A Bartender’s Perspective on Wine
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I recently sat down with David Foss, one of the most respected sommeliers in California. We compared the wine world with the mixology industry. My take on wine is that it’s tough in a bar. First things first: The wine biz has to drop the pretention. The only thing worse than a snotty, pretentious bartender (I’m sorry, mixologist) is an overly stuffy, pretentious sommelier. I love wine — I think it’s great; I even have a decent amount of knowledge about it, but never do I get pretentious about it.
I realize that we want to sell those $100 and $200 bottles, but not everyone wants them; bar staff has to cater to the guests — make them feel comfortable. Nobody wants to feel degraded when they ask for a less costly item. I’ve seen bartenders/sommeliers/servers look down on and talk bad about the wines in the $40 to $60 price range. “It’s okay,” “there are way better wines” and “it definitely tastes like its price” are all things I’ve heard staff members say when asked about lower-price-point wines.
Two aspects need to be fixed:
1) Read the guest. If the guest says he or she wants to stay in a price range, don’t bully them into buying something they don’t want! They will leave feeling pushed and won’t come back.
2) If the wine isn’t good (which very well could be the case) your bar should not be carrying it! There are a ton of amazing wines at great prices; go out and find them!
Wine isn’t pretentious. If you’ve ever met winemakers, chances are they weren’t pompous. Most likely, they weren’t slick, didn’t talk down to you about the wine and instead spoke about it with passion. Chances are they looked like — and probably are — farmers. I’ve met several famous Champagne makers; if you had to pick out of a room which person made the most highly revered Champagnes in the world, you most likely would not be able to do it. They are humble people who love making wine; they appreciate and understand it far better than any sommelier or wine expert. In my humble opinion, it’s important to embrace the same attitude.
I love wine, I appreciate and understand it and I can even go into its chemistry (only around other wine geeks, of course), but for the majority of people it’s a way to socialize. It’s something easy and tasty to enjoy when you are with your family, friends and coworkers. Most people don’t want to know the subtle intricacies of wine; they simply want something that tastes yummy. Most wines are made to be sipped today, not in five or 20 years (although those exist as well). They are meant to be simple and delicious. They are vehicles consumers use to be social, which is why it has stood the test of time.