Last night over a Zidarich Vitovksa, my friend (in for the Lafarge dinner. Which by the way, if I could have, I would have. ) cautioned me and said, "The trick is, if you don't have anything positive to say...."
Then I thought, that's what my newsletter is for, but the blog? Well, other rules apply. Which brings me to this story in Sunday's New York Times biz section.
The story, Reading Restaurant Wine Lists, for Blockbusters and Values could have been a perfect, even sexy idea for the section. The question of how much up-selling and off-loading is that sommelier actually doing is a great one to explore. After all, spending hundreds of bucks on a bottle of wine coupled with dependency on a stranger's recommendation could provoke highly ratcheted anxiety.
We all want editors who save us from false moves, I know I do. The writer should have been saved from his. There were several. The piece commenced with words from an Antinori salesman (and not a sommelier) drawing the unfortunate analogy of sommelier as a floor-walker, brands -slinger and not wine educator.
A wine list filled with brands (think supermarkets lined with Gallos and Broncos) doesn't need a sommelier, a well chosen list filled with actual winemakers work does. If the piece had concentrated its thesis along this guiding truth, it would have made sense. As constructed, the article lacked a needed logic and credibility.
Muddling the reliability of the piece was his inclusion of this quote from the same Antinori guy: "We don’t want to call it the second growth anymore. It’s not what’s left over. It’s a great wine in its own category.”
A second growth of course, is the reference to a Bordeaux classification and not a second wine, as the Antinori was suggesting. But yet, the writer took his chosen structure and persisted with...
Is he (sommelier, he meant. Oh, only a man has this job?) on the make to sell you something the restaurant needs to offload, like a purple Audi A8, or is a producer giving him some kind of financial incentive to sell as many equivalents of Volkswagen Passats as he can that month?
If the piece had worked the way it should have, it would have had its details right. It would have been an exposé and a comparison of sommeliers who are motivated by incentive of the brand instead to those motivated by the incentive of a happy customer (alluded to but never unpacked.) This piece could have offered a great service to the biz section reader if it had forthrightly addressed: how to know if you can trust your sommelier. In that piece?
+The generosity of the sommelier: if you don't like the wine, it will be replaced.
+ The sommelier offering as many tastes of open bottles as you would like.
+ An active determination of the preference of the diner
+A sommelier first considering pricepoint and then suggesting a few possibilities even cheaper than what you're looking to spend
+And if the writer persisted on using that lead from the Antinori perp: How to tell a brand from a wine, and if the sommelier suggests brand, high tail it out of there.
+ The piece would have understood the quotes it picked.
Case in point? In the category of a quote that had to have been bungled, the writer quoted Olivier Flosse, wine director at A Voce explaining how he dealt with a customer's confusion about whether they want dry or sweet wines. When he gives them a choice they almost always choose chardonnay.
“It’s not sweet. It’s a dry grape." Mr. Flosse supposedly said.
Chardonnay, a dry grape? If someone misquoted me in this fashion, I would be intensely horrified and request a correction. Was it a misquote though? Oh, it had to be, right? There's no way a wine director or sommelier or beginning wine student could call a variety a dry grape. There are no dry grapes, unless they are raisins and then they're quite sweet indeed.
Moral of the story: A good sommelier is there to spread wine and is not on commission from its restaurant to sell bottles. Editors assigning wine know how to edit a wine piece, pass it by someone who does.