…some restaurants provide educated help in the form of sommeliers. I am biased. I sell the wines from the vineyards which I personally like…


I prefer to have the food order before the wine order, such makes it easier to match the wine with the food. Nevertheless, if the guest insists to order the wine before hand, I gladly help him.

It is a matter of pride for individual restaurant owners to have an award winning wine-list. Franchises, fast food places, bistros and coffee shops as well as the restaurants owned by hotel chains or large corporations are less often noted for their extensive wine selection. This is understandable. The reason being the fact that a large variety of wine bottles tends to tie up a lot of cash and space in a wine cellar.

In many fine restaurants, the guest, if not a wine expert himself, can quite easily get lost in the pages of a wine list. If the wine list is made up from wines from several countries it can get outright complicated. Some restaurants provide educated help in the form of sommeliers, who act as the tour-guides through the at times book-size, leather bound volumes of bottled inventory. At most places where I have worked, it was the waiter’s job to help the guest with the wine selections.

I usually prefer to have the food order before the wine order, such makes it easier to match the wine with the food. Nevertheless, if the guest insists to order the wine before hand, I gladly help him. First, I start by finding out what color preference the customer has. If he wants white wine, I happily explain to the qualities of the Gewuerztraminer, the Riesling, the Sylvaner, the Sauvignon blanc, the difference between California and the French Chardonnay, the Chenin blanc as well as Fume blanc or Sauvignon blanc.

If red wine is the guest’s forte, and he wants the help, I tell him what I know about the Pinot Noirs, the Petite Shiraz and the Burgundies. I talk about the American Zinfandel, the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc, the Merlot and about the characteristics of Bordeaux and Burgundies.

By this time I usually know if the guest wants to try something special or if the white Zinfandel is ideal for him. These days (1996) the wine sales at Triples restaurant are 60% white, 30% red and 10% white Zinfandel.

If the guest is interested in a Chardonnay I find out if he likes the so-called buttery oaky California Chardonnay or a French dry Chardonnay. If it is California then I point out the various prices for the same grape by different producers. I explain to the guest which ones are from Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa or Sonoma.

Let’s say the customer is interested in a good local wine, most likely will I tell him, “Sir! My favorite is the Talbott. It’s a Monterey county wine, produced and sold by the same family which has been making and selling silk ties for many years.”
If he asks “Is it really good?” I answer “It’s an absolute must for anybody who has not tried the Talbott before.” If the guest wants to know why I prefer the Talbott to the many other California Chardonnays in the same price class, I am not going to tell him about the wine maker of this other company who is outright a bad tipper. Or the owner of the wine company who arrogantly overlooked the waiters at the last wine tasting.

“All waiters are biased; I myself like the Talbott wine.”
I happen to know Mrs. Talbott as a great lady who has been successful in the tie business for half a century. I think of the Talbott’s as a great local family who have never produced anything but the best, the best silk ties, the best shirts and the best wine money can buy. If the guest wants to know more, I honestly tell him my thoughts: “The Talbott name stands for boutique style packaging. They have their own unique label and bottle. Their wine is good and the price is right too.”
If the guest is convinced that I know what I’m talking about, he most likely will order the Talbott Chardonnay over any of the other wines which might be as good.

by helmut schonwalder