Sommelier Vajra Stratigos
Fifth Group Restaurants | Atlanta
The Truth in My Wine
I clearly remember a night, years ago, when a tall, gangly, French expatriate approached me after his meal in the restaurant where I was employed as an assistant sommelier. In a snide tone, he conveyed his displeasure with the bottle he had just consumed, insisting that he and his mistress had enjoyed the very same bottle just days before in a café in Paris, and it had been sublime. He was insistent that the bottle was identical, and went on to explain that we as Americans needed to stop doing whatever it was to the wines we imported from abroad.
What the Frenchman observed at the Parisian café was a bottle of wine with a label – what he failed to take into account were his feelings for the café, for his mistress, the flatware, the china, the squeaking murmur of the traffic or the smell of the wet streets; though looking back, it was all of these factors, and likely hundreds more, that contributed to his perspective on the wine.
Although it may be impossible to recreate a guests’ previous taste experience, over time I’ve learned the value in gathering as much information as possible about each guest prior to beginning the process of navigating the list and selecting a wine. As stewards, sommeliers, and servers, we should take full advantage of all the elements we control between the walls of our own restaurants. We should consider, for example, the weather, the guest, their disposition, their clothing, their hairstyles, and ask some questions before beginning to discuss origin and varietals.
Ultimately, all the sommelier really needs to be is the instigator and the navigator. Our job is to insure that each component of our interaction with a guest is geared toward illuminating the path to raw sensory enjoyment and contentment.
Someone once wrote “wine is a means to achieve an inward transformation,” and as students of wine we know that, since ancient times, wine has been allotted a sacred introspective function. Wine harnesses memory, it tells stories, and it aids in the creation of new ones. To me, the truth in wine, despite all that we over-think and deliberate during evaluation and academic exercise, is more about opening ourselves and acknowledging where it is that we physically exist, who we are, and the bounty of life in our immediate environment. It encourages our recognition and appreciation of food, recognition and appreciation of the earth – in fact, of the world.
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