The SOMM Journal

August / September 2017

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Page 24 of 148

24 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER { bottom line } I WORKED AS A FULL-TIME sommelier for ten straight years (in the '70s and '80s) before being fortunate enough to hook up with a chef with some serious culinary chops. Suddenly I found myself selling more than ten times more wine. Then again, we always knew that: The better a restaurant's food, the bigger the wine sales. These days, of course, there are genu - inely talented chefs everywhere, even if some are better than others. Off-the-chart wine sales are no guarantee because there are a lot more factors involved with suc - cess. Management and service, for example. Nothing kills a restaurant, or wine sales, faster than bad management, comatose servers or uninspired owners. Needless to say, a sommelier or wine manager also needs to bring some talent and savvy to the table. There are tons of beautifully assembled restaurants out there serving glorious cuisine—with wine managers sleepwalking on the job, putting out wine lists no better than a run-of-the- mill steakhouse, spaghetti barn or Chinese palace. But the one thing that is most often found even in restaurants with interesting wine programs is this: lack of true sense of the best wines for a given cuisine—which makes little sense, given the old adage "The better the food, the bigger the wine sales." Guests, after all, come to restaurants to eat, not to gaze at wine lists. Therefore it makes sense to follow these equally time honored guidelines to maximizing sales, guest experiences and, ultimately, return business. Prioritize food when making wine selec - tions. Meaning, forget what's cool, what's highly rated or doing favors for sales peeps. The most successful "wine restaurants" (at least in my book) are the ones in which no wine exists on a list if there is no dish on the menu with which it absolutely kills. If guests are prioritizing food, so should you. Taste wines with dishes—constantly. First, I'm talking about tasting samples by yourself with dishes. Then, tasting your FOH staff with rounds of wines with dishes—at least once a month, if not once a week or at every pre-shift. Number three, tasting rounds of wines with dishes with your chef and BOH staff; also as much as possible. Last but not least, tasting wines with dishes with your guests within as many tasting menus and wine events as you can muster. And then talk about it, with everyone. This is how you develop a more exacting sense of what wines truly maximize your guests' culinary experience. Do some reading. You're sommelier, aren't you? Which means you read, read, read about wines. You also need to read, read, read about match - ing wines with foods. There is an art and science to it, after all. Do not, for one second, believe the bull-pile about any wine being able to go with any dish. Certain wines taste infinitely better with certain dishes, even if other wines do the same for different reasons. Interested in becoming a true wine-and-food-matching stud of a somm? A first stop may be the book Red Wine with Fish; penned by two culinary smart-alecks, David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson a long, long time ago in another gal - axy (1989). It is out of print but still worth the search because, unlike any other tome, it at least frames the subject of wine-and-food matching in the only way that mat - ters—in terms of sensory interac- tion, not theory, the usual hearsay or touchy-feeliness. Needless to say, you also need to become as well versed in food terminology and cooking techniques. Read, read, read; taste, taste, taste. Think like a chef. Matching wine with food, after all, is not much different from a chef putting ingredi - ents together to create a balanced, sensa- tional dish. To understand how components in wines fit, you need to master compo- nents in dishes. Until you do that, I'm afraid you won't be much better than a flunky in a run-of-the-mill steakhouse, spaghetti barn or Chinese palace. "If guests are prioritizing food, so should you." A baby spinach and bacon salad from Bar Americain in New York City, paired with wines from Roussillon. (See the story on page 90.) Taste, Taste, Taste! FOR RESTAURANT WINE PROFESSIONALS, ALL THAT MATTERS IS CULINARY by Randy Caparoso PHOTO: DOUG YOUNG

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