Please Do Not Call Me a Sommelier

September 1, 2010

Robert Mondavi
I know, Foodista. You've gotten used to my weekly enthusiastic postings about esoteric wines, full of an embarrassing amount of exclamation points, numerous parenthetical asides, and an unnerving propensity for semi-colons instead of just separating two damn sentences with a period. (I can't help it; it's who I am!)

This week's going to be a little different.

Why, you ask? Well, my hackles got raised by a blog post in the Seattle Weekly called "7 Reasons Why Your Sommelier Hates You." First of all: duh, I get it. It's supposed to be a bit of a tongue-in-cheek, humorous piece. Well, based on the majority of the comments, no one is getting the joke. Sommelier humor? Please. I guess the part that bothered me the most was a sommelier who gets a bit perturbed when someone orders a big red wine with fish:

"I hate it when people ask for a huge, meaty red like a California Cabernet or a Southern Rhone to go with something delicate like fish; it just kills any chance that they have of enjoying either component of their meal."

Seriously? You know that I will not enjoy both my food and wine? Or you are aghast that people actually make choices based on what they want rather than what someone deems appropriate? This is the height of sommelier arrogance and ego. Boo! These are my colleagues?!? Pass me a can of High Life! (I actually do love High Life. It's mild, smooth flavor tends not to overpower delicate fish.)

I responded with a well-reasoned, non-provocative comment:

"I don't mind if someone wants a Napa Cab to go with their fish. If it's what your customer wants, enjoys, and is paying for, then that's the best food and wine pairing."

You can read the rest of the comments to see how this ended; there are people who agreed with me and others who thought I didn't get the joke or the point of the post. (Oh, and ALL CAPS makes a brief appearance, provoking a shift in the direction of my comments from judicious to snarky.)

So while I can blather on about Gervrey-Chambertin, Savennieres, blah blah, have years of experience in the industry, and have minor certifications from the International Sommelier Guild, please don't call me a sommelier. I'm just a wine guy, working in a grocery store, wearing a name tag, and helping you find diapers and trash bags.

And though I would rather have a sparkling wine or a crisp, dry white with (most) fish, the best wine advice I could every give is this: Drink what you like.

PS: You are all invited to my place for fish and Napa Cabernet.

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Jameson Fink is a wine buyer at a bustling grocery store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. He moved to Seattle from Chicago (where he dabbled in the restaurant and wine industries) five years ago to pursue a full-time career in wine. You can read more of his musings about wine on his blog, Sparkling Vouvray. He’d rather be drinking Champagne and eating popcorn right now.



Heather's picture

Thank you for this post! If I don't like a particular type of wine, it's certainly not going to matter to me if it pairs well with my meal. I had a waiter at a high end restaurant correct my wine choice and tell me that what I ordered didn't go well with my meal and that instead I should order X. To me, that is just bad service, not to mention arrogant.

Alyssa's picture

I like your refreshing attitude toward wine! Don't get me wrong...I don't think anything beats an excellent food and wine pairing. But I think when people take it too seriously, it just takes all enjoyment out of the meal. I've been at dinners with people where almost everyone was just having a great time, enjoying food, wine & friends, and someone was just in a huff because the dish was too spicy to be paired with a certain wine. Who wants to live like that?

Lee's picture

Great advice. While I do appreciate a sommeliers wine suggestion( and I do take it sometimes), I would still order the wine I want, after all I'm the one who's drinking and paying for it.

boohoobaby's picture

God advise! I'de never find out pink wine goes so well with expired shrimps coktail if I lisen to bagboy at wine storre.

Jameson's picture

Paper or plastic?

Frederick's picture

I can't imagine ever being corrected on my wine choice by a sommelier at a fine restaurant, but that's because I almost always leave the matter of choice in their hands. As an expert in my own field of study, I respect the hard work and experience that goes into oenology and would no more presume upon their territory than offer my surgeon tips on where to cut. I've never been disappointed by their recommendations, in fact the enjoyment of the meal and the wine is heightened by their passion and willingness to share their knowledge.

Jameson's picture


That was a thoughtful defense of the sommelier; nicely stated. Every time I see the world "oenology" my brain goes sophomoric and I think of "onanist."

Gloomy Weather. Gloomy Mood. Gloomy Wine.- Recipes for Every's picture

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