself.

                                            1. re: Googs
                                              Chinon00 RE: Googs Feb 20, 2010 10:47 AM

                                              Again all we really know is that the OP felt like an idiot. That doesn't mean that the waiter's behavior was necessarily "boorish" or "abominable". As we all know selecting wine can cause some great anxiety all on it's own. "Red that didn't taste sweet" is quite vague and describes a very high percentage of the red wine selections on a list. I believe that the OP knows what he/she doesn't want from a red but is having trouble articulating it. The title of the post is "How to talk about wine". I'm sure that if the OP provides us examples of red wines that she finds too "sweet" we can better identify what he/she is after and give the OP a better vocabulary to describe it.
                                              Thanks

                                              1. re: Chinon00
                                                z
                                                zin1953 RE: Chinon00 Feb 20, 2010 12:41 PM

                                                No. All we know is that:

                                                a) the OP felt like was "TREATED like an idiot," not that SHE FELT like an idiot. Those are two *very* different things. (emphasis added)

                                                b) the OP "was treated rather rudely by the head waiter/sommelier" who "admonished" her.

                                                c) the OP said nothing about "boorish" or "abominable."

                                                Rudeness is inexcusable. Period.

                                                1. re: zin1953
                                                  Googs RE: zin1953 Feb 20, 2010 01:07 PM

                                                  What Zin1953 said. I used the word abominable. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable when all they're trying to do is get a bottle of wine.

                                                  I'll add to it that I appreciate what you're going for Chinon00. You believe the OP should learn how to articulate her needs clearly and concisely to any sommelier. That's a valid point and one on which I agree to a certain degree.

                                                  However, I rely on sommeliers to be the expert on what's in the cellar and how it goes with the fare being served. They work there, not me. A patron putting too fine a point on their desires may lead to mismatching not to mention a closed mind about varietals they may not have experienced. A sommelier sharing tasting notes with the patron may aid in your cause by giving them something meaningful to remember. This particular waiter was downright ham-handed.

                                                  Kudos to the OP's revenge of the inexpensive Italian red. Now THEY know how to enjoy wine without any of the requisite verbosity or snobbery of the wine geek set. The perfect touché.

                                        2. j
                                          jaykayen RE: nanette Feb 19, 2010 12:32 PM

                                          his behavior is totally unacceptable. what happened to the days when sommeliers were supposed to make you feel good?

                                          1. nanette RE: nanette Feb 20, 2010 01:34 PM

                                            Wow, I wasn't quite expecting all this.

                                            Most of the time, I'm fairly confident ordering wine, but in this instance, I was in an Italian restaurant and faced with a menu of Italian wines and mostly grapes and regions I hadn't heard of, or had only heard of in passing. I can't be the only one either, so I find it difficult to believe I'm the first person who would have fumbled a description of what they liked.

                                            I appreciate the comments, and I posted in the hope that when I'm in this situation again, I can describe what I'm after a bit better. Thank you suggesting other words such as "fruity" and will consider my feelings on oaks and tannins the next time I'm tasting.

                                            For the record - I wanted something dry that wasn't fruity, but more spicy. Is it possible for it to be soft too? I was hoping to avoid some the heavily fruited reds I didn't enjoy when I was back on the West Coast. Having not drunk much Italian wine, I didn't have a clue.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: nanette
                                              Googs RE: nanette Feb 20, 2010 03:10 PM

                                              I'm stumped on an Italian wine that is soft, spicy, and not fruity.

                                              This glossary may help you get started in your other quest.
                                              http://www.erobertparker.com/info/glo...

                                              1. re: nanette
                                                Googs RE: nanette Feb 20, 2010 04:06 PM

                                                Do you mean you're trying to avoid fruit bombs? If so, a Primitivo might be in order depending, of course, on what you're eating.

                                                1. re: Googs
                                                  nanette RE: Googs Feb 21, 2010 03:13 AM

                                                  Yes, avoiding fruit bombs is exactly what I'm trying to do. I tend to drink wine with food, so I'm not after anything that is going to overpower what I'm eating. I'm not saying all super fruit wines do this, just that it isn't what I like. I like it when my wine and food work together.

                                                  I'm still new to wine, always learning every time I taste. Thanks the link, I will be adding it to my studies.

                                              2. Chinon00 RE: nanette Feb 21, 2010 01:17 PM

                                                Was the Bardolino to your liking?

                                                1. maria lorraine RE: nanette Feb 24, 2010 02:43 PM

                                                  Service is a state of mind more than any action. It's based on "being of service," being useful, being helpful, guiding a guest to a wonderful experience. Any service-based sommelier knows that "translating"
                                                  what guests say when they don't have the precise words and figuring out what they want, is an important part of the job. Some simple questions put to you, gently worded, would have discerned what you meant. I'm sorry this happened to you.

                                                  1. Bill Hunt RE: nanette Feb 25, 2010 07:05 PM

                                                    Nanette,

                                                    Someone was "copping an attitude," and I agree with Jason.

                                                    Any good sommelier should first know the kitchen and be able to mentally form a list of good wines from his/her cellar. Next, with your input, they should be able to narrow things down. At this point, were I the sommelier, I might inquire on price points, but in a very discrete way. One does not need to be Robert Parker, Jr., to express what they like/dislike in a wine. They should also not be lectured. This should be a positive dining experience, and not a review for the Master Sommelier exam.

                                                    I am sorry, but think that someone was trying to cover their lack of expertise, by attempting to intimidate a patron - not a good thing.

                                                    I've fortunately not encountered much of this, but then I do practice "wine speak," and can usually tell when there is a high "BS" factor involved. Usually at this point, I bring them to their knees, to the delight of my guests. Glad that this is not at all common in the US, the UK, or most of Europe. Not something that I enjoy, but will pull out of the bag, when pressed.

                                                    You would be correct, in my book, to complain to the management. That might be the only way that they will ever know. You, after all, pay the sommelier's salary. Without happy patrons, the restaurant closes, and everybody is out on the street.

                                                    Good luck,

                                                    Hunt

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                      maria lorraine RE: Bill Hunt Feb 25, 2010 07:28 PM

                                                      <<Usually at this point, I bring them to their knees, to the delight of my guests. Glad that this is not at all common in the US, the UK, or most of Europe. Not something that I enjoy, but will pull out of the bag, when pressed.>>

                                                      I have to admit I would love to see you do this.

                                                      Like a great movie scene.

                                                    2. Bill Hunt RE: nanette Feb 25, 2010 07:17 PM

                                                      Nanette,

                                                      I am sorry, but I have to ask. Was this J. Sheekey, or one of that group's restaurants: Scott's, Le Caprice, Rivington's, Woolsley, Ivy, etc.?

                                                      We dine in the UK quite often, and are frequent "guests" of others, who frequent this group's establishments. I have yet to be impressed in any positive way, and find the wine service at each to, well, leave a lot to be desired.

                                                      You were not wrong, and anybody, who is a professional, should have had several offerings for you, and at several price-points.

                                                      Good luck,

                                                      Hunt

                                                      1. Bill Hunt RE: nanette Feb 25, 2010 07:46 PM

                                                        Nanette,

                                                        Right now I am drinking a US Zinfandel, that I would typify as "sweet," but it is due to the level of ripeness of the fruit, and the fact that it is filled with "juicy fruit." It is 15.5% ABV, and is not fortified. By definition, it would be considered "dry." The grapes were harvested at what is stated as "optimum ripeness," and it shows. My guess is that you might not like this one, but from your descriptors, I would never suggest it, unless I had some major, and compelling reason to pair it with your dish. Now, I like most well-crafted wines, from austere to big, US "fruit bombs," but I realize that many do not have that broad an appreciation. Were Jason my guest, I would know to NOT serve this Zinfandel, though that is part of his "handle." He would want something lighter, more spicy and without the giant fruit component. We I his host, we'd not have this one. Were I your host, or server, I'd think very long and hard about recommending it. If I was compelled, I would ask more questions and then offer you a taste with your dish, plus have a half-dozen alternates ready to go, more along the lines of your request.

                                                        No, someone was not comfortable in their position, and they showed up with an attitude. As a patron, you should not have to deal with that - in the US, the UK, Europe, Asia, or anywhere.

                                                        You were more patient, than I would have been. Though I seldom encounter such, I do delight to bring them to tears, when their attitude comes out.

                                                        Sorry that you had such an experience. That should not happen. From your details, it was the server/sommelier, who was deficient, and not you. You did your best, and that is all that could ever/should ever, be asked of you.

                                                        Hunt

                                                        1. 5
                                                          53latour RE: nanette Mar 3, 2010 07:02 AM

                                                          First of all, I agree with other posters that the waiter/sommelier (w/s) should have been reprimanded at the least. The w/s was the poster child for rude, intimidating, pretentious snobs who scare curious people from exploring the world of wine. I hate to see that!

                                                          I also agree with Chinon00, Zin1953, and others that what probably set off the "lecture" was the combination of "red", "dry", and "sweet." I have spent many years working in retail and restaurants. When a customer asks for a dry red wine and specifically notes that the wine not be sweet the parameters are set. To me this says(rightly or wrongly) that the customer does not have a deep tasting background and has not yet learned to trust their palette enough to be able to describe accurately what they like and dislike. That's perfectly fine. We all have gone through this phase of learning. It just means the w/s needed to slow down and get some more information. I would start by asking what specific wines have you had in the past that you liked and would be examples of the style/taste you are looking for. Saying you wanted a dry red, but not a sweet red, tells me that you do want a dry wine but also it tells me your definition of dry is probably a wine that is softer in tannin, and has riper, fruitier flavors than, say, a winemaker's definition would be. Based on what you said to the w/s, if I was your w/s, I would have stayed away from Cabs and tannic Merlots and steered you towards softer, rounder, riper reds.

                                                          To answer your question as to what can you say to not get that treatment in the future, I suggest mentioning specific types of wine as a guide to the w/s, "I'm looking for a cab or merlot that's soft and round". Or, " I like lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais". Or, "I'm thinking about a Bordeaux or Cabernet." Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir are essentially dry by definition and the extra descriptor of "dry" sends up flags to the w/s. Additionally, I don't see the need to express what you don't want, unless the w/s veers off course with suggestions. That also sends up flags. I would guess specifying a non-sweet red was the straw that broke the camel's back for the w/s and triggered the lecture

                                                          Regardless, you were badly treated. The job of a w/s is to help you make decisions that make for the most enjoyable dining experience you can have. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't let the w/s intimidate you into accepting a suggestion that is not what you want. If I was getting heavy-handed treatment, or confusing information, I'd have no problem bailing on a (expensive) bottle and going the by-the-glass route.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: 53latour
                                                            Bill Hunt RE: 53latour Mar 27, 2010 06:15 PM

                                                            Though I agree with the rest, I broke this one out:

                                                            "The job of a w/s is to help you make decisions that make for the most enjoyable dining experience you can have."

                                                            because it is probably the most salient point. A sommelier, W/S, server has an obligation to assist the diner to the best of their abilities. That assistance can take the form of verbal suggestions, or even some tasting pours, for their approval. Whatever course they take, making the diner feel comfortable and helping them to enjoy their time in the restaurant should be "job 1."

                                                            Well-said,

                                                            Hunt

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