The Grape Beyond: Insights from a Sommelier

It’s easy to get lost in the misconceptions surrounding wine appreciation, but top sommeliers understand what it truly boils down to.

In this article, written by our very own Food and Beverage Director and Certified Wine Sommelier, Chris Costas explains the genuine art of being a sommelier:

“Working with customers who have very little knowledge is the most rewarding. I used to be head somm (sommelier) for Princess Cruises and held many different types of tastings and seminars. The entry level tasting – $10 to the guests, six very value-driven wines – was the best. Many of the 350 attending were not typical wine drinkers. Some guests had preconceptions of wine being pretentious and stuffy, so we made it fun and casual.

Meeting Your Match

A guest asked me to pair a wine with his double bacon cheeseburger with BBQ sauce. He wanted a bottle of red and I suggested a Turley Old Vine Zinfandel. Our BBQ sauce was made with blackberries and the Turley is rich with jammy black fruit, complimenting not only the sauce but also the beef and bacon. A rule of pairing is “What grows together goes together”. It’s hard to get more American than a double bacon cheeseburger with BBQ sauce- and no wine is more American than Zinfandel.

Grape Expectations

You will not earn a guests trust if they ask for a suggestion and you immediately go to a huge priced wine. They might feel uncomfortable rejecting it out of politeness or embarrassment. They, then, get a wine they can’t afford and spend the meal imagining how many days of work they have to put in to pay for it. I love suggesting a wine that over-delivers at the price point. And I offer to open a bottle to allow them to taste it even it it’s not on the by-the-glass list.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

When you’re drinking wine you love with the food you love, and the people you love, you’re never wrong. I have only rarely had a glass of wine ruin a meal but on countless more occasions I have had wine enhance a meal. So don’t stress about the pairing. When someone comes to me and tells me about the incredible wine they had, I always ask “Who were you with? Where were you?” Invariably they were with someone they love dearly in an amazing place.

User Friendly

Someone who studies hard could get through the exams. But to be a great somm you need to understand people. They key is to stay humble. You are in hospitality. If you make guests feel inferior because you know more than they do, you are doing yourself, your restaurant, and the entire wine industry a disservice. The best somms make wine fun and exciting to learn about. It’s all about enjoying wine, food, and great company.”


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