Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Secret Official Sommelier Manual--Leaked!

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.


Marcia Macomber said...


Marcia Macomber said...

Assuming you're still with us and able to connect to the interwebs from your Safe Room, HoseMaster, I think Chapter 2's excerpt is the best. The rhythm. The build! The final note!!!

How could you possible give up being God?

Daniel said...

God can't be a sommelier, they serve really crappy wine at church.

another rainy dreary day in the pnw, but the hosemaster always helps to start the day off with a welcome dose of strange...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Much like wine writers, God is dead. If I'm not mistaken, so is Parker. I hung up my tastevin so I could be at peace. Remember this Christmas season, every time a bell rings, a sommelier goes to Hell.

So you're saying a sommelier never served you crappy wine?

I try to start every day with a wee bit of strange. God knows, there is plenty of dull out there.

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately, there is alot of truth to this um, manual. But then are these real somms? Or are they titled self indulgent snobs who could not get other honest work?

david fish / fox farm said...

The reverse of Bill Murray's line in Groundhog Day...

"I'm a god. Not THE God, but a god".

and goddam funny.

Daniel said...

Ron, I have 3 kids under age 10, I can't afford to eat in restaurants that have a sommelier, unless you count the waitress at Red Robin listing the beers of the day.
the only time I drink wine with a somm is when i'm trying to get them to buy my wines (I work for an importer), and I make sure to leave the crappy stuff in the car.
wait, I don't have crappy wine, only the other guys do...

Dean Tudor said...

Yesterday, I just found out that there are eight -- EIGHT -- certified Beer Sommeliers in Canada...This thing is catching: it must be profitable...

PaulG said...

Harsh... an TOTALLY true! Keep going H-master!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I won't speculate what that stands for.

I'm amazed at the bad reputation sommeliers have, and all the vitriol directed their way lately. That was my point with this piece. They're just wine waiters. They didn't steal old people's money with Ponzi schemes, they didn't foreclose on helpless folks' homes and then take huge bailout money, they didn't serially molest children... They are just trying to make a buck. Suddenly they're DMV employees.

David Fish,
Thanks. If you meant I'm goddam funny. Otherwise, yeah, I'd forgotten about the Groundhog Day line.

Three kids and peddling imports? Yikes. On behalf of sommeliers everywhere, Thanks for leaving the crap in the car. And the bad wine too.

I love the idea of a beer sommelier. Do they have a silver church key around their necks?

Is there a test for Certified Idiots? Aside from writing a wine blog, I mean.

Oh, there's more. It's a long manual. I haven't gotten to the Code of Ethics yet. Though it's written in Pig Latin and is hard to translate.

Marlene Rosman said...

Hose, I once wore my somm jacket and tastevin during a University of California-Irvine wine class I was teaching. Someone asked me if the tastevin was a "RELIGIOUS SYMBOL!" I said, "heck, YESSS!"

Dean Tudor said...

Ron, I found your chapter 5 on service in a Pig Latin source ---

Apterchay 5 “Ervicesay”

Unkiesflay areyay attentiveyay andyay eageryay otay ervesay. Ofessionalspray akemay youay aitway andyay ivegay ethay impressionyay eythay areyay oingday youay ayay avorfay ybay akingtay arecay ofyay youay. Ichwhay areyay youay? Aketay ethay ineway orderyay, openyay ethay ottlebay, enthay aystay ethay ellhay outyay ofyay ethay aiterway’say ayway.

Ityay’say alwaysyay estbay otay appearyay ithway ethay ottlebay ofyay ineway enwhay ethay ealmay isyay alf-eatenhay. Ityay ustjay astestay etterbay.

Charlie Olken said...

Like so many bloggers, I often dive into other bits of writing for my inspiration. Today, I am inspired by The Hosemaster who has put into words, better than I have in several tries, why sommeliers have replaced snooty waiters as the funniest and most hated beings in fancy restaurants.

Thanks for the brilliant expose', Ron, and thanks for the inspiration. You will find my feeble attempt to follow in your footsteps over at later this AM.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Classic! I used to say that wearing the tastevin made me feel like Sammy Davis, Jr. An outdated reference now, but hysterical at the time. OK, maybe not.

And, of course, for the first few years I thought the tastevin was just the sommelier's protective cup...

Ankthay, ooyay.

I know a man who can speak perfectly in Pig Latin. He and his mother used to do it when he was a kid, just to drive his father mad. He can carry on a normal conversation, or read a newspaper, in Pig Latin as quickly as you and I can speak English. It's hysterically funny. I want him to speak at my funeral.

Glad to be your inspiration. So you give me crap about writing wine reviews, and now you're going to write satire? Serves me right.

Anonymous said...

GDFO are my initials.

I have met both real Sommeliers and the other kind. The real ones were important to the establishment they worked for by aquiring wines that were good matches for the menu/s of those establishments and actually helped customers/guests.

The other kind are usually self=-important and aquiure and sell wines that they can mark-up well because they are not known well. Lots of this type also have favorite distributors and wineries that spend money and fawn over them.

Marcia Macomber said...

Marlene is right! And love the Sammy Davis, Jr., reference. I get it! Love it! Guess that makes me outdated too. We'll have to see what Samantha thinks about it....

Charlie's ode today to the secret manual is wonderful too. Is there something in that manual about practicing their "I know more than you do!" smug facial expressions?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, there's a lot more in the manual. Annoying facial expressions aren't that important in the dining room, though a standard smug look is required, they're actually more important when dealing with salespeople.

Charlie's ode is nice. It's flattering to have a wine writer of his stature take notice of the HoseMaster, as he has from the beginning. Really, it's a honor.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Sorry, Anonymous posts sometimes get shoved into the Spam folder on Blogger. Don't stop commenting, just don't fret if it doesn't appear instantly or I don't respond right away. Eventually, I'll find it and post it.

I wish the sommelier profession wasn't the target of so much scorn lately. There's scorn in my post, but my intent was to play to the public paranoia that sommeliers are out to get them, make them drink wines they don't like, ignore them, insult them, and act arrogantly. Are there somms like that? Yup. Believe me, they don't usually last long.

Plus, the good sommeliers have to constantly deal with the skepticism. Honestly, I think programs like Master Sommelier have done far more damage to the occupation than they've done good.

Not that my posts are doing anything positive for the job. But having done the job for nineteen years, I do know the ins and outs of the great sommeliers and, sadly, the others. Most of whom are studying for an M.S.

Charlie Olken said...

One further comment, Ron.

If I could write comedy as well as you, I would not have spent my life writing tasting notes.

Anonymous said...

A San Francisco, high-priced dining establishment that has not one, but two sommeliers, had a little card tucked into their voluminous wine list offering a "Nouveau Beaujolais Flight." There were three wines in this Nouveau was a 2010 Regnie and another was a 2010 Julienas.
Apparently wearing those sommelier lapel pins cuts off a certain amount of oxygen flow to the brain.
The poorly constructed/selected wine list did not elevate our admiration for this crew to a level commensurate with their wine prices.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

If I could have been a better comedy writer, I wouldn't have been such a lousy sommelier.

Anonymous 1,
Well, you know what they say, It's Nouveau if it's Nouveau to you.

Wine lists can be damned funny if you know a bit about wine. Every so often, I would intentionally list a wine under the wrong category to see if anyone would catch it. Just for my own laughs. I told a guy this once, he knew his wines, and asked him if he could find the mistake. He flipped through the list, it was big, and then said, "Yeah, here it is, you have Opus One under Cabernet." Funny guy.

I never did have a sommelier pin for my lapel. I did, though, have a big shiny belt buckle in the shape of Larry Stone. It was life-size.

Come around more often, Anon 1, we need you around here.

Anonymous said...

As you may know, there was a modest "scandal" in Montalcino when even the head of the vintner's consorzio there admitted most Brunello wines were not 100% Sangiovese.

In a nice restaurant in Italy, the sommelier had organized the wines by region and type of wine. There was a fairly blank page of "blended" wines ( uvaggio in Italian. I asked the sommelier, pointing to this page why he didn't have any Brunello di Montalcino wines...

It took him a few seconds before this registered...

A sommelier was putting away a shipment of wines. On one box of French wine, the case of some Burgundy was marked "Côté d'Ouvrir"...So the brilliant somm edited their wine list to note some wines as Cote de Beaune, others as Cote de Nuits and another listing featuring this Côté d'Ouvrir.
But, you see, Côté d'Ouvrir is merely a notation on the box translating to something like "Open this side."

ANONYMOUS I, reporting for duty, Hosemaster, Sir!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Anonymous 1,
At ease.

Always glad to have your contributions to the madhouse that is HoseMaster.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that most Brunelli di Montalcino are not 100% Sangiovese. It's like telling me there's no such person as Biondi-Santi Claus.

Yeah, I know, stupid.

gabe said...

loved this post. my favorite part was the penetrating aussie shiraz.

I think the scorn for somms comes from the fact that they often feel the need to show-off their superior knowledge to their guests, even in places like san francisco and the willamette valley, when thier guests are often also in the wine industry. I like the snooty waiter analogy, although i always see them as the clerk at record store who can't play a musical instrument.

anyway, i thought this post was fantastic. hope it becomes a running theme

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Any time you "show off" as a restaurant employee, nothing good can come of it.

Don't know how long of a series it will be, but this is an easy sort of series for me to write. So, of course, I'll revisit it. There is so much more to tell...

Thomas said...


You asked Dean about the beer somms and church keys around their necks. I suspect that many people under a certain age do not understand the reference.

Just yesterday, a fish monger (a young fella) told me that I did not know what I was talking about when I asked him to give me the calamari bodies only and then reiterated what I wanted when he started to pack all tentacles for me. He told me with complete authority that what I called the body is actually the head of the squid. Holding the tentacles and heads in the air he pointed and said loud enough to try to embarrass me, "This is the body."

I believe the problem is not with age or experience but with education, and your diatribe hits the mark on that score.

Anonymous said...

FFS! I think they're on to me! S**t my covers blown! I guess 'flairtending' was my calling...

No seriously...

Amen to the art of hospitality.

Oh, and remember people there is NO hospitality in hospitality!