Pitching A Sommelier’s Pet Peeves

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - March 14, 2007
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You know, I don’t only sell wine for a living, I buy it too. In this line of work you can imagine I’ve met all kinds of people who sell wine. I realize now that I have some pet peeves that really bug me when it comes to people trying to sell me wine.

The first is people who have no passion for what they are selling. They have a blank stare and seem to be a stereo with the play button stuck in the on position. They just read off a prerecorded sales pitch that they can’t seem to be finished with soon enough. The wines they sell could be really nice or they could really suck too, but they would sell try to sell them the same way.

It’s like talking to a toaster. Another irritating style is exaggerating everything about the wine. “We do the best this, with the best that. We have billion-dollar press. We hired such and such to grow the grapes.” Everything they do is simply the best.

How’s the wine, you may ask? Well, if they have done all the best they can and still come out with an imperfect wine, they’d better figure out how to do it better. OK, sometimes these wines are pretty good. But really, you’d be surprised. If everything along the way in the process is done with such perfection, how come the result isn’t perfect? By exaggerating everything, it’s almost impossible for the wine to meet the expectations they’ve built up.

How about the “numbers guy”? This guy loves to spout forth sequences of numbers to impress people. “It has 3.4pH, a TA of 3.2, ABV is 14.9 percent, with residual sugar of 0.2 percent.”

I’m already snoring.

“Yeah, this vineyard is planted to the Dijon clones with some Pommard clones in there, too. I think it’s 447, 777, 116 and 114. There are also some 82A and 667 in this block.”

Shoot me already!

Come on, I know I’m probably more geeky than most people when it comes to wine, but I’ve never sold a single bottle of wine telling my customer about all the clones of vines in the vineyard. Sure, it’s great to have a better understanding of why it tastes like it does, but almost no one knows what they are talking about and, even more importantly, most consumers don’t care! These people seem to think that they are talking to winemakers or vineyard managers.

Hello? How about Joe and Jill Consumer?

Oh, yeah, there is yet another “numbers guy.” He or she is actually a “ratings” person. Wine Spectator gave it ... Wine Advocate scored it ... Wine Enthusiast ... Burghound ... Richard Juhlin ... The list goes on and on. Great, I know what someone else thinks about it, but can I still taste it and give my own opinion? After all, I’m not buying it for any of them, am I?

And the last one I can think of, and certainly the least of all, is the blind faith delusionary. Despite the lack of quality in the wine, the person still thinks it’s great. I know that selling is your job, it’s my job too. I know that’s how you make a living. But really, can you be honest for a second? Have you tasted this bottle of wine?

Let’s call it like it is. Don’t try to tell me how “great it flows” or “how balanced it feels.” The wine is not for me, so show me something else. Or hopefully the next vintage will be better.

In the end I, like everyone else, want the wine I buy to taste good. Often I want it to taste great, not just good. I want it to be interesting and complex enough for me to have more than one glass. I want it to be elegant as not to destroy my palate with the first glass. I want it to go well with what I’m eating.

And without that, all the sales pitches in the world don’t mean diddly.

No selling, just good wine: 2005 Albino Armani Pinot Grigio ($14) fits as well as a nice suit. 2005 Neyers Old Lakeville Road Syrah ($28) Rich, deep, succulent, earthy, tasty ...

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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