by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits
Becoming an Advanced Sommelier requires a tremendous amount of time, effort and diligent study in order to learn about different grape varietals from around the globe, keep up-to-date with ever-changing wine regions and perfect the endless number of food and wine pairings that may be possible with today’s creative cuisine. Along with all the educational pursuits, being a sommelier in real life is a balancing act of training your service staff team, entertaining guests during dinner service and maintaining your cellar both physically and financially. Luckily for you, it is much easier and less stressful (not to mention fun!) to pretend to be a sommelier every once in awhile and occasionally ‘act’ like one while entertaining friends and family in your own home or perhaps for a festive wine-themed fundraising charity event.
Preparing, opening and serving wine is a showcase in itself. Here is a quick ‘acting’ guide to ensure even the toughest of movie critics knows you did your due diligence on your character before attempting to play the part.
SETTING THE SCENE
Just like a director sets the scene in a movie, the individual acting as the sommelier does the same for their wine service. Your set design creates the ambiance you wish to achieve for your shining sommelier debut. Lighting should be soft and subdued so that it creates a sense of calmness among your diners.
The room should be free of any scents that will interfere with the aromas of the wine. Scented candles are great for covering up smells in the bathroom, but not when trying to figure out if what you smell is really coming from the wine or the match you just lit. Keep in mind that not all smells are bad smells though. If you happen to experience a brief mouth-watering whiff of food from the kitchen,this experience will actually heighten your wine tasting experience and is acceptable.
Next, it is important to ensure the wine is at proper serving temperature. This means Champagne should be ice cold (45 degrees F), rosés and whites should be properly chilled (52-55 degrees F) and reds should be served at cellar temperature (62-68 degrees F). This is like the make-up artistry of the wine where if a wine is too cold, it will mask the delicate aromas and flavors of the wine. In the other extreme, if the wine is served too warm, then you will be able to discern every possible inherent flaw that may not have been noticed if it had been left to cool a little longer.
Glassware should be clean, polished spotless, and odor-free with no linty residue left behind from your polishing cloth. The shape of the glassware should also be appropriate to the type of wine being served. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with other thin-skinned reds like Tempranillo and Sangiovese, should be served in a large bulbous type glass, where Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, or red grapes often used in blending with this one, work best in a taller (not quite as wide) glass. Think of these accessories as the wardrobe or costume that coincides with the overall scene of the movie.
You would think that a wine opener is a must as a supporting actor for this screenplay. However, that may not be the case if you are only serving Champagne or a wine with an alternative closure other than cork (i.e. screwcap or glass vino-lock). Best to have an opener on hand though just in case you need it as a last minute walk-on role based on the director’s creative discretion. There are a number of other assorted props or basic tools of the trade to consider having easily accessible if needed. A decanter can be used for dual purposes: to allow your wine to breathe before consumption or to separate the wine from any sediment build-up in the bottle.
Your wine bottle should be proudly displayed on the table atop a coaster and never directly on a tablecloth. Lastly, a neatly folded serviette (small waiter’s napkin) when used properly will collect any drips from the bottle that may occur while pouring the wine.
Now is the time to show why you deserve the Best Actor for Being a Sommelier award. Let’s start with how well you have rehearsed your script. When talking about and describing the wine you are serving, it is important to note the name of the winery, the fantasy name of the wine if there is one, the region where the wine comes from, and the vintage year (or the fact that it is non-vintage). If the wine is made from a single grape varietal, you must also mention this while presenting the wine. By stating the short list of items, your guest is able to confirm that this will be the wine that you intend to serve.
Speak slowly and boldly enough to exude confidence in your wine selection and your sommelier skills, even if you are only acting like one.
After confirmation of the wine to be served, this is where the action really leads to the climax of this wine love story. Swiftly remove the foil from the bottle of wine, gently insert the worm of your corkscrew into the cork, then gracefully extract the cork without a sound. Cue the start of the musical score that begins with the sweet, somber sound of the wine being slowly poured into the wine glass. Next, you feel the tension in the music as the wine glass is being brought to the guest’s nose for their olfactory approval, followed by the sacred swallow that either confirms or denies that this is the perfect wine. On the edge of your seat, the music suddenly changes to an upbeat allegro that signifies you have mastered your craft and hopefully endorsements will soon follow.
At the end of the meal, the credits are rolling and applause all around signifies that you were well rehearsed for your debut role acting as a sommelier. The wine did a superb job as a supporting role as well. In fact, rumor has it that your performance was so outstanding that you could possibly be typecast in a similar role for a followup star performance.
Until then, cheers to enjoying a film paired perfectly with a glass of your favorite vino. Consider it research for your next acting role as a Sommelier.