How to Order Wine from a Sommelier

Patrick Cappiello: I think a good sommelier is like a good detective.  People often make comments or initial disclosures about the kind of wines they’re looking for but I think if you’re a good sommelier you really have to take the time to drill down deeper and ask a lot of questions to really get an understanding of the kind of wine that people tend to prefer or where they’re willing to head.  A lot of times guests will come in and they’ll say, “Oh, I want to try something totally new.”  And, you know, really a different kind of wine.  So for me that’s not always easy because I don’t – I haven’t drank with them before so I don’t know what kind of wines they normally drink.  So there’s a lot of wine out there and some people have a little bit more commitment to that idea.  I think people really want to be adventurous with wine but you’ve got to be careful because a lot of times not everybody’s threshold of adventurism is the same. 

When you’re explaining the kind of wine that you want to have to a sommelier I think remembering the kind of wine you had is important.  I mean nowadays with smart phones it’s so easy like just snapping a picture of a label and keeping it on your phone.  And inevitably when people are able to do that – even if I don’t have that wine on the list I know wines that are similar in style to that so I’m really able to work within that realm.  But remembering a grape varietal that was in it or remembering, you know, a region it was from – that makes it easier.  But if that doesn’t work then being able to describe the flavor profiles can be difficult.  And I think it’s a perception thing and that’s the problem.  Like somebody saying like, you know, I want a bottle of wine that’s kind of full bodied but not too fruity.  Like those type of key words, I think, help the conversation flow.

So asking a lot of questions is a big part of it.  And not only just about the style of wine and the, you know the flavor profile of wines but I think the budget is a big part of it too.  And it’s always the awkward point in a discussion with a guest.  I think that people get nervous about talking about their price point or their budget which is – it shouldn’t be that way. I  mean, you know, I think that there’s an old mentality about the way sommeliers are and this whole thing that they’re gonna judge you or that they’re gonna try and take your money.  I mean, yeah, in some ways they’re salesmen but I think a good sommelier never wants to put someone out of their comfort zone with the wine that they’re gonna drink.  And I think being up front about a budget is something that makes our life easier.  Because if sommeliers are recommending wines, we may recommend a certain type of wine with many different, you know, price points but if you give a budget right from the beginning we can kind of go, you know, horizontally within that budget and give you a lot more great options in that sweet spot.  So, there’s a lot of ways to do it.

I think it’s always awkward because you don’t know if somebody’s on the first date and, you know, you don’t want to embarrass somebody who’s selecting the wine.  So I think, you know, if you’re looking at a wine list and you can kind of point at a wine that’s in a particular price range that can be a good way to indicate to the sommelier what you’re looking to do.  I think being comfortable with the idea of a sommelier and then learning to trust them I think is important.  Not every sommelier I guess is completely trustworthy but there’s more and more coming along.  I think the culture is changing and there’s a lot of opportunity to learn from sommeliers.

So trying to remember, you know, the experiences you had with that wine and the things that you tasted or the tactile experience.  Breaking it down more, you know, particularly as opposed to having it be, you know, vague.  I think that’s the best way.  The more specific details that you can remember about a wine, the easier it’s gonna be to get a great bottle.  And I think as a guest you’re gonna learn more about wine the more you do that.  I think, you know, technology is making that easier.  So relying on things like your smartphone or wine apps or, you know, other forms of social media to kind of learn about wine – that really helps.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton

Sommelier Patrick Cappiello offers advice on ordering wine. Cappiello is the Operating Partner and Wine Director at Pearl and Ashe Restaurant in Manhattan.

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