I’m not supposed to do this. I signed a document when I became a full-time sommelier that prohibits me from revealing the contents of the Official United States of America Sommelier’s Manual. But I think every restaurant patron should read it. I sent it to WikiLeaks, but Julian Assange wouldn’t touch it. “Too incendiary,” he wrote to me, “and, besides, I only accept secret documents from gay servicemen, or members of the Village People.” To which I say, “I like to stay at the WHY EM SEE AY.” Everybody now! So, at great personal risk, I am publishing excerpts here on HoseMaster of Wine™. I think you’ll find that everything you long suspected about sommeliers is not only true, but a requirement of the job. Failure to live up to the standards outlined here is punishable by significant fines, or, in the case of the worst violators, by mandatory attendance at Evan Goldstein lectures.
From Chapter 1 “Creating the Wine List”
The wine list is your personal fiefdom, a reflection of your bizarre taste in wine, and in no way is it meant to offer customers wines with which they might be familiar. The crap they drink at home has no place in a fine dining establishment. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, if no one needs your assistance in selecting a wine, you’re out of a job. Secondly, if a customer knows a wine, he is also likely to know its normal retail price. The wine list is the one vulnerable area of the restaurant where people can see that you are gouging them. And, boy, will they bitch. Sure, they’ll pay six bucks for ten cents worth of coffee at Starbucks, but mark up your wine to four times cost and they just won’t shut up about it.
Always try to offer wines from off-vintages. When a winery gets a big score on their 2009 vintage, make them an offer on their lousy 2008’s. You get a big discount. Then “accidentally” list the 2009 on the wine list at its normal gigantic markup. When a guest orders a bottle, simply bring out the 2008. They won’t notice. If they do, act surprised at the “typo,” and offer to bring your incomprehensible wine list back for them to select a different bottle. Guests will simply accept the 2008, and, BANG, you’ve got a big profit.
Never arrange the list by price. It’s best to arrange the list under annoyingly cutesy categories meant to reinforce the neurotic guest’s pathetic self-image. “Adventurous Whites,” “Powerful Reds,” “Sexy Alternatives,”—crap like that. Be creative. Try “Big Girth Imports,” or “Remarkable Stamina Whites,” or “Penetrating Deep, Dark Aussies.” People will pay anything to feel better about themselves.
From Chapter 2 “Attitude”
You’re a god. No, you’re God. You’re Karl Rove with a tastevin. You’re Rush Limbaugh with breast reductions. You’re Paul Ryan with a boner. You’re Barbra Streisand with replacement rhinoceros hormones. You’re Larry Mathers as The Beaver. You’re Michel Chapoutier with lifts. You’re God with a Robert Parker complex.
From Chapter 3 “Wine List Pricing”
Always remember that wineries make up prices haphazardly and without any sort of rational reasoning, and that you’re entitled to do the same damn thing. This is just how the wine business works. It doesn’t have to make any sense. You can’t fix it, don’t even try. Being known for a reasonably priced wine list only attracts the sort of people who really should just stay home and eat dinner.
When calculating prices, always round up to the nearest hundred.
White wines should be marked up higher than reds. No one orders white wine in a restaurant anyway. The chumps that do need to pay for it.
From Chapter 4 “Stemware”
That Riedel crap breaks like old people’s hips, and costs damn near as much to replace. Use knockoff brands in various sizes. The more expensive the wine, the larger the bowl of the wine glass you bring to the table. Ideally, you want to empty the bottle into four glasses equally and have it look like each glass is virtually empty. The optical illusion leads to sales of a second bottle. Especially if the fourth person poured, the host, gets less than everyone else.
Never offer to bring fresh glasses for the second, or third, or any other, bottle of wine. Remember, dishwashers are on your team, the clients are the opposing team. Remind the offending customers that they wouldn’t use fresh glasses at home, would they, and your job as a hospitality professional is to make them feel at home.
From Chapter 5 “Service”
Flunkies are attentive and eager to serve. Professionals make you wait and give the impression they are doing you a favor by taking care of you. Which are you? Take the wine order, open the bottle, then stay the hell out of the waiter’s way.
It’s always best to appear with the bottle of wine when the meal is half-eaten. It just tastes better.
Oh, there’s more…if I live long enough to publish another installment.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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