Paul Einbund is the wine director of the Slanted Door restaurant group. He's also worked as the sommelier at Frances, Coi and more. Look for him here every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @pauleinbund.
While I believe that talking to a sommelier is becoming less intimidating, I still also know that most guests could use a little help getting the most out of their ordering experience. Here are my tips.
1. Be direct. We can’t read your mind, though I might try! If you tell us what you want then any sommelier worth their salt is going to try and make you happy no matter what the request. What I’m talking about is price point ($20 or $200), flavors (fruity or earthy), weight (light or full bodied). If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions then engage us in a conversation and we will find what you want on your terms.
2. Tell us what the night is about. If you are celebrating your daughters 18th birthday then the wine probably takes second or third stage. Impressing an important client, celebrating a personal win or a romantic evening all call for different wines. I’m not saying we need to become part of your family but whatever pertinent information you can share with the restaurant will allow us to meet, and hopefully exceed, your expectations.
3. Tell us about wines you’ve had recently that you liked. Pretty self-explanatory this one. It's like Pandora. If you have a particular wine on your mind or a wine that you have always wanted to have again then tell us. We will see what we have that might compare. At the very least we might get a better idea of your taste in wine and be able to work with that.
4. Tell us if you care about the pairing with your food or if you just want a specific flavor. You don’t always have to pair the wine with the food. The perfect wine with great food can be an incredible experience, but it is not the most important thing in the world. This is your night and your dollar! So if you really want a specific style of wine let us know. If you do ask us to pair the wine to the food then be ready to taste something new. It’s not always the usual suspects that work with things like beets and white chocolate served with crispy onions. (Ok, I just made that dish up, but you know what I mean.)
5. Trust us? This one is the trickiest one for me because I myself am skeptical about other people's opinions. If you know where you are going or who is doing the wine, then put your trust in the sommelier. But if you are going somewhere for the first time and haven’t heard anything then be more cautious. I always am.