Opinion: Translate Sommelier to English!

Drinks: Wines

“Could I just have a Pinot?” she`d been looking at me like I was some sort of retard. She repeated it, hopelessly once again. “I`d just want a Pinot”. I was standing at the table, trying to pick the perfect wine for these ladies, browsing up and down in our Burgundy selection and the best Pinot Noirs from the rest of the world. I really did want to help them, too bad that they just thought that I was some sort of a pompous twat, who wants to rip them off and sell them something they do not want possibly very very expensive.

And then it came all clear. The moment of enlightenment found me: it must be Pinot Grigio! So i turned the page to Italian whites, and the tension was over. They were looking at me like I was a pupil of some special attention class, who just managed to complete the impossible task of answering what`s 1+1… Gosh it was tough.

Something has gone utterly wrong.  I guess in the middle of the food and drinks revolution we just managed forget about the folks who are far far away from being trendsetters. All they want is their “nice and dry” white. The ones who can`t be tempted to come out of their comfort zones to explore what we have to offer to them. They don`t know the world of restaurants, they just follow whatever they see in the telly or read in the papers.

All their wine-related information (or about the world outside their homes in general) comes from the Sunday supplements, and an occasional trip to some super touristy spot of Spain Italy or France.

No-one has educated these people in terms of wine. Their definitions of the main parameters of wine (or any beverage) are far far away from WSET-standards. Sweet can be anything with a touch of fruit flavour in it, no matter that it has pretty much 0 g/l residual sugar. And if it is sweet it is categorised as “yuck” or more like “disgusting”.

There was another occasion when a lady was asking for a light red.  When I offered her our Pinot Noir selection she immediately started looking at me like I slaughtered her family using only my corkscrew. She switched into the usual mode when English folk face communications problems with foreigners.  So she repeated it louder and slower: “I want something light. Like a Malbec or an Barossa Shiraz! Pinot is way too heavy for me! ”. I still don`t understand what`s light according to her, but be it, I got her a glass of 15.5% abv “light” Mendoza Malbec. Clearly we did not speak each others language!

But let us not forget that these folks are valuable customers! They are ready to open their purses. They are seeking the restaurant experience just like the ones who were lucky enough to touch the joys of life on a wider surface. The only thing they need is a bit more attention, patience, and possibly some very very light, non-aggressive guidance in their wine choices. They might be going for the kiwi Sauvignon over and over again but if they find comfort in it, well, that wine makes GP just like the bright orange coloured oxidative Slovenian Sipon that is the sommelier`s liebling at the moment.

Guess it is time to take those dictionaries off the shelf and translate our language to the one of our customers!


About Author

Gergely Barsi Szabó

Gergely Barsi Szabó got his first sommelier job when he arrived in London a few years ago. As he puts it, 'At Le Bouchon Breton they gave me the wine list, pushed me to the floor, and pretty much that was it.' Starting out as a journalist in his native Hungary, Barsi Szabó moved closer and closer to the world of wine. At Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2005 he had a satori moment, realising that this was an actual industry, and a fun one at that. Ever since then he has worked, on and off, in the trade. He is most interested in what is in the bottle, and even more importantly, in the people involved.

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