It's Okay to Be Experienced

In the world of journalism, there are numerous topics that accommodate critiques by presumed experts on the given subject.

Examples: movies, plays, books, TV programs and restaurants. And, of course, there’s plenty of “wine reviewing” going on.

It’s pretty difficult to get a wine review “wrong” because virtually every palate is different, and wine is perceived differently by different people. Ultimately, a wine review typically is just one person’s opinion.

But when it comes to writing about other wine topics, a certain degree of expertise is mandatory. That thought came to mind recently while reading a story in a major American newspaper about how to order wine in a restaurant:

“Here’s the first and most important thing to remember: The person waiting on you does not care that you are clueless about wine…In fact, the server would rather help you through the process than wait on a wine geek who just wants to drop names and esoteric terms.”

I realize the, ahem, expert was trying to ease the mind of the inexperienced wine drinker, and that’s fine. But in doing so, to claim that wine servers prefer inexperienced drinkers to experienced ones just didn’t seem logical.

So I decided to ask three people–one sommelier, one restaurant wine buyer, and one server at a restaurant that does not have a sommelier–whether they agreed with this writer’s observation.

Let’s start with the server, who works at a well known, moderately upscale restaurant chain that has a modest sized wine list.

“I never thought about it,” she said. “My job is to make every customer feel comfortable; it doesn’t matter to me whether they know much about wine or not.”

Next, the wine buyer at an East Coast restaurant that’s known for its extensive wine list.

“That makes no sense at all,” he said. “If I have a customer who wants to talk about malolactic fermentation or to compare vintages, why not?”

Finally, the observation of the sommelier at one of California wine country’s top dining destinations.

“From a purely selfish perspective, I’d have to say that guy is nuts,” he told me. “I’m going to guide an inexperienced wine drinker to an inexpensive bottle of wine that will pair well with his food. A more experienced wine drinker is much more likely to order a very expensive bottle–and that almost always means a much bigger tip.”

Posted in Editor's Journal
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