Interesting article in eater about sommeliers a couple of days ago. When we changed our sommelier last year we noticed right away that wine sales went up, and significantly. It was a surprise, as we had always assumed that a roving wine expert would equate to better sales, but what we realized was that a knowledgeable server is far more effective in getting folks the wine to match their food choices in real time, and therefore sales went up.
So why a sommelier at all? First and foremost for training purposes. Our sommelier, Dave Mathiason holds weekly training sessions on Saturday afternoons with our servers. It’s rare in the industry to invest in a wine program so heavily, but by opening wine and holding these classes he has helped to further develop a stable of experts on our team. Just this week two of our servers, Tristan and Jerrod, passed their somm level 1 test, our goal is that every server at Heidi’s will be able to pass the somm 1 by October.
The sommelier’s second job is to keep current with new wines that come to market, and search vendor inventories for wines that match well with the food, and upcoming changes to the menu. This is where the somm matters most to me, and finding someone with a palate that can imagine combinations and flavor profiles is extremely rare. Our somm was a sous chef in his past life, and has extensive food knowledge as a result.
At Heidi’s, we store ZERO wine at room temp (nothing on the walls, nothing in cute cabinets, nothing on center tables) Why invest so heavily in refrigeration, and square footage? Because wine gets cooked sitting out at 70ish degrees.
Very few food writers have much of a clue about wine, and will never notice or mention such an important fact. Or maybe they think that it makes no difference to keep wine stored at room temp, after all the wine stores do it. They fail to realize that the vast majority of wine purchased from stores will be consumed within 48 hours, and not sit for weeks potentially in a room that has as many temperature fluctuations as a dining room.
Further, too many have usually not tried items side by side to consider the difference. I recommend you try it sometime, buy two bottles of the same wine, store one upright on a shelf in a warm room for a few weeks, and store the other in an appropriate wine cooler at cellar temp. You will be blown away.
Then consider how many places store wine on upper shelves in hot dining rooms, yikes-and they want you to pay a three times mark up for that! I guess that is the fee for cooking your wine. On the other hand you can imagine that Dave’s third main function is significant inventory management and rotation. With every bottle stored at various cellar temps, the logistics require constant supervision.
As eater points out, “The era of the authoritative, slightly aloof, sommelier is over. It’s no longer about simply delivering facts based on extensive tasting experience or guiding a diner to choose one vintage over another with few words exchanged.
“The sommelier as Delphic oracle is wildly out of fashion now,” Says Dalton. “You’re no longer there to deliver verdicts from Mt. Olympus.”
Thankfully those days are gone, and a new era has arrived, one that is more guest friendly. Some folks still like a visit from our somm, but that is more rare, especially when they can rely on an expert waitstaff that knows the food, the wine, and the guest.
We are taking tomorrow off in observance of the holiday…we’ll see you back here for “Omaha Meat Week” next week.