I’ll be having a prix-fixe menu at a two-Michelin-star restaurant with a 1,500-bottle cellar and presumably a very competent sommelier. This is a rarity for me. It’s a tasting menu with pre-chosen pairings by the glass, so they will have control there. But beyond that, do you have any recommendations on how to make the most of my interaction with the sommelier?
For the price of a two-star meal, which can run higher than $300 per person with wine, you deserve some higher learning to go along with the food. In my experience, sommeliers love to answer questions about wine, so don’t be afraid to wave her over to the table from time to time. (To keep the pronouns simple, I’m going to assume the sommelier is a woman.)
You’ll be having a set progression of wines by the glass, so you can’t rely on her advice to guide you to a bottle that fits your stylistic preferences. In your case, I’d focus instead on a few take-home messages or shopping principles. You might be served five or six pours with a prix-fixe menu, and one selection might catch your fancy more than the others. There’s very little chance you’ll be able to find it at your local liquor store, because high-end restaurants tend to focus on specialty wines. Grab the somm’s attention, compliment her on the wine, then ask if she can recommend something more widely available that would come close in style. (This leads me to some corollary advice: Always remember to bring a pen and scrap of paper in such situations.)
Another question: When you sense a particularly good or unusual match with the food, ask the sommelier how she came up with the pairing. What led her to that choice from among 1,500 bottles? You may learn a lot about the general principles of food-and-wine pairing – say, fuller-bodied wines with heavier foods, or sweetness as a counterpoint to hot or spicy dishes.
Although you won’t be choosing wines for your meal, you might want to consider asking for a copy of the wine list. It’s the sommelier’s baby and she’ll be flattered. After perusing it for a while, when you next catch her attention, go in for what I consider the killer question. Ask her which wine she considers the best bargain on the list. More often than not, she’ll welcome your curiosity and rise to the occasion, because sommeliers love bargains as much as the rest of us and love sharing their passion.
Who knows? You might even score a complimentary pour of an offbeat selection as a reward for your enthusiasm.