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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I work in a restaurant and I want to learn how to taste and talk about wine better. Help!
—Kumar, Chennai, India
Talking about wine can be really intimidating, even among people you know. In a restaurant transaction, it is downright tricky to have two strangers try to find some common ground when talking about wine.
My first piece of advice is to relax. Sure, study when you can and read other tasting notes to develop your vocabulary (and you can learn a lot about wine right here at WineSpectator.com), but the thing that makes me most uneasy is when someone tries to talk about wine using words they aren't comfortable with. If you don’t really know what “smooth” or “unctuous” means in relation to a wine, don’t use those terms. Even words like “dry,” “sweet” or “fruity” can be loaded and create confusion, depending on who is using them and how.
Rather, be genuine and enthusiastic in your own words. Tell them which red is your favorite, or you really love how a particular white pairs with the dish they just ordered. Tell them that you just sold a bottle of this wine to a couple earlier in the evening and they were raving about it. Or find out what the best-selling bottle in the restaurant is and point that out to them. Whatever they order, telling them that’s an excellent choice will make them feel good about their decision.
That’s it. You don’t have to rattle off 30 descriptors for each wine. In fact, please don’t. The next step might be to pick a favorite bold red versus a more delicate one, or a light, crisp white versus a fuller-bodied example. But take baby steps. If your guests seem like the chatty, knowledgeable type, when you ask them how they’re enjoying the wine, you can maybe even ask them what they like about it, and file that information away for later.
But whatever you do, don’t fake it. People can tell, and it’s a big turn off.
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