Sommelier Survival, Valentine’s Day

by Jeff Harding
February 2012

calon segur label

The only people who hate Valentine’s Day more than singles are restaurant workers. Sommeliers are hit doubly hard. Not only does the kitchen have a greater number of covers, but instead of opening one bottle for a table of four, you’re doing it for every deuce, effectively doubling the number of bottles to open. Then there’s the issue of choosing a romantic wine for all the, ahem, lovely couples.

The sommelier hero in melodrama manga comic (and StarChefs.com Top Drinks Book of 2011) Drops of God recommends a bottle of Calon-Ségur, famous for its heart on the label. At first I thought this was corny, but on a romantic date (without my jaded view) a heart on the table might be lovely. Might be. But other than featuring a rosé Champagne by the glass, which is kind of mandatory, what’s a lonely somm to do? It’s already too late to request the night off, so I enlisted the help of some favorite sommeliers for advice on how to survive Valentine’s Day.

Somm Survival Tips:
Chef and Master Sommelier-in-training Christopher Bates, of Hotel Fauchere, suggests a short list of recommended wines that are kept close at hand to decrease trips to the wine cellar. He’s also going to offer a prix-fixe menu and encourage predetermined wine pairings. This effectively reduces the bottles the somm has to open and enlists waiters’ help.

At Volt in Washington, DC, Jill Zimorski, a semi-finalist in the 2011 Somm Slam, reminds me that on Valentine’s Day, expectations tend to be quite high, while the dining savvy is often quite low. “That said, some patience and some extra loving care will be needed. Champagne and all manner of red wines are a given,” says Zimorski, who also recommends adding a festive touch to the sommelier’s typical dark suit—and plenty of sugar-free Red Bull. And to entertain herself, she’ll be pouring a Syrah from Scholium Project called "Androkteinos," which means “Slayer of Men” in Greek.

Zimorski’s buddy and fellow Washingtonian, Julian Mayor of Bourbon Steak gave us a cheat sheet of recommended wines: Calon-Ségur from Saint-Estèphe in Bordeaux (our manga hero may have been right), JL Chave´s “Mon Coeur” Cotes-du-Rhone, Chateau les Amoureuses Cotes du Rhone, any Cru Beaujolais from Saint Amour, and hopefully, JF Mugnier´s Chambolle Musigny, “Les Amoureuses” 1er Cru.

Last and easiest to follow are two words of advice from Sommelier Brett Elms of Megu in New York City: “Comfy insoles.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.