Everyone can have a bad day at the office, but sommeliers have the added pressure of performing in public. It's bound to go wrong sometimes...
‘My biggest faux pas’ – from the sommeliers
From spilling wine on guests to pouring the wrong bottle, there are plenty of chances for errors to happen when working as a sommelier.
We looked back at our archive of Confessions of a Sommelier from Decanter magazine, to find out some of their mistakes on the job…
‘While decanting a Château Montrose 2001 over a candle, the label caught fire,’ said Stefano Petta, who spoke to Decanter when working at Hotel Schweizerhof Bern in Switzerland.
‘I was opening Champagne on a busy night and I sprayed a group of well-dressed girls,’ Christian Thorsholt Jacobsen, speaking to Decanter when head sommelier at MASH in London. ‘They got to share the remainder of the bottle.’
All at sea
Things can get even harder if you’re a sommelier-at-sea.
Marinela Ivanova, beverage manager onboard The World, Residences at Sea, said her biggest faux pas was ‘spilling wine on guests at formal events during windy seas.’
Arvid Rosengren, best sommelier in the world 2016, said, ‘I’ve barely escaped from smashing into a Crown Princess with a full tray of glasses as we were both rounding a corner at full speed.’
‘It didn’t end as badly as it could have done, but my balancing act drew lots of laughter.’
Rosengren spoke to Decanter when wine director at Copenhagen Concepts restaurant group, and is now wine director at Charlie Bird in New York.
The wrong wines
‘When I was working at the now-closed St Alban in London, Jancis Robinson MW arrived. I brought to her table a decanted bottle of Sassicaia 1998 almost before she and her party sat down,’ said Gal Zohar, speaking to Decanter when wine buyer for the Ottolenghi restaurants.
‘The head sommelier calmly picked it up and served it to the right table as if nothing had happened.’
Wayve Kolevsohn, speaking while sommelier at The Test Kitchen, said, ‘I suggested an excellent bottle only to realise it was the only one we had – and of course it was corked.’ She is now head sommelier at Cheval Blanc in the Maldives.
Michael Deschamps, wine director at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, said, ‘When I was working at The Square, my head sommelier asked me for a bottle of Léoville 1990. I brought a bottle of Léoville-Las-Cases to the guest and started to open it.’
‘Immediately, I felt the eyes of my boss on me. The guest had ordered a Léoville-Barton. Not checking with him was a big mistake.’
Read about the three Léovilles in the September 2017 issue of Decanter magazine, on general sale from 2 August
‘When I was a commis sommelier, a guest brought in about 10 of his own fine wines for a private event. I messed up by topping up the wrong wine in the wrong glass. The head sommelier was very upset with me,’ said Bhatia Dheeraj, speaking to Decanter when he was head sommelier at The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong. He is now head sommelier at Penfolds Magill Estate.
Tobias Brauweile MS, speaking to Decanter when he was head sommelier at The Ritz in London, had a similar moment. ‘My teacher from sommelier school came to the restaurant for dinner and obviously I wanted to impress.
‘By accident I took a bottle of dull New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from a neighbouring table’s ice bucket and topped up my teacher’s glass of very expensive Viognier.’
The wrong information
‘A guest once asked if I had a white Merlot. I told him there was no such thing and he got very angry and left the bar.
‘Years later during my sommelier training I tried a white Merlot from Ticino in Switzerland,’ said Ali Rasouli Nia, speaking when he was head sommelier at Michael Wignall at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park Hotel.
‘When I was assistant sommelier at Birmingham’s Hotel du Vin, a guest asked for my best bottle of Chablis, and I presented him with our grand cru, priced at £250 a bottle,’ said David Vareille, now head sommelier for Bar Boulud in London.
‘Having not mentioned the price to the gentleman, I took my break only to return and discover that he and his guests had enjoyed seven bottles of it. He was extremely shocked when he got the bill! I’ve never forgotten to mention the price to my customers since!’
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