Sarah, 30 years old, server in an upscale Los Angeles restaurant had a little time to spare and shares her experience:
When did you experience your first wine tasting group?
It was in New-York City in 2015. I joined the group after my American Sommelier Association class. Some of my friends were going for the advanced program and were part of a wine tasting group. We were all working in restaurants at that time. So this is when I decided to join.
What was your first motivation to enter a group?
The sommelier of the restaurant I worked at would often open some bottles, and we would go through with the staff. I was able to hear all this vocabulary and explanations. That made me even more curious about wine and willing to learn more. For a while, I tried being a wine rep in the streets of New-York, but it did not work for me… I lasted six months. Then there was a position in a new wine bar on the Upper West Side. I got the job there, and they offered me training with the American Sommelier Association. I learned a lot in the class, and it gave me some good basics, on the other hand, it was very formal, and I wanted to learn more socially. That’s how I became interested in a wine tasting group, to keep learning but in a more interactive way.
How did you find the group?
My friend at work introduced me to the group.
How many people were in the group? Furthermore, where and when would you meet?
Between 6 to 8 people were there depending on the sessions.
We would meet once a week, in the morning, at one of the restaurants where people were working.
What was the level of the participants?
The group was unquestionably a more advanced and professional crowd.
What was the procedure during a session?
Everybody would bring a bottle of wine. We would decide ahead of the meeting a budget per bottle. Most of the time in the $30 range but sometimes we tried to focus on more affordable wines in the $15 range.
Each bottle was then hidden with paper covers and marked with a number. We would always do a blind tasting. The group then went through the line starting with whites and finishing with reds. We were taking individual notes trying to draw each wine’s characteristic, regarding appearance, nose, and palate. Finally, one after another each shared their observations and tried to guess the varietal and the region, and only then we would reveal the label. The same process was employed for each wine. If you had the correct guess, you would win the bottle with the precious leftover liquid!
For how long did you join the group?
I was in the group for three months.
What can you share about your experience?
I kept a fantastic memory of it, as I learned a lot; mainly because of being with a group of somm. I certainly learned the vocabulary, and my palate and nose improved a great deal. I was also able to try wines I could not afford on my own.
Is it useful in your job as a server today?
Yes, it positively provided me with some confidence when it comes to talking about wine with customers or staff members. I don’t use as many technical terms though because you need to adapt your words to your audience. Moreover, in many restaurants, people want to drink good wine, but also keep it informal.
Would you join a group nowadays?
Yes, I would, but more casually; with close friends for instance. I would still keep the blind tasting process because it is fun but I would pass on the somm extreme vocabulary. I would focus on food pairing. Wine is about having a fun time after all!
If you had a message to address to people involved in the industry what would it be?
Well as I server I think I want some guests to know what it is to work in a restaurant. It would never happen, but it would be an excellent idea that to dine at a restaurant you will have had to work one day in a restaurant. Ha! I think that would change a lot of people’s perception of the complexities of a great dining experience.