The Sommelier & The City: “Let Me Introduce Myself”
By Jienna Basaldu (Guest blogger)
“What do you do?”
One of my favorite proverbial social questions to answer. (Always considerably more fun to answer than my Grandma Grimaldi’s continuous nagging, errrr, I mean inquiring, “when are you going to settle down, and get married already?”)
I’m a Sommelier. I always enjoy the reaction I get when I respond to the above-mentioned question. I typically get one of two responses, “How cool”, or a confused nod, followed by an “oh”.
To the latter, I invitingly ask, “You don’t know what a Sommelier is, do you?” I then explain that a Sommelier is a professional wine steward. Personally, I just consider myself a girl who lives, and works on the grid, that is just really lucky to get paid to obsess about her favorite thing in the world, wine.
I’m not going to be shy about it… having a career that revolves around the expectation of being knowledgeable about, and not limited to wine, beer, cocktails, coffee, tea, cigars, and cuisines of all sorts, is pretty freakin’ rad. It’s presented my life with so many incredible experiences. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to give my opinion on cocktails, select craft beers for a pairing dinner, or in the most basic sense, just drink wine. I would be lying if I said it was an “easy” lifestyle choice. Consuming adult bevies for a living is not for the faint of heart. The amount of discipline, strength, physical demand, and constant temptation, shock many, and intimidates most.
Sticking to my candid nature, I can’t speak of what I do without discussing the elephant in the room. My industry is extremely male dominated and saturated with alcohol consumption, (no pun intended). Most of my fellow Somms (hip lingo, and overall easier for most people to say) are men, most of the individuals that attempt to sell me wine are men, most of the people that made that wine are men, every chef I’ve worked under is a man, all of my bosses have been men, all my mentors are men, almost all the members at the private club I work at are men… I think you get the jist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way complaining about my occupation, but there are certain social norms that I sacrifice being a Sommelier. I really can’t remember the last time I just drank a glass of wine without dissecting it, kept a consistent work schedule (yeah, 9-5, what is that?), or was able to maintain a healthy relationship.
Ok, maybe the last topic is somewhat more a personal challenge, then professional, but the strain my job puts on my romantic situations, would break many of the seemingly “good relationships” my non-industry friends seem to be involved with. The situations that I find myself in pertaining to “work” can make some of the most confident, attractive, and successful men crumble (a struggle I know far too well).
Apparently, telling the guy you’re dating you can’t meet up until 1 am on a Tuesday night because your business dinner (with four men in tailored Italian suits) went three hours longer than anticipated (due to copious amounts of rare and very expensive Champagne) doesn’t really go over well. Who could blame this Vino Vixen for NOT turning down free spectacular wine (that costs as much as my monthly salary) with men that have the power to skyrocket my career? Come on, most men can’t even turn down a free room temperate can of Coors Light, let’s keep it real. I digress… to put it simply, dating a Sommelier is hard.
So at the risk of sounding too “Carrie” ish (I’m so much more a Samantha anyway), why can’t a girl just have her champagne, and drink it too? Why must I choose between the actions that will aid in obtaining my long-term professional goal of becoming a Master Sommelier, (which only like 25 chicks in the world are), and finding love on the Grid? I look forward to sharing my laughs, tears, and triumphs with all of you, stay tuned for more chronicles of The Sommelier & The City, Cheers!
3 Tips for Ordering Wine at Fine Dining Restaurant:
Always be true to yourself – If you know there are certain brands or styles of wine you like, don’t be afraid to order or inquire about them. A good Sommelier should never make you feel stupid for wanting to drink what you like, even if it is White Zin. As a wine professional, it is our job to make sure you leave happy about your beverage selections, even if those preferences don’t meet ours. I fully disclose that I keep Franzia White Blush in my fridge at home, because I have girlfriends that come over that enjoy it, much more so than a $200 bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Wine lists can be intimidating, and there are several fine dining restaurants on the grid that have wine lists that look more like textbooks than a menu. Navigating through these lists can be overwhelming, especially when half of the offerings are in several different languages. Typically, if a restaurant presents such a caliber of wines there should be a Sommelier on staff to aid in your selection whether it be for a expensive bottle or a glass of wine. It’s ok to ask what a Grüner Veltliner, or Valpolicella is because most people have never heard of either, and they’re great wines. Additionally, if something is offered by the glass, most likely you can inquire about tasting as well, which can put a touch of ease in choosing a wine you’ve never had before. The world of wine is huge, even I ask questions on a daily basis because it’s best way to learn!
Try new things – It’s very easy for people to get in a wine rut. Wine can be scary because there’s so much to choose from – not to mention very pricey. I completely understand why that would lead to a guest sticking with what they know. But enjoying a culinary delight is the perfect opportunity to broaden your wine palate. Like I had mentioned above, there should be a Sommelier or Wine Professional on hand at a fine dining establishment, TRUST THEM! We’re trained to help guests find the wine that will suit them best and pair well with their food selections. A good Sommelier should only have to ask a few questions that will lead them to the wine that is right for you. It may be something you are not familiar with, but go ahead and try it. Worst case scenario, you don’t care for the wine, and the Sommelier will bring you another. Remember this: every wine deserves at least two sips, first impressions can be fleeting.
Happy sipping and stay tuned for more Sommelier adventures!