Just because I recommend a wine, doesn’t mean you’ll like it. “But, you’re a sommelier. You have to know what wines are good, right?” I’m glad you asked. My short answer is, “Sort of.” Please keep in mind that the definition of a sommelier according to Merriam-Webster is “a waiter in a restaurant who is in charge of serving wine.” Therefore, while a sommelier extensive knowledge of the wines and wine regions of the world, and likely has more passion for wine than some people have for their own children, they are not always going to recommend a wine that you fall in love with. There are several reasons why the next wine your sommelier recommends may not be your favorite.
Everyone has different sensitivity to various tastes. Some people favor sweet tastes, while others savory. Some may notice a hint of fruit flavor in a wine, while others couldn’t pick out a pear note in a chardonnay if their lives depended on it. Therefore, when your sommelier recommends a bone dry riesling from Germany, and you’re thinking of the more off-dry, or slightly sweet, version that comes from Washington State, you can be sure there’s going to be disappointment when you take your first sip. However, this mismatched expectation will probably not happen frequently, as your sommelier has a focus on service and your ultimate satisfaction. They will do their best to elicit your preferences in wine, and find a suitable match. Therefore, we’re back to people’s ability to perceive flavors at different levels.
The genesis of this entire article was Monday night’s sommelier study session. Four of us gather on Monday nights, blind taste several wines to hone our skills, then study various wine regions of the world. This is all in preparation for passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam this coming April. Each of us hit one or more of the eight wines we were blind tasting out of the park. However, it was the fourth red wine that threw two of us a major curve ball. I was one of those two, and the wine was actually one I brought to the tasting. How could this happen?
As I mentioned everyone has varying levels of sensitivity to different scents and flavors. When we first took a deep sniff of the last red wine, my immediate and audible reaction was “WOAH!” The other person who was taken by surprise looked at me and said “You did stay within the guidelines, right?” I smiled and assured her I did. There are very specific areas and varietals that are tested for blind tasting on the Certified Sommelier exam, and we are trying to focus on them to keep on track with our studies. However, I knew what she was thinking. The wine exhibited scents, and flavors, that would be found in a varietal from Chile, which is not on the exam.
However, the other two tasters did not get this note, a note of green pepper. They picked out all of the normal markers of the wine. They picked out cherry, cocoa, sweet baking spices, many of the hallmarks of a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. However, myself and my bewildered partner could only smell and taste green pepper. So much so, that we both agreed the wine was picked very under ripe, and put our glasses down. It wasn’t until we mentioned what we could smell and taste in the glass that our colleagues noticed the green pepper notes too.
What does that mean? Does it mean our colleagues who picked out the normal marks of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa have very acute palates and … sniffers? Or, does it mean that the two of us were more sensitive to the green pepper notes, and it overwhelmed any other scents and flavors in the wine? Well, there’s probably a bit of both going on here. I know that I’m extremely sensitive to Brett, which I mentioned when talking about the funk in wine and life. I have been unable to drink wines with the slightest hint of Brett, when others sing it’s praises from the hilltops. However, it could indeed be that the other two tasters were better able to discern the fruit and spice through the green pepper.
How does all of this wrap up? It wraps up by keeping in mind that the wine that your friends love and bring to every party you throw may be their favorite, even if you hate it. And, that could be because they prefer a different style of that wine than you do. Or, it could be that their sensitivity to sweet, salty, sour, and fruity are different from yours, and they taste something markedly different than you do. Neither of you is wrong in your preference. Afterall, it is indeed your preference, and no one can tell you it’s wrong. Not even a sommelier.