Trust your sommeliers: your wine experience is richer thanks to them

When Boulder Wine Merchant owner and Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman and I chatted the other day about why you should trust your sommelier, he made an observation that struck me for its sheer brilliance and simplicity.

"One of ways that the sommelier makes your dining experience better," he said, "is that — if you let she or he chose the wine for you — you can spend more time talking to your dinner companion, whether a first date, a spouse, or an old friend."

"Why devote so much time to leafing through a 500-bottle list," he noted, "when the sommelier already knows which wines are showing best? That way, you can talk to your date."

When we spoke last week, I was ready to dive into a series of technical questions about wine service and how it enriches the fine dining experience.

But his first point made me realize that this is what it's all about: letting the sommeliers do what they do best and letting the diners do what they do best — sip, eat, and socialize.

Of course, it was only natural that our conversation would veer to other practical matters.

"The sommelier knows what's drinking best," explained Brett, "but she or he also knows the values on the list as well. No one knows the list better than the person who writes and manages it."

"The sommelier also knows the food menu and has probably tasted the day's featured dishes," he added. "She or he will already know which wines are going to pair best with your food."

And perhaps most importantly, "the sommelier can determine the fitness of the wine she or he opens for you," thus sparing you the stress of having to do so in the presence of your dinner companion(s).

"Whether it's a 1947 Cheval Blanc," a legendary vintage from the famed right-bank Château in Bordeaux, "or an easy-going Primitivo" from Italy, "the sommelier should make sure that the wine is in good shape and replace it for you if it's not."

The growing interest in sommelier training, he told me, is making wine lists and wine service more exciting and interesting than ever before in our country.

"I think that we're seeing more and more of a demand for sommeliers in restaurants these days," observed Brett. And in this regard, Master Sommelier and Certified Sommelier training has been such a great thing," he said referring to the growing number of wine professionals who are enrolling.

"You can learn the skillset in your own time, of course," he said, "but the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Guild of Sommeliers gives us a more focused path to achieving that goal."

We have more and more well prepared sommeliers than ever before, Brett offered.

"The culture of being afraid of the stuffy, snotty sommelier hasn't been around for 20 years now."

"And the general excitement in the industry right now outweighs the nonsense we had a generation ago."

—Jeremy Parzen
follow Jeremy @DoBianchi