How to sound like you know about wine while having the sommelier decide for you instead
by Geordie Clarke
The fact about having a just little bit of knowledge about something is that all the things I don’t know about it become apparent when I’m in the company of those who truly know a lot about it – such as people who actually earn a living working in the wine business rather than those who blog about it incessantly, like yours truly.
Needless to say, I get by with what little I know about wine with a bit of luck and a lot of blagging. I suspect most people are doing this anyway, so it works out for the best one way or another.
So there I was the other week eyeing up the ravioli and Cote de Boeuf at London’s Bleeding Heart restaurant and sweating slightly after being given the task of choosing the wine for the my hosts.
In other words, for the two people who invited me to this lunch specifically because they like wine, they knew I liked wine and they knew they would like wine even more if they drank it with me at what happens to be one of London’s best restaurants.
It was a tall order. And even though I often head straight for the Bordeaux when steak is discussed, I’m also someone who wants to try something different. Lately I’ve been sizing up the offerings from the South of France, so my eyes instantly locked on to the Madiran.
Enter the restaurant’s sommelier, adorned with a bunch-of-grapes pin and a very French accent. Now, when you’re at a restaurant nice – or just expensive – enough to have a full-time sommelier, it can go one of two ways. Either he/she will be attentive, informative and helpful, guiding you to the right wines for the occasion and your tastes. Or he/she will do none of this and give you vague answers to all of your questions and say only positive things about the wines you’re considering.
Sometimes we get sommeliers who just want to please you by agreeing with everything you say. But the last thing we need is a sycophantic sommelier, someone who will only say positive things about your choices. Certainly not.
What I want – and need, because I really don’t know as much as I would like to pretend – is someone who will stop me making a massive gastronomic faux pas, a person who will be willing wedge his body between me and an awful bottle of wine that will make my Chateaubriand taste like a petrified cowboy boot.
So, in terms of the two kinds of sommeliers in the world (I accept there might be more than two), sometimes we get the former, sometimes we get the latter. On this occasion, I got the former, and I tried my utmost not to looked relieved in front of my hosts.
Standing before me was a man who, free from judgement on his face, said matter-of-factly that his Madiran was in a light style and probably wouldn’t give me the satisfaction I desired. How bout the red Pic St Loup, I asked? What you want, he said, is the Faugeres – and you will not be disappointed.
The Faugeres in question, Domaine de Cebene Les Bancels Les Faugeres 2010, was everything we were after. Spice, depth of character, a satisfying viscosity, plenty of black fruits and enough backbone to stand up to the obligatory slab of meat you eat when a person goes to the Bleeding Heart.
Like any good wine ought, it made me look like a hero. But in reality it was all a blag, a lucky result garnered from a helpful sommelier who knew what I was after and almost certainly saw how befuddled I had become when handed his tome of a wine list.