Saturday, December 25, 2010
What did you just call me??
People sometimes ask me how they can become a sommelier. Actually, a lot of times people ask me that. What they don't understand is that one is chosen to be a sommelier. You don't get to pick. It is either in your future that people will consult with you about the ageability of refosco, or it isn't. Either you are called upon to determine if that slight whiff of cardboard is TCA, or your aren't. If the cork has started to crumble and has already slid halfway down the bottle neck and Mike the server who started two weeks ago hands the wine off to someone else to deal with, there is only enough room for one waiter's friend. Will you be there opening up the double pull?
These are the questions people want answers to. They want to know if the Divine Right of Laguiole will pass through them, or if they will be stuck looking at the cellar from the outside for the duration? But of course it has already been decided. How does one know if they are amongst the Tribe of the Corkscrew Lapel Pin? By the nicknames chosen for you by your peers, of course. If you are known to one and all as having a way with a decanter funnel, you will be so recognized by those you come into contact with.
Essentially there are two kinds of sommeliers on this good earth. There are the Born Salesmen, and there are the Life Long Students. Each has a special skill set that they can bring to a table. Born Salemen are all about the show, the flourish, and the double windsor. Should you say to a Born Salesman that you would desire to be drinking a full bodied red from between $70 to $90 a bottle, you will find yourself drinking a $114 pinot noir, and be all the happier for it. The Born Salesman is a natural hunter, and takes his thrill from the art of the kill. What the Salesman himself wants to open and taste is of paramount importance. The Life Long Students, on the other hand, are intrigued by the minutiae. Such a pupil of the vine would be perturbed if someone referred to a 1986 Château Haut-Brion as a Pessac-Léognan, as surely before 1987 it was a Graves. If you should you order the Dageneau Pouilly-Fumé from such a steward, he may ask did you mean the Didier Dageneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly? The Student is pysched to find a new vineyard map. The Life Long Student focuses on the details.
In truth, the Born Salesman and the Life Long Student, in their purest forms, have little in common. The Salesman views the Student as someone who makes everything more difficult than it has to be, while the Student looks upon the Salesman as a person who is incapable of understanding what is important. Accordingly, their nicknames amongst the staff do differ. If you should be referred to as "Killer" or "Shark" by your fellows on the waitstaff, then you most certainly have a future as a Salesman Sommelier. But should your coworkers hail you as "Professor" or "Doctor" then you will assuredly be a Student of the Vine for the rest of your days.
So, as a public service, we now take a look at the nomenclature of the Sommelier Nickname. Because as a Sommelier is known, so a Sommelier is.
Category A: Nicknames given to the Born Salesman Sommelier...
"Obey Wan" (because he can use the Jedi Mind Trick)
and most all of the pilot call signs from the motion picture Top Gun, especially "Iceman," "Viper," "Wolfman," "Maverick (Mav')", and "Slider" but never under any circumstances "Goose." A Sommelier is never "Goose."
Category B: Nicknames given to Life Long Student Sommelier...
and you would think "Edison" but I've never heard anyone actually called "Edison". In truth, the range of names given to this kind of sommelier is fairly limited. Certainly "Professor" or "Doctor" are the most common.
But what about the other side of the tastevin? What are some of the ways Sommeliers are NEVER referred to? Which terms would constitute an automatic 8-ball suspension from the Society of Sommeliers if uttered aloud about one of its members?
Category C: Terms never used to describe a Sommelier...
"Dude who helps clear empty plates"
"Person who thinks of himself as a waiter"
"He'll help us move those tables"
"Likes cheap champagne"
"Shops for clothing at Wal-Mart"
"'Happily pays cover charge"
Many times I have been contacted by concerned parents who want to know if their child will one day be a Sommelier. After all, the competition to get into a top restaurant position is fierce, and folks want to know if they should enroll their offspring in an expensive wine education course or not. For these parents I have drafted a short set of guidelines by which a future Sommelier can be recognized. Please find them below.
Category D: Early warning signs of the future Sommelier...
Your son thinks he is the smartest person in the room. If someone smarter than him walks in, the future sommelier still thinks he is the smartest person in the room.
Wanted to know why the bathtub couldn't always be filled with Champagne.
Was nominated by his 4th grade class as "Best Dressed, with Special Mention for Scarves"
Argued with your uncle about the best wine pairing for cranberry sauce during the last two Thanksgiving meals.
Frequently talked through the previews of movies in a theatre.
Asked his school teacher in front of the entire class if he got "Extra Extra Credit" for answering that question.
Inquired of you how to tie a bow tie at the age of 8.
His favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was Donatello.
Your son was the first person in his class to memorize all the capital cities of European countries, and the last person to use the term "bro" in a sentence.
Spoke with an affected British accent for a period lasting longer than a few minutes in duration.
Coda to Category D:
Though it was once possible to divine a future sommelier by his use of horn-rimmed or "Barry Goldwater" glasses, this is no longer true. If it were, all Brooklyn residents and also Alton Brown would be future sommeliers, and someone has to be left over to write the skateboard magazines and talk with The Chairman.
Heard any good Sommelier nicknames lately? Do share in the comments section!