Wine Waiter: Sommelier
The French term is sommelier. Both terms imply the person – man or woman – who takes the order for wine in a restaurant and either serves or supervises its service. Unfortunately, in many catering establishments nowadays, the wine waiter knows very little about wine in general and possibly less about the wines on the list of the house. He/she is merely directed by the managements to keep topping up the glasses as often as they can. This is a self-defeating practice if any customers know anything about wine, because, instead of drinking more, they will probably be infuriated into refusing to allow the unfortunate staff to fill glasses to the brim. In a thoroughly bad humour, they will not then order the second bottle that correct service and a relaxed atmosphere might have prompted.
Fortunately, there are at least some eating places where the wine waiter sees all the wines that are bought, sometimes even being involved with the choice as to which to buy, and can observe their progress, if these are able to be stored by the establishment. Some organisations do also attempt to teach wine waiters about wines in general and the correct service – so that the wines taste as enjoyable as possible. But, unless you are in a luxury or first-class restaurant, it is useless to expect the wine waiter to know very much. All the more reason, therefore, to give instructions clearly and simply (the sommelier may not speak your language) as to how your wine should be served.
In some of the classic wine regions, the wine waiter may certainly know a lot about these wines, though hardly admitting the existence of others. He may also sometimes be so much of a star turn, catering to the ‘drinking the label1 type of tourist, that he neglects the basics of service. I have known eminent Italian sommeliers pull corks through the capsule of the wine; one sommelier in a top Paris restaurant tipped all the deposit of a great claret into the decanter – explaining that the wine was ‘past it’ – and several others have argued with members of the wine trade as to whether a wine was or was not corked, including disputing this with the owner of the particular estate! So, although one can learn much from the wise and experienced wine waiter who truly loves his trade, it is wise to be careful and oversee the chi-chi indulged in by many of the sommeliers whose presence presumably justifies the exaggerated mark-ups on the bottles in many well-known eating-places.
As it is possible to teach anyone, male or female, the basics of wine service within a matter of hours – the experience that governs selection and handling of very fine bottles can come later – I personally favour the young sommelier, who shows both humility and interest, and may therefore have much to teach the diner. In order to encourage people like this, it is courteous to invite them to take a share of any interesting bottle – even if they know it, they may not have tasted it recently and this can be as rewarding to the serious as any tip. Winery This term is much used in the New World. It usually means a vineyard plus that place where the grapes from the vineyard are made into wine. Frequently a winery will handle grapes from other vineyards as well, if these belong to the owners or company owning the winery. There is much to be said for the word as a practical term. For a European, however, the term ‘winery’ suggests something slightly akin to’factory1 – ie. where a wine is’made’in the sense of being concocted. The term has a slightly derogatory significance, undeservedly. However, it would be extremely tactless to refer to a great French or German wine estate as a ‘winery’.