Talking Price With Your Somm (Without Talking Price)

December 22, 2017

Talking Price With Your Somm (Without Talking Price)

story by Courtney Humiston

How do you communicate to a sommelier how much you are willing to spend on a wine without saying a price? And no, we don’t think you are cheap if you want a good value.

For whatever reason, there seems to be this idea that all sommeliers will try to convince you to buy the most expensive wine on the list; or worse, that if you spend more, you will get more. Well…if this is the case, your sommelier should consider selling something else. Like Spotify subscriptions. (Totally worth it).

When I opened Petit Crenn in San Francisco, the second restaurant for two-Michelin-star Chef Dominique Crenn, our goal was to keep the list small (around 100 selections) but that every wine, regardless of price, would be a great wine. This should be the goal of every wine program whether its 100 selections or 1,000.

No matter the size of the restaurant’s collection, the most important thing you can communicate to your sommelier is much you want to spend. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be drinking wine. And, simple math here: sooner = better.

Talking Price With Your Somm (Without Talking Price)

If the dinner is casual, be really honest, and tell your somm: “We are looking for a good value red that will pair with our radiatori,” for example. Somms love this! It’s a fun challenge and we will likely recommend one of our favorites (because in spite of our expensive taste, we are usually broke).

If the dinner is more formal, but you are still on a budget, ask for a wine of a particular profile, but keep it vague and say “a full-bodied red wine” for example. In this case, I may gesture (with an open hand but without saying the price) towards something basic but solid and then something more extravagant. I will describe both wines appealingly so that you as the wine buyer for the table won’t let on that you have selected the less-expensive wine. If both of my recommendations still seem high, you could say something like, “how is this one,” gesturing towards the cheapest wine on the list and then I will praise it’s fruity yet dryness and you will have pulled off purchasing an inexpensive wine without any of your guests being wiser.

The important thing to remember here is that when it comes to wine, expensive does not necessarily equate to better. And a good sommelier will present and pour even the most basic Barbera with as much panache as the most expensive Barolo.

Courtney Humiston

Courtney Humiston is a journalist and sommelier based in Northern California. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Ms. Humiston has managed beverage programs for top restaurants in California and Norway. She has written for The World of Fine Wine, Wine & Spirits, Sommelier Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle among many others. She has also worked three harvests in both viti- and viniculture. She enjoys exploring the Sonoma Coast in her Mini Cooper (top down).

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