Beware the Bad Sommelier

Beware the Bad Sommelier

Wine service has undoubtedly improved in the past decade. But while the stereotypical snooty sommelier has been banished from many quarters, they have unfortunately been replaced by something arguably much worse. You know the type, in some restaurants at least, as the self-indulgent somm, one who is overly focused on the obscure, the lucrative, or both.

In this day and age, smug is the new snooty. While there are many somms who are highly skilled and helpful, be on the lookout for the bad somm, one who is aloof or indifferent, or has one primary goal – to upsell (referred to by industry insiders as “banging the guest”).

So how do you avoid getting “banged”? Take my advice:

  1. Before ordering decide if you want a red or white wine, and what price you want to pay.
  2. Then use this one simple phrase to your server or sommelier: Can you recommend a red/white in the $40, $50 or $70 range. (or point to prices on a wine list if you want to be discreet)
  3. If your sommelier then starts recommending wine that is above the price point you asked or seems unhelpful, wrest back control and choose the wine yourself.

Be warned that some somms have a bottle to push, sometimes for no better reason than a need to move product that the restaurant has stocked in excess. Sometimes they choose a wine that they personally like or is a hip, trendy, fleeting wine-of-the-week, but it might not be to your taste nor recommended based on your preferences. One final trick: Ask your server what the chef drinks when off-duty. It can smoke out interesting and well-priced selections.

For more ways to avoid the glasshole sommelier, check out my book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire (Regan Arts), and remember to drink bravely, drink richly, and #DrinkLikeABillionaire.

The Traumas and Triumphs of a Book Tour

Book Tour Traumas and Triumphs

While the idea of a book tour may seem glamorous to the uninitiated, it often involves challenges both large and small, though sometimes they are counterbalanced by grace-saving pleasures. Take this past Friday, when, on three hours of sleep, my assignment was to get from New York to Oakland, California for a 6:30 pm appearance that night. This trip by itself wouldn’t be too terrible, except that after Oakland I needed get to Austin for a 12:30 pm talk at the Texas Book Festival the next day.  With no nonstops from the Bay Area to Austin that night, I rushed back to the airport at 9:30pm for the last flight down to Los Angeles.  The trauma began.

book tourTrauma:  It’s 45 minutes before my flight to LA and the United Airlines line for the metal detector at SFO inexplicably snakes longer than it does even before Thanksgiving.  It takes 20 minutes just to get to the first ID check, where the robotic, red-jacketed demon won’t let me through unless I find a way of stuffing my suit bag into my overstuffed tote bag.  I try halfheartedly to plead my case, soon realizing that these people are Ninja assassins of non-negotiability.  I pull the rip cord, hustle half a terminal over, and coast through the American Airlines checkpoint, three bags intact.

Triumph: My seatmate is named Adriaellis, a blonde Bikram instructor on the last leg of her journey from Hawaii to Los Angeles.  She’s tan, preternaturally relaxed, with what looks like a Runic symbol around her neck.  She shows me pictures of her verdant bungalow on Kauai.  She is the human equivalent of Xanax.

Trauma:  I arrive at the LAX Marriott at 1 am only to find an inert line of thirteen mostly Dutch travelers queued up in front of reception like Soviets on a breadline.  The Dutch are patient, probably thinking that this is normal in America, while I’m feeling my inner-McEnroe starting to tantrum.  The two receptionists couldn’t be less concerned at this ghastly traffic jam, showing the same heartless indifference you find at your local Best Buy.

Triumph:  After three hours of sleep (and six over the past two nights), I throw on a sports coat and baseball cap, and head back to the airport.  The crack-of-dawn flight to Austin arrives without delay.  Listening to Busta’s “Fire it Up” fires me up as we pull into the gate.

Trauma: The taxi driver approaches the festival from the wrong direction and leaves me and my bags several blocks from the festival.  It is 12:30pm, showtime, and I’m yanking my bags towards the festival, hotter and messier than Snooki after a night of Smirnoff.

Triumph: I scramble over to the lecture tent and am literally rolling my bags to the stage as the moderator is poised to give his introduction.  Like a hot potato, I’m mic-ed up and taken to my chair on the stage.  The moderator — Mark Sayre, sommelier at the Austin Four Seasons’ Trio and just named one of Wine & Spirits’ 7 Best Sommeliers — provides a masterful introduction.  It is soon evident that my book tour co-speaker, the Austin Chronicle’s Wes Marshall and author of the terrific What’s a Wine Lover to Do?, has a practical, anti-snob approach like my own, and we mesh well.  The audience can feel the love and responds in kind, with smart questions and generous enthusiasm.

Trauma:  Wes and I are booked for a post-lecture radio interview in the Senate Hearings Chamber of the nearby Texas State Capitol.  I haul my bags over to the building, up innumerable steps, and into the marble lobby, where security is tight as a knot, likely because Karl Rove is also on the grounds to speak at the festival.  One of the many policemen – actually, a Texas Ranger, craggily, Stetson-ed and fully exuding the words “lethal force” – spots me and demands that I open my suitcase for a search.  As tourists stream by, I drop to my knees ands struggle to open the suitcase, grateful that I left my foil-covered cuke at home.

Truimph:  The interview is great fun and Wes, his wife Emily, and I repair to Max’s Wine Dive.  It’s the end of this leg of the book tour. All is made right by the combination of a Nickel + Nickel Chardonnay and the restaurant’s signature “Texas Poutine,” an orgy of grit fries, bacon gravy, cheese curs, and house-made pickled jalapenos.

book tour