definition of Sommelier


How to develop your wine palate:
By Madeline Triffon, Wine Director, Unique Restaurant Corp.

The single most important ability to develop when embarking on the adventure of wine tasting is to teach yourself how to recognize quality. When I was a very young sommelier, I had no mentor, no professional direction other than my own common sense. I was thirsty for the counsel of anyone with some depth of experience in wine. While working in a formal dining room, I had the privilege one evening of serving André Gagey, the director of the esteemed Burgundy house Louis Jadot. With enthusiasm and innocence, I asked him "Mr.Gagey, could you please tell me how you taste wine?" To my eternal gratitude, he gave the question some thought and then answered: "When I first approach a wine, I always ask myself ‘Is this good wine?’ And then at the end, again, ‘Is this good wine?’ " I will always remember his kindness in giving me the best advice I’ve ever received on how to taste wine.

"Is this good wine?" is, on the surface, a simple question. But it presupposes that you have garnered experience in judging balance and typicity, that you can assess a wine in its unyielding youth, and, most importantly, can make a quality call independent of any critical press. Make the opinion your own. Also, to all the enthusiastic blind tasters out there: the ability to deduce what a wine is is impressive but utterly unrelated to assessing quality, in my humble opinion.

Here’s an easy checklist of subsequent questions to ask yourself as you taste to purchase, whether for yourself or for a hotel/restaurant property: "Is this wine a good example of type, or is it a new example of type? Can I sell this to my guests? Is there a market for this wine, or can I create one? Is it delicious, will it deliver pleasure at the table? Is there a good price/value relationship, what will I have to sell it for? And, finally, once again, is this good wine?" This simple methodology, practiced faithfully, will become second nature and will keep your palate honest.

Adapted with permission from Exploring Wine: The Culinary Institute of America's Complete Guide to Wines of the World, by Kolpan, Smith, and Weiss, 2nd edition (John Wiley and Sons, forthcoming)

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