Pricy Sommeliers

Posted by Martin Field on 6 October 2009 in Food and Wine, Restaurant Reviews

‘My own experience with sommeliers is that they invariably offer the highest price wine. So wrote Peter Robotti, restaurateur, in 1972. (Key to Gracious Living. Prentice Hall.)

I believe Mr Robotti’s quote holds pretty much true 37 years on. Sommeliers are meant to advise diners about wine selections and food and wine matching but in Australia they often end up as wine marketers for restaurant owners.  And if it’s not always the highest priced wine they suggest, sommeliers and wine waiters do have a certain knack of upselling… Never has any sommelier ever suggested to me selections from the inexpensive wines on a wine list.

Tags: restaurant wine, sommeliers, wine lists, wine waiters

2 Comments on “Pricy Sommeliers”

  1. David A.Harvey says:

    Mr Field.
    I find your two paragraph comment on sommeliers to be woefully one sided and limited.
    To start with, good sommeliers buy the list they want and are happy to sell across it.
    Good sommeliers see the days activity as the sum of all individual tastes and trades, not just the old & often overpriced Margaux/Dom Perignon/Astralis etc.
    Good sommeliers, especially in Michelin minded establishments, respect each and every customer’s desired style, experience, budget, taste. Better a modest regular spender than a contested one-off big bill, with accompanying bad word of mouth or complaint letter.
    Good sommeliers realise that every customer is a potential future employer, investor, winery owner, restaurant critic or inspector, mystery shopper.
    Good sommeliers help breed, and get, the customers they deserve (to paraphrase). Perhaps Mr. Robotti and yourself were not particularly good at communicating your desires, budget, expectations, and rewarding success.
    Good sommeliers work alongside owners, directors, managers, chefs as part of the senior team, have the greater good of the establishment at heart, and would not condescend themselves to oversell. Where have you been eating?
    David A.Harvey
    Wine merchant
    Former sommelier

  2. Martin Field says:

    Hi David. I do not disagree with your views on some of the ideal requirements of good sommeliers, it’s just that I have rarely come across these in practice.

    Most of my dining experience has been in Australia, but I have dined over the years in the US, Europe and in Asia.

    Professional waiting in Australia, especially wine service, does not have a long history and this has most likely been the cause of the poor service I’ve seen.

    Mr Robotti, as I understand it, was in his day restaurateur of a well-known restaurant in New York and a well-known wine and food author. Presumably he was talking about his experiences in the US and possibly in Europe.

    Like you and like Mr Robotti I can only talk about my own experiences. To suggest that our negative experiences were due to poor communication is preposterous.

    Cheers!

    Martin

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