On Monday, 11 January, Gareth Ferreira was appointed as the Best Sommelier in South Africa for 2016. I am delighted that this essential wine service is eventually getting more attention in our country and I hope that it will continue to do so.
But why is a sommelier so important to a restaurant? Trying to find some opinions to add to my own, I found this article by Brian Mitchell, More than wine – the real contribution of the sommelier. And after reading it, I found that I did not have much to add!
It makes for an informative read and for the South African restaurant business it is important to take note of the contribution proper wine service can make to the success of an establishment. Wine service is of course determined by the sommelier or wine waiter, general waiting staff and then of course the wine list.
While the wine list is an indication of what patrons can expect from the restaurant in general, it should also allow ample variety without creating confusion, offer something exciting and experimental for the adventurous, familiar and trusted blends and brands for the old-school diner and aim to be educational – especially when it comes to pairing the wines with the food menu. All of this has to happen in a way that is friendly and approachable and that does not estrange and intimidate.
And even then, when you feel that your wine list is just about perfect, the diner might not spend the time to read the thorough notes and suggestions or might just plainly not be informed about wine in general. Therefore the importance of well-informed staff.
A sommelier of course would be first prize but in some establishments a trained wine waiter and even well-trained staff will help. Someone who can make an informed suggestion on selecting a suitable wine.
Ordering wine in a restaurant is a challenge to many. Not only is it about enjoying the wine and food but also about what your choice say to the company at your table. Especially for business lunches or dinner, perception is important and a bit of help in selecting your wine is often very welcome.
To me, the most important aspects a sommelier or wine waiter should recognise, is customer expectations and experience. Not to intimidate with wine jargon when the guest is not a wine person, but also not to bore the educated with what they already know. The ability to quickly establish the guests knowledge, interest and expectation is something that comes with experience but also with the right attitude – one that focuses on the customer, wanting to assist the guest in making the best choice. In the end, customer experience is crucial for returns and recommendations and without satisfied customers any business (but especially a restaurant!) can close its doors.