Sommeliers, the rhapsodists of wine

27 January 2022

When I was a child I was fascinated by the figure of the rhapsodists. Don't trouble yourselves, I was also fascinated by Batman. I was amazed by their impressive memory skills and the fact that they made a living travelling and reciting poems to other people. These itinerant poets who sang or narrated epic poems in the days when writing was still unknown were of vital importance, for on their shoulders rested the cultural transmission of some of the most important works that were created. Today I remembered them with sommeliers in mind. The figure of the sommelier, the living link between winery, restaurant and consumer, has always been very important in the wine sector and today, fortunately, it is even more so.

It is a fundamental figure as he or she has a valuable moment in the transmission of wine culture to the customer, who expects guidance when ordering wine or correctly interpreting the wine list.

The 21st century sommelier

Nowadays, every respectable restaurant or wine tavern has one or more perfectly trained sommeliers, something really fantastic, as it guarantees that the wine ends up reaching the consumer in the way it should.

Today's best sommeliers have been able to create their own work in restaurants through wine lists that really tell a story. The curious and beautiful thing is that every story is different, at least among the best professionals. Each wine list is a world because there is an infinite number of wine options, which allows the sommelier to create with an endless number of elements.

Many of the best sommeliers are vocational, consumers of wines from all over the world seeking to capture on the wine list those wines that have moved them and that respond to all possible price ranges, and that are specifically adapted to the venue and its gastronomy. However, such is the passion of many of them that it can sometimes blind them to the consumer. Undoubtedly the worst possible scenario in their work.

In these cases we find offers focused on the sommelier's own personal tastes, ignoring the consumer and his or her possible needs. Fortunately, this type of behaviour can be corrected relatively quickly, as there is no better corrector than our own freedom of choice.

Balanced or unbalanced sommeliers

Spain, as a great wine-producing country, has never been a great consumer of foreign wines. Nor is it today, at least in global figures. However, there has been a growing interest in and consumption of wines from other countries, which has allowed us to open our minds and enjoy other ways of working with and interpreting wine. All this has had a great impact on the figure of today's sommelier.

These trips to the wines of the world, which are all positive, can cloud the vision of some sommeliers if they come to think that what comes from abroad is, due to exoticism, better than what comes from within. This is a fairly generalised malady in our country, where we tend to see more problems and errors in our own than in what comes from outside.

There will be cases where this is the case, of course. But there are also many others where this is not the case. These conversations become latent when one has the opportunity to taste a Spanish wine with a professional of this profile, who sees problems that she would not notice with the same intensity if it were a wine of average quality from Piedmont or Burgundy. Do these wines not exist in these famous producing areas? Of course they do. However, the professional, blinded by the sound reputation of the wines from abroad, does not always see these deficiencies and is left with the subtleties of the name. We are talking about a professional who can fall into certain imbalances conditioned by his or her partial vision of wine. These figures tend to impose a single criterion on the consumer and may even argue with customers if they do not agree with their vision of wine.

There is a much more interesting figure of sommelier who is characterised by balance and moderation. These are professionals who, in their eagerness to get to know the world and its wines, have not taken part in the prejudices that abound on social networks. These people are usually guided by a calm temperament, not given to drama and the search for likes and followers to reaffirm their existence. They see themselves portrayed in their daily work and do not take on board any external message without first confirming it for themselves. Tasting with these people is always constructive and they generally look for the positive traits of all wines, regardless of style, price and place of origin. You rarely hear them pontificate about wine and dismiss it, as they understand and respect all the work that goes into the world of wine.

It also happens that these people are able to talk to all types of customers, they listen and do not try to impose their will. However, they are always on the alert and have their minds set on identifying the type of customer they have in front of them and the wine that will best satisfy them. Like the Hellenic rhapsodists, they are able to convey the full spectrum of wine culture, without lecturing the customer.

All in all, this is a good time for sommeliers, as the figure of the trained and proactive sommelier is here to stay, which will help us to consume wine with more sense and knowledge.

Nowadays, the success of a restaurant does not only depend on its work in the kitchen. Fortunately, wine professionals have been able to carve out a niche for themselves and highlight their work and importance within the restaurant. We have national figures whose work has given projection to wine in the dining rooms, people who with humility and effort are capable of seeing wine in all its globality and at the same time in all its detail. From time to time let yourself be carried away by the poetry of these rhapsodists of wine, it is more than likely that you will discover aromas and tastes hitherto ignored.

    Written by Javier Luengo, director editorial de Peñín