Rising Star Sommelier Sean Beck of Backstreet Café, Hugo’s, and Trevisio – Houston, TX
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Wine Tips for the Sommelier
1. Know thyself. This isn’t merely the guiding principles of Socrates—it’s the key to running a skillful program. If you don’t comprehend your cuisine, staff capabilities, [restaurant] atmosphere, and the nature of the guests you attract, how can you possibly select a thoughtful list? Sommeliers are like the lighting in the art gallery, accenting the nuances of food and wine to create an experience the guest would have otherwise missed. That requires an intimate understanding of the environment in which we work.
2. Taste regularly. Reading about a wine isn’t the same as smelling, tasting, and feeling the texture. Tasting allows you to define your palate as you become better equipped to judge typicity, quality, and value. Reading the words of critics can be helpful as a point of reference, but is far from an absolute. You live, eat, and breathe in your restaurants. Who knows in what environment and circumstances the critics evaluated the wine?
3. Be accessible and friendly. You must give people a reason to trust and like you over whatever wine app they’ve downloaded on their smart phone. To that end, approach every guest with the assumption that they know more than you do. You will never offend them and when you converse; it will feel more like a passionate discussion than a lecture.
4. Think seasonally. Good chefs always take this into account, and so should a skilled sommelier. Conditions affect the way we feel and what our bodies prefer. An average wine can be made memorable when served in the right setting, while a great wine can be cut off at the knees at the wrong time of year.
5. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Helping your servers thrive will earn you admiration, and it encourages them to put you in a position to succeed at their tables. At the end of the day, we are here to deliver a great meal, not just to trot out to serve rare, high-end bottles of wine.
6. Be well rounded. Not everyone has discovered the magic of wine, so being intimately familiar with the world of beer and spirits is just as important. Additionally, the skill and knowledge you show in those areas could help you turn a beer geek or spirits lover into an oenophile. Every window can be an entrance as long as you’re willing to squeeze through it.
7. Spread the gospel of Riesling—it’s your obligation as a sommelier. Where else can one taste the joy of life and the soul of the earth? No matter what cuisine you serve, Riesling will find a place at the table.