In June 2009 WineRelease surveyed its audience and question 7 was ”Currently when ordering wine in most restaurants, you initially taste and determine if the wine is acceptable. If you don’t think the wine is acceptable, the waiter/sommelier tastes the wine. Should the sommelier (or waiter) taste the wine initially?” and 69% answered “I should be the initial taster (current custom).” I asked the question because I think the server should taste the wine to determine if it is flawed and also to familiarize themselves with the wines they are serving. A common reason 69% wanted to keep the current custom was “I paid for the wine, I want to drink it all”.
A few months ago I was discussing the survey results with Randy from NewWineConsumer.com and he suggested a slightly larger wine bottle. So if a winery offered a 775ml for the same price as a 750ml and had the server taste the wine, the winemaker would ensure the wine poured is the wine they intended AND the server would become familiar with the wine so when a customer asked “I am looking for a big red wine with earthy flavors that will go with the petite filet” the server would be able to intelligently recommend an appropriate wine.
John Osborne made some great comments to this question “It is the goal of the restaurant to make sure the wine they serve is as good as the food they serve. As the Wine Director for a WS Grand Award-winning resort with almost 30 years experience as a sommelier I know that across the board almost 10% of the wines I have opened and tasted have been flawed, be it TCA, oxidation, maderization, over-sulphuring or other problems. I also know that in those almost 30 years I have seen probably less than 1% of wines ordered be rejected by consumers when the wines have not been tasted first by the somm. With apologies to the most sophisticated diners out there who may not need a professional’s opinion to determine their wine’s condition, I think those numbers speak for themselves. A sommelier with wine, like a chef with food, is charged with making sure that the diner’s experience is as perfect and enjoyable as possible. If I’m not checking your wine before presenting it to you, I’m not doing my job any more than a cook who sends out a dish without checking the seasoning is doing his.”
Some folks don’t feel comfortable about the whole restaurant wine tasting regimen. Having the wait staff taste the wine will make more folks comfortable about ordering wine. The customer can still taste the wine and turn it away if they feel it is flawed but I doubt as many would turn away a bottle knowing the server has tasted the wine in question many times before pouring.
In short, people will get better wine recommendations because the wait staff will know their wine list. Wait staff will develop their palates and be more comfortable about making recommendations. Flawed wine will be detected more often as the wait staff become accustomed to detect wine flaws and become accustomed to the taste of each wine on their list.
Perfectly fine wine (not flawed) will have less of a chance to be returned to the distributor or poured down the drain because a customer mistakenly thought the wine was flawed. And the servers answer to “What wine do you recommend…” will be met with a more educated response from the server.
The first winery that gets a 775ml bottle past ABC/BATF regulations and into restaurants will get some great PR.