A Planet Bordeaux event in New York last month set out to showcase some of the more accessible, affordable and tasty Bordeaux wines now available in the U.S. The day included a press seminar and tasting led by Burgundy expert Michael Madrigale, head sommelier at Chef Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud, Epicerie Boulud and Boulud Sud in New York.
Madrigale presented five wines from the region—all with an average retail price of $14. When some attendees expressed surprise at the high quality of wines from Bordeaux available at such low prices, Madrigale noted that with wine, there’s much more diversity at the value level vs. the higher end.
He also noted that it’s his job to “look for wines that taste like they cost a lot more,” and then help customers discover them. That’s the role of a good sommelier, Madrigale said.
That’s a great way to put it, but not too many bar and restaurant guests see it that way. Guests often think the sommelier’s primary job is to steer them to pricier wine options, so they prefer to go it alone in selecting a wine rather than appear naïve—or cheap—when working with the sommelier.
But customers then miss out on the somm’s knowledge and experience, which could lead to some wonderful wine discoveries. Many operators could stand to position the sommelier service as something that’s a little more friendly and accessible rather than intimidating.Guests should feel that the sommelier is there to work with them, considering their preferences and budgets. Wine selection should be more about enhancing the customer experience than boosting the check size or restaurant profits—though if you manage do both in an authentic way, it’s a win-win.