All month long, we are paying homage to the mighty grape. Grab a glass and join us as we Wine Down.
Sure, they may have passed the most challenging wine exam in the world and know more about Nebbiolo than you ever will, but somms are more down to earth than you might think, and they’re pretty damn fun, too—especially when they’re spilling the goods.
Here are 11 juicy secrets straight from somm (sorry) of the coolest sommeliers in the country.
① Somms Hide Their Favorite Bottles in the Middle of the Wine List
"Because wine lists can be too densely packed with so many options, people often order the wine at the top of the page or at the beginning of a category. Of course, price is always a factor in most customers’ decisions, but often the first option can drive someone's choice. Sommeliers know this and hide some of their favorite wines in the middle/bottom of the page to reward people who are willing to read through the list." —Alex Alan, Freek’s Mill, NYC
② A Sommelier Is Not Out to Make Your Credit Card Plead for Mercy
“All of our wine captains at Maple & Ash (We have six! And I refuse to call them sommeliers.) are trained in the art of the down sell. We want to find you a wine that you will love. At any price. And even better if it is for less than you thought you had to spend. Use your finger and point to the price range you would like (you don’t even need to verbalize it in front of your guests) and let us do the rest.” —Belinda Chang, Maple & Ash, Chicago
③ Cocaine Isn’t Just for Cooks
“There’s so much cocaine use. I think people would be shocked to know how much that’s fueling the wine world.” —Adam Vourvoulis, Hatchet Hall, L.A.
④ Bigger Is Better
"It is widely known that wine ages more gracefully in bigger bottles (less air passing through the cork, more wine in the bottle), and you should always check out the wine list’s large-format section. There are collectors who only drink Champagne from magnums and would never dream of drinking a serious bottle of wine that is less than 1.5 liters. Some sommeliers secretly squirrel away their large-format bottles for themselves, but if they like you, they will share!” —Belinda Chang, Maple & Ash, Chicago
⑤ It Pays to Question the Authorities
"When a sommelier is building their list, they like to reward adventurous drinkers with outstanding wines at below-average pricing. So, the question becomes, how to unlock these gems? It's remarkably simple: Ask the sommelier what they’re really excited about on the list and let them know you’re looking for something off the beaten track. This approach will yield highly pleasurable results." —John-Paul Quattrone, Wallflower, NYC
⑥ Somms Aren’t Paying for All Those Expensive Bottles on Instagram
“Those pics on my Instagram account, somebody else bought. I don’t make enough money to be drinking all those bottles.“ —Adam Vourvoulis, Hatchet Hall, L.A.
⑦ If a Wine from an Unexplored Region Is on the List, Choose It
“If a sommelier has bothered sourcing wines from somewhere outside of the mainstream, let's say the Greek islands or Hungary, he/she is probably really passionate about them, and they're worth checking out. Also, oftentimes these ‘weird’ wines will be priced less aggressively than things that sell themselves, both by the producer and the restaurant. So not only are you getting a more interesting wine in your glass, you might end up getting a bargain, too!” —Jon Arvid Rosengren, Charlie Bird, NYC
⑧ Champagne Flutes Are So Over
“Flutes make cheap wine taste fine and great wine taste, well, like nothing. Who can get their nose into a narrow flute and appreciate the beautiful aromas and flavors created by long aging in caves for three years at minimum? When you order a bottle of Champagne and ask for ‘real’ wineglasses, you sound like a baller. Glassware matters.” —Belinda Chang, Maple & Ash, Chicago
⑨ Those Fancy Suits? Not As Clean as They Look
“I probably haven’t washed my suit in three weeks.” —Adam Vourvoulis, Hatchet Hall, L.A.
⑩ Don’t Write Off Table Wine
“Some talented young winemakers who are just getting their start make wines listed as basic ‘table wines.’ It may be because they don't age the wine long enough or because they don't follow the winemaking rules of the region and want to make a wine of a different style. Admittedly, this is a bit like looking for wine in the Wild West, but if you're adventurous and up for trying something new, these wines are often much less expensive than their more traditionally labeled counterparts." —Alex Alan, Freek’s Mill, NYC
⑪ You Don’t Have to Drink “Big Reds” at a Steakhouse
“These days, every self-respecting restaurant offers a full range of possibilities on their wine list. The new rule is: Order whatever the heck you like to drink, and your sommelier will respect that.” —Belinda Chang, Maple & Ash, Chicago