I Drink Wine with a Little Help from My Friends
Well, well, well, wine, wine, wine. My wine knowledge and wine sales are probably a little above average in this business. Yet every time I am confronted with a new wine list, I become painfully aware of how much there is yet to learn and know about the constantly changing wine climate. So I came up with a few questions and posed them to some of the best wine peeps in the San Diego restaurant microcosm. My pals Rob Rubin, Anne Estrada, Joshua Mortimer and Ken Daniels came through in a pinch and provided me with their invaluable opinions on our mutual love interest—wine.
My first question was asked for the benefit of career servers, like myself: What bit of wine information will instantly make you, as their waiter, seem more wine savvy at your tables and therefore increase your wine sales?
Their answers were varied and all quite helpful, and they also bolstered my opinion of my own wine-selling techniques. Rob believes that having a clear understanding of the wine label—knowing the varietal, AVA and vineyard designation of your particular wine—is a useful tool. There were variations on this theme. Anne thinks that being capable of speaking about the structure, acid and balance, without sounding too sterile or hoity-toity, will make the wine more accessible to your diners. Also, if you can get into the terroir of the wine’s origin, it will help paint a picture and give them a more rounded out experience. Find out what wines they normally enjoy and work from there. Josh thinks having a few descriptions down for the common varietals lets your tables know that you know what you are talking about i.e. Cabs have black cherry and toast, Pinot is bright acidity and earth notes, Cali chard is buttery and toasty while Burgundian chard is chalky and offers minerality. Ken says, above all, be fearless! So many are afraid to mispronounce or seem gauche; encourage your guests to try something new!! Find out which wines they usually enjoy and steer them in the direction of something new and fun, something that maybe hits a few of the notes of their faves but offers them in a new way. Give them a new varietal to love and they will love you too! Everybody likes to share their newfound varietals with their friends and, in this way, you’re helping them really is helping so many. You will have a serious boozy Mother Theresa vibe going.
Which wines are most popular now, and what is next on the wine frontier?
With this we have some fun crossover! Anne and Josh agree that Rose is having, and will continue having, a serious moment. Ken believes that we will start seeing some lesser known Bordeaux on wine lists and in grocery stores. Anne seconds this with her support of Cab Franc. She also foresees Silvaner, a food-friendly, acidic quaff out of Germany becoming more ubiquitous. Rob is behind Syrah all the way—it’s so versatile! So we have a Rhone varietal and some Bordeaux, also Rose—the French are taking over!! I know that there are lovely Syrahs and Roses from all over, but I am nothing if not dramatic!
Most underrated varietal?
Thanks to Sideways, Merlot still gets a bad rap. Anne thinks this is unfair. It produces some of the most beautiful wines, and is an amazing blending grape. Ken and Josh feel that Riesling isn’t understood—thought of solely as a sweet wine, when there are many different types of Riesling. Here’s where the ability to translate your wine label can help you get your guests into a nice, dry Riesling. It can be diverse and multi-faceted and has the unrivaled ability to age. Rob is a fan of Viognier he is loving the Jaffurs Viognier right now, smoky and floral.
And for those who study wines from the comfort of their homes, I am constantly doing my “wine homework”—it makes me a better waiter and also a little tipsy. People who know me are laughing and rolling their eyes at my description of “a little tipsy.”
What is the best grocery store buy?
Anne and Ken are cheerleading reds from Washington State. Anne also throws her support behind your South American reds. Rob cannot be bothered with grocery store finds—I guess you don’t have to when you have one of the best wine warehouses in San Diego!! The French whites do it for Josh. Roussanne, Sancere, Chablis—good value and decent drinking wines.
There you have it!! I love that I posed all these questions to them separately, yet there was common ground in so many instances. I guess great wine-soaked minds think alike.... sometimes.
A special thank you to Rob, Josh, Ken and Anne for helping this salty, old bag figure out what to drink next.
CMS Certified Level Two Sommelier
Food and Beverage Manager
The Oceanaire Seafood Room