Nearly all sommeliers are passionate about wine. They can even be militant about their own taste preferences, especially when they’re just starting out. Sometimes this can be misinterpreted as arrogance or high-pressure sales tactics.
One of the most difficult lessons to learn as a sommelier is to put one's own taste preferences into perspective. It is important to consider what other people buy and like, what their expectations are and what price range they may feel comfortable with, in order to come up with wine recommendations that will suit them and impress them. After all, it is a service that they are paying you for.
However, most young sommeliers are adamant about recommending their favorite wines, because after all, it was probably one of them that inspired their pursuit of the profession in the first place.
I was very young when I began to enjoy wine, and my family wasn’t wealthy. So I had to taste a lot of wines that may have been flawed or less than exemplary. Also helpful to my ability to put my own taste into perspective was the difference between my father's and my mother's palates. My mother liked slightly sweet wines with bright acidity, such as those from the Loire or the Mosel. My father liked Cabernet and Sangiovese. I didn't take sides, but was able to taste a Vouvray ($3.49) in relation to my mother's preferences and a BV Rutherford Cabernet ($2.99) in the context of my father's expectations. (In case you didn't notice, Vouvray and Mosel Rieslings were more expensive than California Cabernet at that time.)
Much later, when I was studying abroad, I realized that I really loved intense Rhône reds, and red and white Burgundy, thanks to my uncle in Vienna, who had a well-chosen wine cellar. My conversion to enophile came when he went away on vacation and said that I could drink whatever I wanted to out of his cellar while he was gone.
One night, when I was practicing my flute, I decided to get a bottle of wine from the cellar and happened to pull out a 1967 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Jaboulet. It was a relatively current wine at that time, less than a decade old. As I was sipping and playing Handel flute sonatas, it dawned upon me that I hadn't ever quite tasted anything like this before. And I put down the flute and contemplated the wine instead. I felt that I had missed a great deal by not finding the best wines sooner, and resolved to search out more wines as complex as this Châteauneuf.
I did not immediately think of becoming a sommelier, but I began to actively study more about wine and to take it more seriously than I ever had. My girlfriend at that time encouraged me and bought me several works, including Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits, which was the most widely read resource at the time.
I’ll never forget that Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That night, I started out on a path that led to a career in wine.
I am sure that most of you reading this have had a life-altering wine experience. What were some of the wines?
Robert Renner — Silver Spring, MD — January 19, 2007 1:47pm ET
Chris — Edmonton, — January 19, 2007 2:10pm ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — January 19, 2007 2:43pm ET
Paul Manchester — Santa Cruz, CA — January 19, 2007 3:00pm ET
Marco Carelli — Montreal, Quebec, Canada — January 19, 2007 3:57pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — January 19, 2007 9:00pm ET
Geoff Wells — January 19, 2007 9:21pm ET
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — January 19, 2007 10:15pm ET
Delmonico Stkhse @ Venetian — Las Vegas, Nevada — January 20, 2007 5:23am ET
Bernard Sun — New York, NY, USA — January 20, 2007 3:05pm ET
Alexander M Medina — Roseville, CA — January 20, 2007 3:49pm ET
Michael Bianco — Kettering OH — January 20, 2007 8:13pm ET
Maynard James Keenan — page Springs, az — January 21, 2007 12:17am ET
Larry Stone — Rutherford, CA — January 21, 2007 12:19pm ET
Andrew Bernardo — Halifax, Nova Scotia — January 21, 2007 9:00pm ET
Jeffrey Bencus — Rochester, NY — January 21, 2007 10:28pm ET
Robert — Richmond VA — January 22, 2007 6:13am ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — January 22, 2007 11:53am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 22, 2007 6:25pm ET
Christy Dufault — San Francisco, CA — January 25, 2007 2:19am ET
Robert L Schmitt — Encinitas,CA USA — January 26, 2007 3:04pm ET
Lee Edwards — Little Rock, Arkansas — January 28, 2007 5:10am ET
Scott Mccall — Seattle — March 12, 2007 8:49pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions