On Sommeliers and Attitudes in Regards to Wine Knowledge

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Preface:  Games recognizes game and one asshole recognizes another.  This is not some rail against sommeliers, because you have some wonderful and authentic people with the title or whom aspire to be one.  However, in some/certain instances, it has become yet another way for some people to deign that they are more knowledgeable than others, or that rather they should exist on some type of pedestal.

While I am sure that I have written about this before, it is still something that comes up again and again in my travels and endeavors in the world of wine.  The other night, a lovely woman [again] told me that a member of her organization is a sommelier.  Actually, it didn’t impress me the first time and less impressed me the second.  At some point, many of us chime in that we know someone that does something that relates to the field of the person that we’re talking to, but I can tell you that as an African American – and this was another African American telling me about another African American – I still bristle when people mention the term. 

The reason that I do is simple, and that is that being a sommelier doesn’t make you a wine expert, and too many people have thrown it out to justify that they know their shit and you should listen to them.

Up to this point, my life has been very interesting, with me being exposed to many disciplines, people in them, and working with, alongside, or in support of them.  This means that between my own talents, I have also worked and consulted in regards to myriad industries and fields, which also made me delve in and have to understand them more in depth in order to do what I do.  And I being a Leo and somewhat asshole, has had to check people so many times when they throw out their pedigrees which they think actually impress me, and that I wouldn’t have enough knowledge to tell them that they aren’t all that. 

No, ballet dancers are not the pinnacle of dance. 

No, classical musicians aren’t the best musicians. 

No, people who attended Ivy league institutions aren’t the smartest folks out there.  And the list goes on and on.

Becoming a sommelier means that you have to pass a test, and there are people who can pass a test just on guessing.  It doesn’t say that your knowledge is absolute and honestly the only reason to take it is to usually advance your position in the world of wine & spirits, and hospitality/restaurants.  Get the certification and it makes someone not easily dismiss your resume.  You could get a job in a restaurant, winery, hotel or with some rich person who wants someone to possibly curate their collection.  And that’s fine if that’s what you want to do, but it doesn’t make you an expert.

I have known people to have passed the test within twelve months of studying for it, and looking at it, I would guess that I might be able to pass it in one or two tries if I studied for six months.  Conversely, one can obtain a black belt from certain martial arts schools in one year and still get knocked the hell out in one second by someone with no formal training.  One of the best chefs I know never got formal training, but learned the old school way, which meant working his way up from bussing tables to being in the kitchen to then heading the kitchen. 

Since I am not trying to ever work in a place where I am serving wine, the test is almost worthless to me.  And trust me, I have read most of the materials for it.

As an African American, I have encountered many interesting experiences where some people are quick to discount whether or not I have any significant knowledge of wine, or whether I am one of those people who only like drinking some cloyingly sweet wines.  It’s quite hilarious over time because I can quickly figure how someone thinks and then decide whether or not I will ever want to deal with them or their company again.  Because, that person is representing their company as well.  Over time, it has been my sincere appreciation of wine, as well as my knowledge to know and experience more, which has allowed me to forge connections with a number of people within the industry, especially producers.

Now here is where I talk about the attitudes.

I am going to recap the issue of the hubris that is exemplified by a number of people who have the title of sommelier.  I remember building a website for a company called Perfect Palate New York, which was to be a sexy sommeliers piece.  Essentially, they were training people to be sommeliers so that they could send them out to do personal wine tastings for small groups.  The whole thing looked comical to me and summarily it didn’t work out for them.  On my end, it essentially looked like they were trying to form a synergy of strippers/models and the wine world, which has nothing to do with learning wine.  I decided to look them up today and while their website is essentially non-existent, their twitter feed is a joke.

Wine is wine, you can’t dress it up to be Baywatch nor can you honestly engage in it while spouting everybody feel good crap like “it doesn’t matter what you drink, as long as you’re having a good time.  No sir, I say “good day” to you.  Friends don’t let friends drink white zinfandel, box wine, Barefoot or Yellowtail for that matter.

I actually had some more to say, but honestly I am tired while I enjoy the rest of this lovely Pinot Noir.

But please people, get it through your skull that a sommelier is not a wine expert and a person with that title doesn’t have the right, or the platform, to think that their wine knowledge is superior to the next person’s.  They can assume that they might know more, but when they wind up with egg on their faces, it usually is a very humbling moment.


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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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