Demystifying the Sommelier

Patrick Chiappetta, director of operations at Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., sounds off on showboating sommeliers.


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Wine is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to bring us to the table to enjoy a moment or the company of friends. So how has fermented grape juice in a bottle become so intimidating to the average diner?

In my experience, the majority of sommeliers and purveyors do not promote a wine culture that is out of reach or self-indulgent. As for the winemakers, most are simple farmers who are in love with the land and passionate about making a product for people to share and enjoy. Still, many diners feel a need to study up before they order or buy wine.

I believe this phenomenon is the result of a few overly articulate wine snobs who call themselves “sommeliers.” These confused bores are using their dining rooms to showboat and make guests feel a degree in viticulture and enology is a prerequisite to enjoying wine.

True sommeliers understand that their role is to serve as humble wine guides for guests. Thus, they never let their “passion buckets” run over into arrogance.

Three Tips for Handling a Showboat Sommelier

1. Don’t poke the bear. Remember, this person is surging with wine factoids and is ready to turn your romantic anniversary dinner into a lesson on soil composition. Allow him or her a moment in the spotlight, and then get back to your date.
2. Remember who is buying. This is your experience and your money. Trust your palate. If you don’t smell the saddle leather he or she was talking about, or you don’t like the smell of saddle leather, it’s fine to send it back. Don’t be bullied into buying a wine you don’t like.
3. There’s an app for that. If you see this showboat lurking in the server alley, shining a tastevin for his next performance, skip the sermon, download a wine app and trust your instincts.

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