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Part 1: Please note: this article will be released in several sections. Each part will be a new FOR THE VIN blog post, and all the sections will be combined in their entirety as a booklet. It will be available to read online or download in Wine-A-Reads bookshop at wineville.net after all sections have been released.
Wine has a long and storied past that parallels the advancements of human civilization. It is one of the first products to be involved in long-distance trading and shipping by the Phoenicians, then the Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks, and eventually became a prominent industry with the Romans, who continued its spread across the old world of Eurasia. Through this history, the protocols of the service of wine have developed into widespread etiquette which is ingrained in the service industry and society in general. There are many rules which most people are aware of, but may not truly understand. Modern restaurant wine service is a simple procedure that has many subtle conventions that can elevate the process of wine consumption from the basic notion of caloric ingestion, to an experience of pleasure, a notion of sophistication, and a shared feeling of enjoyment. Having the knowledge to discuss the wine you are serving is a boon that can not be overlooked, but the time it takes to absorb that amount of information can be daunting. In the meantime, you can perfect your wine service technique to one which exudes confidence, poise, and grace. This article has a list of rules to follow to reach that level of service expertise that will put your guests at ease, knowing they are in good hands. It also has tips and techniques for enhancing the overall experience, and a smattering of common pitfalls to avoid. To impart the greatest amount of knowledge and remain inclusive to any reader, I will begin with the most basic bits of required knowledge and work towards the more advanced.
1. Wine Bottle Anatomy
2. Wine Not?
3. Selection and Retrieving
5. Foil and Wax
6. Crank, lever, and pull
8. Sediment & Decanting
9. The Pour
10. Finishing a Bottle
Knowing the correct terminology is helpful in discussing any topic, and wine is no different. I am sure that you have seen a wine bottle before and know what a label is. Some of the other parts of the bottle may not have been named to you before. For example, the punt is the indent in the bottom of the bottle. Almost all wine bottles have one, of varying depth. They allow the surface contact to be a ring, instead of a flat surface, which, somewhat counter-intuitively, creates a more stable base. The origin of punts is from the glassblowing technique of pressing-in the seam at the bottom so there is no protrusion.
They also increase the strength of the base, which is most notably important in sparkling wine, due to the pressure inside the bottle.
For service purposes, the punt can give extra purchase to the grip when pouring, especially helpful when reaching to pour across the table, which is not ideal service but is often necessary. The punt-hold pouring technique is cupping the bottom of the back (non-label) side of the bottle with the four fingers, and inserting the thumb into the punt. (See Fig. 1-2)
The shoulder of the bottle is another feature that you may not be aware of the importance of. Unfiltered wine, aged red wine, and even certain white wines can have sediment.
Sediment will be discussed in greater detail in the decanting section, but it is worth noting that much of the sediment can be left in the shoulder of the bottle, and not end up in the glass or be churned back into the wine while decanting if the server is aware of the sediment and pours with proper technique to leave the solids behind.
(See Fig. 1-3)
Chapter 2: Wine Not?
Being aware of the power of wine and how it is served, to alter the event perception of the guest is the first step to elevating oneself from a food and beverage carrier to a table host capable of influencing the mood and the guest experience.
Whether you have a full-time sommelier on hand or work in a Ma and Pa pizza restaurant, wine service protocol and etiquette can be maintained and will add perceived value of service to the guest experience. This results in the memory of an elevated level of service in the mind of the guest, which can raise the scores in restaurant reviews and elevate the perception of quality of care in the general public and online forums. This leads to increased business, higher sales and profits for the business, and more tips for the server. How the wine is handled and served is a part of that perception-building process. Knowing the wines that you peddle is a paramount aspect of this process. Wine tasting as a group is a key element to product knowledge. Having a skilled and knowledgeable sommelier to lead the tasting and provide insight into the nuances of flavor, aroma, and balance, as well as some background on the region, terroir, vintage or perhaps even the winery or wine-maker, can add details to the repertoire of the server which can be utilized in discussing the wine with the guests. Many wine reps that sell to the restaurants and stores are happy to provide a wine tasting of their product to the servers. I recommend scheduling such a tasting session at the end of a staff meeting. It can provide knowledge as well as a team-building experience. Be sure to maximize the time by giving lessons on service, like practicing opening and pouring, while the tasting takes place. Also, allow all participants to evaluate the wine before telling them what they should be tasting and smelling.
Using a wine evaluation system, like the Rs form (See Fig. 1-4), can provide structure to the tasting and help each participant to begin thinking in wine terminology and form opinions that will transcend any information you can give them. It is easier to recall your own thoughts than those of someone else.
If you are a server/waiter that is new to wine service or know that you could improve your skills, ask your manager if they can arrange such a training session. If you are the manager of a restaurant ‘front of house’ team, I think you will be pleased by the result that a tasting event or two, can have on your team, your wine sales, and the overall perception of the quality of service that your establishment provides. So indeed, wine not?
TO BE CONTINUED...