Sell sell sell! In essence a Sommeliers job is to increase the earnings of whatever establishment they work for. Yes one should have a wine list that reflects the cuisine and the highest aspirations of the restaurant – but its got to make money. We learned how to manage an inventory, keep wines moving, minimize loss and maximize profit. The knowledge we’d gained of the wines of the world was integral to this process for many reasons. First was obviously where to get the really good deals. The first wine we drank in class was Louis Boillot “Perle”, Cremant de Bourgogne Rose at only 12$ a bottle. It was delightful. Sell it for 36$ a bottle in your restaurant…hell its from France, its got bubbles and its pink!
The next important application of wine knowledge is to increase the value of the wine experience for a customer through story. Wine somehow tastes better when you know a little more about it. “This was a stormy year, the vintners had to fight every day to pull the grapes in at just the right time. I’ve been to that vineyard and seen the soil, it is actually white! No no … they got the government to change the flight path of those jets so they no longer cross the air space above the vineyard. Now there’s a city with its priorities worked out!” When we are drinking wine we are also drinking in the history of some part of this earth. It seems that most of us know this instinctively. We want story with our food because we understand food is story.
Of course I was spending all of my time memorizing wines and food pairings for the next test. I’d worked out a new system, categorizing wines by food groups. My plan was unbeatable – 30 wines 1/2 from the Old World, the other 1/2 from the New World. I even included the producers of the aperitifs and digestives I’d recommend. I was prepared to tell my guest why they should drink the Grand Marnier 100 years, where it was made and by whom. I entered my final exam with the icy calm of a gunslinger who knows his opponent doesn’t stand a chance.
OK, so a lot of things could go wrong with the decanting – which would be our final service test as PCI students. Most of us think of decanting as uncorking a bottle of wine, pouring it into a decanter of some kind and swishing it around to air it out. Breathing room is one reason to decant wine. The other is to remove sediment from aged wine without filtering out other subtleties that the consumer might miss. Rather than pouring your 1955 Chateau Angelus – 1er Grand Cru through a sieve we gently remove it from the wine rack and place it in a wine basket cushioned with a folded cotton napkin. Being careful not to tilt the bottle too much we open it while in the basket, gently removing the decrepit cork and wiping the lip of the bottle. Then we, through the power of our superior Sommelier concentration, levitate the bottle above a flame – silently transferring the wine into the decanter and halting when too much sediment tries to make its way across the flame of truth. If we’ve done our job well, not disturbing the wine too much, the sediment will reside in only the briefest remaining pool of wine in the bottle. Some connoisseurs swear this dram contains the chief health benefits of the wine. At 900$ a bottle I’d sure as hell drink it, or failing that snort it through a straw.
Now for everything that can go wrong. The first is stopping. Stopping and starting costs you a few points each time you do it. Dripping is of course bad. Shaking or re-integrating the sediment that was resting nicely at the bottom of the bottle is very very bad. If today is not your lucky day you will be given the decanter of death. This is a crystal container shaped like a giant Menthos with a tiny fluted spout popping up out of its flat center. It requires that you tip the decanter almost completely upside down before any wine will come out. Once its ready – well my God does that wine flow! It quickly gushes out, filling the glass before you in the blink of an eye and then comiting its remaining contents all over the table.
Many might think the worst thing you could do is catch yourself on fire – sadly this does happen. Delighting in the steady flow of wine from the bottle into the decanter you’ve failed to notice your cuff alighting on the candle below. If you’re concentration is superior you’ll be well ablaze before the screams of the guests rouse you. Worse than catching fire would be to curse or raise your voice rudely because you are on fire. After all, Super-Sommeliers don’t cry when they go up in flames, only when good wine goes to waste.
Despite all of these pitfalls I did well on my decanting. I had truly become the steely eyed gunslinger super-hero Sommelier. Catherine – who does not hand out compliments easily gave me several “perfects.” To say I slept well that night would be an understatement. It was the last night of class. Students brought in their favorite, beers, wines, and even some nice Italian grappa. As you can imagine Sommelier students like to drink, and we insist on tasting everything. That night we all swallowed. I had to wait a while before heading over the hill.
previous chapter: “107 Beers Spirits And Cigars” ~ next chapter: “The Break”