Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vicariously Living the Life of a Sommelier

The concept of a sommelier is an amazing one. They are persons specifically paid to a) decide which wines the restaurant will buy to have available for its customers and b) to be available during service to help customers with their choice of wine. Depending on the type of restaurant and if it serves lunch, a sommelier is on the job 10-14 hours a day and is constantly bombarded by aggressive importers and distributors hoping to get their wines on the sommelier’s list. Public relations groups track sommeliers, waiting until they land at a new “hip” restaurant so that the sommelier can then be invited to lunches, dinners, tastings, and trips around the world.
These are the gatekeepers, the last line to cross before a wine is purchased by the ordinary restaurant patron. Sommeliers listen to their customers and determine the direction of trends. Always looking for the next great wine, they constantly taste wines from places like Australia, California, Chile, France, Germany, and Italy.

And through all that work, sommeliers know where to go for a good drink. I went out on Friday with a few of these wine junkies and had a great time. At Elmo, the first place we went, every part of the restaurant was taken in and measured on a scale of how much each person enjoyed the experience. We had drinks and caught up on how each person’s restaurant was doing in these unknown economic times.

Then the discussion turned to where to go next. Terroir, PDT, and Employees Only were among the places considered. These are establishments the members of the New York food industry know well, but your average bar hopper might not.

We ended up going to Pegu, a place on Houston. The door had a small design with the name bracketed, easily missed by a passerby. The atmosphere was dark and perfect, and the drinks were great and inventive. It was the kind of place I wanted to go to hang out with a group of friends and not a night club where I would have to yell at the top of my lungs just to get a gin and tonic. While we were there another sommelier joined us, bringing with him a glass in his backpack he brought from his restaurant. In the glass was a '71 Burgundy that a collector had opened at the restaurant. Imagine, that someone walks into a bar with a 40 year old wine in a wrapped glass in their backpack after they had biked to get there. These people are awesome.

So being a sommelier is a lot of work. One has to deal with customers, pushy salespeople, and determined public relations professionals. But the perks seem pretty good to me.


Lauren said...

New career perhaps???

Rob Bralow said...

I buy wine using other people's money? Yes that would be fabulous. However, I do not think that I am really someone who should be on the service side of a restaurant.

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