I often hear people talk about the pretentiousness of wine & spirit aficionados.
More often than not, these comments are from people who haven’t paid the dime or done the time to experience structured classes for wine & spirit education.
But in general, when one finds themselves in social gatherings, there’s often more people with opinions than people equipped with facts, so it’s one of those things a wine & spirit professional learns to live with.
However, there have been a few experiences have made me reflect on how people approach the drinking styles & selections in social settings.
A few years ago, I was dining alone on the patio of a lovely hotel. As I perused the menu and the wine list, I realized my cravings were at odds with traditional wine & food pairing.
On one hand, I wanted the med+spicy Butter Chicken.
On the other hand, I was craving a juicy Merlot.
Even in my head, with all my experience, I knew putting those two together was risky. So, I decided to ask the server what he would recommend with the Butter Chicken and the answer was textbook … Gewürztraminer.
I knew that, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a Gewruz.
So I ordered the Butter Chicken. And the Merlot. My server politely supported my decision saying “that will be just fine”.
As the server walked away, the single-diner gentleman at the table next to me offered this unsolicited advice: “If we were in France, the server would never have let you order a Merlot with Butter Chicken”.
I turned, thought for just a moment, then replied “Well, if we were in France, it would be perfectly acceptable to order a low tannic wine with any well-cooked dish. And furthermore, even if we were in France, we would have at least “Bonjure’d each other before critiquing the others wine selection”
Clearly, he wasn’t expecting an educated response, immediately apologized, said “You’re right. Bonjour!” He then asked to join me at my table where we enjoyed several hours of spirited discussion on wine, food & travel.
What makes this story funny, is although I’d had several years of WSET Wine & Spirit education, at that time … I hadn’t yet been to France. I’d read a bunch of books, passed all the tests on Wines from France, but it would be another year before I set foot on its soil.
So how did I come to suggest saying “Bonjour” to another diner? I’d read an article. Just the day before, a respected wine & food critic for a local newspaper had written about his dining experience in a small, tightly packed restaurant in France. The tables were so close together, as he serpentined his way to his table, he would say Bonjour every time he bumped along the chairs of the other diners.
So, being alert and well-read, I used this to my advantage when confronted by someone who chose to challenge my dining decision.
It’s amazing the positive outcomes achieved when one is armed with options & a smile on their face. I made a new friend and learned many things from conversation with him.
When I finally did make my 1st trip to Europe the following year, I discovered, in both France and Italy, patrons who observed me dining solo, on a patio or in a restaurant, would often acknowledge me with a “Bonjour” or a “Bon Appetit”.
It was a wonderful feeling. I am grateful for those kind words and will often extend the same sentiments to other diners wherever I travel.