1. Decant Champagne. The best Champagnes begin as great still wines. And like great still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they can benefit from decanting. Don’t worry about the bubbles. The bubbles will last much longer than you think. Also, the choice of glassware is extremely important. Champagne flutes smother the bouquet of a great Champagne. Instead, serve your champagne in white wine glasses or flute shaped glasses similar to a large sherry copita to enhance the aromas.
2. Understand the guest’s preference. The perfect pairing is not always in the best interest of the guest. It is our life’s work to facilitate the rendez-vous of complimentary food and beverage. But if Mr. Johnson wants a California Cabernet with his Sole Meunier, then don’t argue. Instead recommend an older vintage that may have dropped its baby fat and reduced dramatically in tannin structure.
3. Don’t be snooty. The day of the Taste du Vin sporting, pretentious sommelier is long gone. Be approachable and humble. You are a sommelier…but you are a server first.
4. Drink and serve as much Riesling as possible. Your life and the lives of your guests will be richer for doing so. Riesling is the most versatile grape in the world and has an amazing ability to project terroir. When pairing with tasting menus, there are almost always at least two courses where Riesling is my preferred pairing.
5. Embrace fortified wines. Fortified wines have somehow fallen from grace lately—mainly because of higher alcohol levels, and in some cases extremely high sugar content. I am very fond of Madeira and sherry in particular and find the many styles extremely versatile. I find that if I lightly chill fortified wines before serving, they become infinitely more palatable.
6. Look for alternate beverages for pairing. There are a plethora of other options for pairing besides wine. Cocktails come in handy with desserts. There are many types of beer being produced, with varying levels of residual sugar, so this is always a great tool when attempting to break the monotony of a wine pairing. Experience with cocktails will also make it much easier to execute a non-alcoholic pairing when requested.
7. Travel. Whenever possible, travel to different wine regions. This is a great way to recharge your battery and renew your passion for the industry. Whenever I travel to a wine region, I return much more excited about the region. Normally my list will reflect this newfound excitement. Traveling also helps you to create stories that you can use as selling points at the table.