Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Founded by the late Daniel Rogov, focusing primarily on wines that are either kosher or Israeli.

The Role of the Sommelier?

The Sommelier's Role Includes Tasting the Wine and That's Fine With Me
9
31%
The Sommelier's Role May Include Tasting the Wine But I'd Rather He/She Left the Tasting to Me
13
45%
Tasting the Wine Should Not be Part of the Sommelier's Role
2
7%
Depends on Several Factors (Please List Those)
3
10%
No Way, No Time, No Place!!!
2
7%
 
Total votes : 29

Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 19, 2008 3:53 am

In this week's Wine Spectator on line, James Molesworth examines the issue of whether the sommelier should taste your wine or not. One of his findings – only 16% of people who responded to the WS poll preferred the sommelier to taste before serving the wine and 84% preferred them not to. The article can be seen by subscribers at http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Blogs ... 20,00.html The issue is now being discussed on several other boards. Why not us?

What's your point of view: Should the sommelier taste before serving?

As for me, I have some strong feelings on this but I'll hold for a few days to give others a chance to have their 2, 3 or 24 cents worth.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Eli R » Sat Jul 19, 2008 4:30 am

Depends.....

1. When I dine in Israel (on my budget or what is left after my wine purchases :wink: ), in most cases it would not be the professional sommelier, but a regular waiter/waitress.
Every now and then I don't even trust their un-corking abilities.

2. On the other hand, when it comes to a full protocol with a respectable bottle of wine, either from the reastaurant cellar or one that was brought in, I believe the sommelier should check the cork, bottle taste and if in doubt consult with the customers.
This was just the case last evening and it work fine for all.

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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Jan Schultink » Sat Jul 19, 2008 6:42 am

Depends.

1) Agree with the regular waiter situation - definitely not
2) Otherwise I still would not like it if the sommelier wants to taste the wine, except in those cases where a suspicious cork is detected, only after my permission...
3) The third case is probably when a customer tastes the wine and is about to return it. If there is disagreement about "corkedness", most good restaurant will say that the customer is always right though..
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Ed Draves » Sat Jul 19, 2008 7:58 am

I would like to have a Sommelier on hand to taste the wine if I could not (if I had a cold and was with a group). I expect him/her to only do so upon my request.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:13 am

I always enjoy discussing the wine with the sommelier, especially the food matches. I may know as much about the wine itself but she should know more about the food. I enjoy that ritual greatly, and my guests always do too. An enthusiastic yes always with a sommelier, even with a wine I bring BYOB.

As a more general rule, I ask even inexperienced wait staff to taste the wine. After all, tasting, sharing and discussing wine is one of the great joys of the hobby. It's amazing how the conversations can develop. Example: I always as flight attendants (only if they have time) whether they've tasted the wines on offer -- usually Business Class, I'll admit. One fellow turned out to have his own vineyard in Alsace, and we had a delightful voyage to Europe and through the vineyards of the world.

Kid wait staff -- especially poorly trained ones -- seem to enjoy the experience, their insights can be remarkable, and we get better service as a side benefit.

Bottom line: always, without exception.

Best, Bob

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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Eli R » Sat Jul 19, 2008 10:48 am

Bob Ross wrote: even with a wine I bring BYOB. .


IMHO there is a big difference between tasting the wine before it is served, which is by default the privilege of the person who chose the wine,
and the situation where the sommelier or waiter asking for permission to taste the wine after he has finished his service around the table, and this is especially in the BYOB case when the sommelier may be less familiar with the wine.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Jul 19, 2008 11:15 am

Eli R wrote:IMHO there is a big difference between tasting the wine before it is served, which is by default the privilege of the person who chose the wine, and the situation where the sommelier or waiter asking for permission to taste the wine after he has finished his service around the table, and this is especially in the BYOB case when the sommelier may be less familiar with the wine.


Not to me, Eli -- exactly the same thing in my book.

But mileage varies for different folks, of course. Maybe my diner training in fine New York restaurants makes it so acceptable to me.

Or maybe it's my shy, lack of confidence personality. :)

Best, Bob
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Florida Jim » Sat Jul 19, 2008 12:44 pm

Depends . . .
Only when the customer asks or offers.
Best, Jim
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Ran S » Sat Jul 19, 2008 4:01 pm

Hi,

If I bring the wine (as in most cases) - I will pay corcage fee, but that's about it. No one touches the wine... unless I offer a glass to the shift manager or owner. If the wine was bought from the place's list - than I will still do everything on my own, and if something is wrong - I will ofcourse need the "local" guy to taste as well.

Cheers,
RS.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Josh Patt » Sat Jul 19, 2008 6:03 pm

I remember a case where the owner offered to pass on the corkage fee for a taste of the wine, but that was a one time thing.

In places where there is a trained Sommelier, I think it makes sense for him to taste the wine. This way, if there is an obvious problem he can offer to bring another bottle immediately. I think that many people are hesitant to send back a wine either because they are not sure that it is corked or they are reluctant to 'make a fuss'. The sommelier should know what the wine is supposed to taste like and can easily detect any problem.

Unfortunately, most of the restaurants in Israel don't have a trained sommelier ar anybody with the ability to tell if a wine is corked, so there's not much point :(

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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Yoni M » Sun Jul 20, 2008 5:08 am

I would assume (correct me if I am wrong) that a restaurant that chooses to employ a sommelier gives the latter the opportunity to familiarize him/herself with the establishment's offerings. That being the case, and considering the ridiculous markup that most restaurants levy on wine, I would only offer a taste to the sommelier if I perceived a fault and desired confirmation of that fault.
If I had brought my own bottle, was permitted to open it up (considering the creativity of arbitrary rules created by some sommeliers, this is not always possible, even with a corkage fee), and struck up a good rapport with the sommelier, perhaps I would consider offering a taste if he/she had not previously tried the wine.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby RShaffer » Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:05 am

I like to smell but not taste the wine presented.

I don't want staff tasting my wine!

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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Daniel Rogov » Mon Jul 21, 2008 1:48 pm

Depends on many factors but as a rule I'm all for it.

In "olden days" it was traditional for the wine steward in royal and noble households to taste the wine, not so much to check its quality but as a sign that it was not poisoned. Following the French revolution, during which time restaurants as we know them today began to open, it became traditional for the sommelier first to pour a tiny bit of wine for himself to taste, and only then to offer a first small tasting pour for the host at the table. That tradition has remained firm, especially in France and Italy at restaurants that employ true sommeliers. It is not traditional for wine waiters or others than the sommelier to do such a tasting.

In Europe, I'm all for the tradition in restaurants that have true sommeliers but on the conditions that the bottle will be opened at my table (I will never accept a bottle that has not been opened at my table), that the sommelier asks if we would like him to taste, and of course that he takes just enough of a quantity (20-25 cc) for his tasting. After his tasting, I expect that either I or whomever is the host will be given a small amount as a tasting sample as well. One of the advantages of this is that it can, if desired, lead to a discussion with an informed sommelier on the qualities of the wine and perhaps a comparison to other similar wines or the same wine of other vintages.

In America, from the mid-19th century and the days of better restaurants such as Delmonicos, the tradition persisted and such restaurants did have well trained sommeliers, most of whom had received their training either in France or the UK. Later, as American restaurants became more mass-market oriented, the sommelier was replaced by the "wine waiter" or even by the waiter who was supposed to (but did not necessarily) know something about wine. Only a few American restaurants kept the habit and those (e.g. The Starlight Room at the Waldorf Astoria, the Columns at the St. Regis, etc) of keeping a true sommelier …..until the late 1980's and early 1990's when restaurateurs realized once again that a good sommelier was as important a part of the staff as the chef. By then, however, it had become a matter of individual choice – at Boulud the sommelier offered to taste; at the Four Seasons, it was considered a faux pas, etc. The habit of the sommelier tasting took off in a major way with the advent of fine restaurants in (of all places) Las Vegas, and has since spread both east and west.

My own policy in the USA is to determine whether there is a real sommelier and what his background is. If it is a European equivalent, I will let him taste my wine with pleasure and then go on to my own tasting. If the sommelier is, as is too often the case, an oenological illiterate, I insist on doing my own tasting. With older bottles I will even insist in such cases on opening the wine myself. In some case, where a wine should be opened 1 – 3 hours before being served, I will appear at the restaurant either to open the wine myself or to oversee its opening.

In Israel we're faced with a different story – too many so-called sommeliers having neither adequate training or knowledge. In my own case I'm fortunate enough to know each of the sommeliers at the various restaurants and make my decision based on personal knowledge. Let's put it this way – at any restaurant that I rate 5 stars and at a few that rate 4, I'll be glad to put myself in the hands of the sommelier, sometimes in fact ordering my dinner and trusting the sommelier to actually select the wines for me. In far more cases – helas – I go entirely on my own and insist on that. The good news is that there is an increasing number of well-informed, well-trained sommeliers here in Israel.\\

To a second point – when I bring my own wines to a restaurant (probably about 50% of my visits), I will always offer the sommelier or wine waiter and perhaps the chef a small glass for their pleasure. At times, if the wait person is really nice I will even "insist" that they too try the wine. Indeed, one of the pleasures of wine is sharing. When ordering wine from the restaurant menu if the wine waiter/sommelier/wait person is not familiar with the wine I will often offer a glass for their tasting pleasure.

But then again, I'm said to be an old-fashioned person.

Best
Rogov

P.S. In European households even today it is considered traditional for the host to taste the first glass of the wine. From a pratical poiunt of view that is done to check the wine. From the traditional point of view it remains a sign that the wine he/she is about to offer guests has not been poisoned.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Gary J » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:18 pm

Interesting concepts.

With restaurant markups on wine and the fact that I so rarely have leftover wine I am not interested in sharing my precious wine with anyone not in my party. I will trust my own palate in determining whether or not the wine is fit to be served.

That said, at BYOB establishments where I will typically walk in with more than 1 bottle of wine I am generally more than happy to share with neighboring diners, waiters, etc...

So I suppose it is a matter of cost and how much there is to go around...
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Avi Hein » Mon Jul 21, 2008 3:34 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:In Israel we're faced with a different story – too many so-called sommeliers having neither adequate training or knowledge. In my own case I'm fortunate enough to know each of the sommeliers at the various restaurants and make my decision based on personal knowledge. Let's put it this way – at any restaurant that I rate 5 stars and at a few that rate 4, I'll be glad to put myself in the hands of the sommelier, sometimes in fact ordering my dinner and trusting the sommelier to actually select the wines for me. In far more cases – helas – I go entirely on my own and insist on that. The good news is that there is an increasing number of well-informed, well-trained sommeliers here in Israel.\\


Not to go entirely off topic but Rogov brings up an interesting point that I raised at the Jerusalem Wine Festival. In Israel, we lack trained sommeliers. But, where exactly in Israel can one obtain proper sommolier training (besides going to Europe or having a sommolier move to Israel from another country). In the US there are certain reputable training institutes where one can gain a certification but there are no programs in Israel, as far as I know and was informed last week, to train to become a sommelier. So, how, in Israel, is one supposed to learn this ancient artistry?
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Daniel Rogov » Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:35 pm

Avi, Hi....

For those wanting to enter into the sommelier's field in Israel, I would suggest a distinct three-step process.

1.Identifying those severa; local sommeliers, several foreign trained, others not, who have indeed attained a good name and a good level of knowledge and working with them for at least six months to determine if this is the profession on really wants to follow.

2. After that, formal study in France, Italy or the USA, that followed by one or more stages (apprenticeships) in respected restaurants boasting truly excellent and experienced sommeliers

3. A return to Israel to enter the profession with honor, integrity and basic experience.

In these considerations to realize that as much as Tel Aviv and to a lesser extent Jerusalem and other areas are developing an enviable culinary status, that not many restaurants can afford a full-time sommelier. In fact, several of the best local sommeliers are now serving more as consultants to restaurants (in building their wine lists, training staff, etc) or in other wine-related professional endeavors (giving courses, organizing fairs, etc) than in their true sommelier roles.

Best
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Peter May » Mon Jul 21, 2008 6:26 pm

The sommelier tasting your wine first is in the same area as the much more common practice of the wine waiter smelling the cork before pouring your wine.

It is a form of intimidation: they are demonstrating that they have tested the wine and that it is satisfactory. Therefore you - the ignorant customer - cannot possibly subesequently reject the wine. And you need courage to do so.

As the customer, I am the one who will drink the wine and I am the one who will be paying for it, and thus it is up to me and me alone to judge whether it is satisfactory, and if it think it is not, then that should be the final decision.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Marlyne K » Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:55 pm

The only reason I'd want someone tasting my wine before me is if I worried it might be poisoned...I remember my history books talking about food tasters employed by kings and nobles (and other rich dudes).
If it's my bottle, I either know what it is or take my chances; if it's their bottle, they've already charged a 3+ times markup on the stuff, I'm not giving up an ounce! Unless I feel it's bad, in which case, they can drink it all, as long as they replace it with something acceptable!
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Norm N » Tue Jul 22, 2008 7:31 am

I prefer to taste the wine myself. If I have a doubt about the quality of the wine (eg. I think that it might be corked), I will solicit the opinion of the sommelier if there is one or the server if he/she seems knowledgeable about wine.

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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Ryan M » Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:57 pm

I have only had one dining experience where a real, live sommelier came to the table to give us recommendations, and he was a helpful and pleasant chap. I think tasting a wine is legitimately part of the sommeliers role, but only if you request or offer.
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Yariv H » Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:53 am

well it is very simple I trust my self :P :mrgreen:
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Bill Spohn » Fri Jul 25, 2008 11:08 am

The sommelier is there to do one thing only - advise on choice of wine.

Once he has done that, any wine waiter can present the bottle and open it - it is my role as host to taste it and declare it acceptable or not.

And another thing - I deplore the habit of waiters constantly topping off everyones' glasses. Once they have allowed me to taste the wine and I have found it to be alright, I allow them to pour for everyone and then make it clear that I do not expect them to touch the bottle again as we will take care of our own wine service. Some people (ladies, designated drivers) do not drink as much or at the same rate as others.

It is an uphill battle sometimes - to the point that I have threatened to leave if they don't accede to my wishes. I don't know whether it is just busywork, habit, or a thinly veiled attempt to get you to order another bottle, but interfering wine waiters are a point of some annoyance for me.

Back to the sommelier - sure he can taste the wineif I have declared it corked - not because I want another opinion, because the only thing that matters is what I perceive, but to make it easier to convince him that the bottle should be replaced.

The worst possible situation (and I have experienced this) is when you have a sommelier that is insensitive to TCA and tells you that a clearly corked wine is just fine......
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Daniel Rogov » Fri Jul 25, 2008 11:40 am

Bill, Hi....


I think a good deal here depends on one's national upbringing. In many European restaurants one of the accepted tasks of the sommelier is to serve as a "first fallback" on the chance that the wine may be off. That is to say, his first sip (and all they take is a bare sip) is to check for TCA and other faults to save the client from the exposure. After his first sip the wine is then poured for the approval of the host at the table. His sip and then pouring implies that in his opinion the wine is acceptable. A good sommelier will not, however, argue or disagree with the client that says the wine is not acceptable, and even then will replace the bottle.

On occasion when a sommelier has had his first sip and declares the wine to be off, I have also requested a sip in order to know for myself what specifically is the problem. I have never been denied that sip, and sometimes it has led to interesting (albeit brief) discussions on the fault/s in question.

As to waiters continuously topping off glasses, I have no problem at all, making it known (albeit quite gently and certainly not in these words) that if anyone but we at the table pour the wine or specificallly request it to be poured I will cut off his/her left ear and have it served deep fried with a good demi-glace sauce.

Best
Rogov
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Re: Wine Poll #001: Who Should Taste Your Wine?

Postby Bill Spohn » Fri Jul 25, 2008 12:00 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:As to waiters continuously topping off glasses, I have no problem at all, making it known (albeit quite gently and certainly not in these words) that if anyone but we at the table pour the wine or specificallly request it to be poured I will cut off his/her left ear and have it served deep fried with a good demi-glace sauce.


I had one waiter that I first asked nicely not to top off, then told him quite forcefully that I didn't want him to do it, and finally when he did it again, told him that if he did it again he was kissing any hope of a tip goodbye. And guess what - apparently his cranium had insufficient RAM to implement the threefold warning and Mr Automaton did it again. result, no tip and a short sharp discussion with the maitre D'. :roll:

I like your solution too, though! :mrgreen:
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