Ask a Chef: Is the Somm going to be rude, then rip me off if I ask for help ordering wine?

All your modern dining etiquette quandaries answered.

September 19, 2019 ‚óŹ 2 min read

By Richie Nakano

Dining dilemmas used to be like “Do I tip 15 or 18%?” or “How long will the restaurant hold my reserved table if I’m running late?” Those were simpler times, because for most of us, dining out has gotten a lot more confusing. Who do we tip at the robotic hamburger restaurant? Why can’t you get a reservation without putting a credit card down? We tapped into our expert community to offer some advice so we can all be better diners, and the result is a new column we like to call "Ask a Chef," where we are dedicated to answering all your modern dining etiquette quandaries, directly from the chef perspective.

And now, onto our first answer:

Ordering wine is complicated—the lists can be overwhelming with different varietals, regions…and what the hell is this orange wine section? (It’s awesome, trust us.) This is where the sommelier or wine director comes in.

We know what you’re thinking; not the somm. Send anyone over to the table but the somm. I cannot speak to the somm. And we get it, sommeliers for some reason carry this undeserved reputation of a mild to extremely rude person in an expensive suit that exists only to mock your lack of wine knowledge and ultimately embarrass you in front of your table so you end up shame-ordering an extremely expensive bottle of wine.

But what is a sommelier actually? Ultimately, they are curators—people who love wine so much that they literally study geology and geography and subject themselves to some of the most difficult exams out there.  And all they want is to share that passion with you. So when they come to the table, tell them what you’re planning to eat, what you *don’t* like in wine, and what you want to spend. And for reals, you don't need to inflate the number to avoid looking cheap. They really truly do want to find you something you like in your budget. 

If you can describe anything you *like* about wines you’ve recently had, even better. It really can be as simple as “I got this $10 wine out of the refrigerator by the cheese at Trader Joe’s and I liked how it was super cold and refreshing.” Seriously. This alone is enough information for a somm to be clued into some qualities you enjoy in wine and who knows, you might end up with a cool glass of Chenin blanc. 

Chances are they’ll be able to find something that works right away, and if you don't like what they taste you on, don’t worry; they can often sell an open bottle at the bar as a special. The goal is to get you something you love, so don’t be intimidated.

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