Sommelier Stephane Colling
The Modern| New York
1. Wine websites:
Check out winebid.com or an auction house website such as Sothebys.com or Christies.com just to make sure that some off the beaten path or rare vintage wines you are interested in buying are listed by your distributors at a fair price. Wine websites such as omnimaps.com also have beautiful, detailed wine maps that help when explaining different wine regions during staff training.
2. The best way to learn about wine:
It is extremely important to taste everyday, but not just for quality purposes. Really take the time to understand what you are tasting. Memorize the flavors and nuances of the wine and try to figure out why a certain profile of a wine matches a specific region or grape. Every Saturday I meet with a group of New York sommeliers for a blind tasting…it really is wonderful practice.
3. Taking wine and food pairings to another level:
Surprise your clients with exotic, rare options. Everyone knows that blue cheese pairs beautifully with a Sauterne. But a wine from Southeast France like Maury which is not as sweet but complements the strong flavor of the blue cheese is a much more interesting choice. Finding these wines makes your job more exciting while challenging and pleasing your adventurous guests at the same time. You are the liaison between the kitchen and the customer. Your wine choices could ruin a dish, and a heavy pairing can leave the customers feeling overly full and tired. By ending a meal with a white wine, such as a late harvest wine from Alsace, which offers a wonderful balance between sweetness and acidity, you can excite the palate and keep it fresh and alive.
4. Budgeting your list:
Focus on the skills of the chef and find the regions that best match their food. Then research that area to find good buys and lesser-known producers. This will keep your cost down while introducing different, out of the ordinary wines to your customers.
5. Creating regulars:
Begin by learning from a customer what they like to drink. Offer tastes, participate in discussions about the wine, share your advanced knowledge and build their trust in your recommendations to help them discover new options. From there you can create a relationship that supercedes their desire to return to the restaurant for just a wonderful meal, but because they want to come see you, knowing you will take care of them. Create a personal relationship by sharing life stories, making them feel more like family than just a customer.
6. Decanting white wine:
Everyone knows the importance of decanting red wines, but this process is often overlooked for whites. The kitchen often sends out an amuse bouche to buy time for the appetizer and main dishes to be prepared. The same holds true for wine. As soon as the customer has ordered, they usually expect the wine to be brought over right away, and more times that not they begin with a white. But these whites need time to open up and breath. Certain wines are ready right away, but it truly makes a difference for older vintages and more robust, rich whites.
7. How to impassion your staff:
Passion is contagious. If you can share your love of wine through tasting, through talking to your staff, and setting up special visits from wine makers or field trips, that passion will be passed along to them. Learning from books and lectures is important, but the best way to become passionate about something is to see it and do it. During harvest season I took my staff to a vineyard where they picked grapes and experienced first-hand the evolution of how wine is made. A few months later we went back to blend and bottle the wine. Seeing the process of wine being made and truly understanding it from a hands-on experience is how a love for something is begun.