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The most pointless profession on the planet

By Mr Grumpy - Fri 1st Jul 2011

I was reading in El Pais the other day that the 'Nariz Oro' award for Spain's top sommelier had been awarded to a Woman for the third consecutive year, and I have to admit that the news staggered me.

Not that it went to a Woman (that would make me sexist), but because there were enough Sommeliers employed in Spain to even consider that holding such an award was a worthwhile event.

What is a Sommelier ? Basically they smell wine.

Can you imagine the conversation:

" Busy day at work love ? "

" Yes, fairly. I performed a 14 hour non-stop potentially life threatening triple heart by-pass operation. You ...? "

" Yes, me too. I had to smell eight bottles of wine, one of which smelled of blackberries and new-mown grass, another of which was corked..."

My utter contempt of the profession first began a number of years back when I won an incentive (from my Employer at the time) to stay the weekend at one of London's top Hotels, and dine in their celebrity chef-owned restaurant. Without giving the name away let's just say that the owner and executive chef was away promoting his recent book or TV series at the time, probably swearing at some group of nobodies somewhere...

Whilst I have to admit that whoever managed to cook my meal did a fantastic job, and I enjoyed every mouthful, the experience with the Wine-waiter left me fuming.

Now I know very little about wine, but I DO know what I like and, being a grown man of thirty something, I'm confident enough to say something if I believe something is not as it should be....

On ordering our six course gastronomic feast I attempted to order a bottle of wine with the waiter. He looked horrified that I should even attempt to do such a thing and shot off to grab what he called 'the sommelier' (I have to confess I had never heard the term before, and guessed he meant 'the guy that will take your drinks order', or if being posh 'the wine waiter').

Most restaurants I had been to in the past would have taken your drinks order before the food order, not after, but alas, it seems that the food we ordered should have had some massive impact on the choice of wine that we were about to order.

The sommelier appeared by magic, a bit like the shopkeeper in the cartoon Mr Ben, and before asking what we would like to drink, began to peruse our food order. Almost as though we had to ask permission to be able to continue with our wine order - just in case our choice did not meet with his approval.

I asked for a bottle of Chablis and with a raised eyebrow a la Rowan Atkinson, he shot off into his dungeon, or whatever.

( It was at that point I was kicking myself for not asking for a bottle of Blue Nun ).

So anyway, after what seemed like an hour and gasping for a glass of wine, he shuffles back with a bottle that he dusts off in front of me, de-corks with a ceremonious flourish that I am sure he hoped would impress me and then - get this - pours three glasses (one for himself!), takes a glug, spits into a glass in front of me, and then announces that the wine 'is good'.

Now like I said, I'm no expert, but I would have sincerely hoped that a restaurant of that reputation and standing would not be serving such a bottle of wine if it was not 'good'. Nor do I expect to have some slimy Frenchman help himself to a glass of MY wine without MY invitation to tell me something that I was capable of deciding myself.

Worse still, once he had poured myself and the ball and chain a glass, he took the bottle away from the table, and placed it with a half dozen or so other bottles in the corner.

Heaven forbid you should serve yourself with our own wine, or drink faster than he thought permissible...

So after being rationed our own wine, which he had so kindly approved for us, the bill came and I have to admit I felt the need to speak out. It seems that I was actually charged for a whole bottle of wine. I mentioned to the waiter that we only had 4 of the customary 5 glasses of wine out of the bottle, as Monsieur Sommelier had helped himself to a glass.

The waiter shuffled off with an embarrassed look on his face and came back with Monsieur Maître D'hotel who told us that this was of course for the benefit of the Sommelier, who was a complementary service provided for our benefit.

Complementary service ? What next : somebody to take the skin off my roast chicken breast ? Somebody perhaps to crack the caramelised sugar on my Creme Brulee ? - If my own personal tastes and likes decided to abandon me at that very moment, I had a tongue in my head to be able to ask for assistance in deciding if the wine 'was good' or not.

At what point did fine dining become less about the food, wine and company and become more about the finery and pretence ? I have eaten at a few Michelin stared restaurants that have managed to arrive at their status by doing all the right things. Sadly I have also eaten at quite a few that have forgotten the basics and instead hope to attract clients that are impressed by the expensive price tags and the number of surplus-to-requirement staff.

I know what would happen if went into my bar tonight and, after ordering a pint, the barman proceeded to drink the first couple of gulps before declaring the beer to be 'ok'. And it wouldn't be pretty.

Comment on this Blog

 
And on a similar note : Since when did Barmen become "Mixologists" ?
Mr Grumpy - Sun, 5th May 2013
I think that you have to be French, Effeminate and annoying to be able to apply to be a Sommelier. At least it helps if you are. And if you enter "Tumbit" onto Youtube you can see my face on one of my Videoblogs.
Mr Grumpy - Sun, 3rd Jul 2011
Brilliant! I´m just imagining your face (theoretically, since I don´t know your face) when le Booze Smeller poured himself a glass of your wine. I can´t be bothered with all that faffy stuff either - though I have had a wine that was corked but I was perfectly able to complain about it myself even though I know nothing about wine at all except I like it. Anyway, what a good job to be a Sommelier, paid to drink folks´ wine. How do you get a job like that?
Mo - Sun, 3rd Jul 2011

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