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Are The New Sommeliers Too Young to Listen?

By Stephen Eliot

The conversation about contemporary restaurant wine lists has been ongoing and often quite heated over the last several years, and there is no shortage of opinion about the new generation of sommeliers that oversees them.

We admit to at times to shaking our heads in disbelief at baby-faced “curators” who, while having mastered the jargon of wine, seem unaware of the sommelier’s cardinal rule that it is about the customer first and foremost. Some seem intent on simply being more obscure and “unique” than the next, and a few have shown an abundance of knowledge when asked about the world outside their tiny realms. That said, we have had as many fine experiences as we have had disappointments, and the fact is that there are very few gray heads to be found in the growing ranks of sommeliers.

Our pick for the Best Blog of Last Week, “As Wine Culture Gets Older, the Sommeliers Get Younger,” is a lengthy article* on NY Eater by Levi Dalton wherein he muses about the youth movement so evident in today’s sommeliers. “What are the factors that have contributed to lowering the age bar in a field that ostensibly values knowledge and experience with wine?” he asks and then proceeds to identify a few of those factors as he sees them.

His ideas that, owing to a shaky economy, “it has been a bad time to have set ideas about where good wine comes from,” that “younger sommeliers grew up with wine” and that “wine knowledge is a Google search away” are all thought provoking whether you agree with them or not. In the end, the piece is a reasoned one that ultimately addresses “why” rather than wasting too much time in defense or damnation of what “is.” The long list of worth-reading comments that follows does quite enough of both.

What the article does not really touch on, however, is how relative youth may influence and affect the other qualities that go into making a good sommelier such as the ability to listen and comfortably interact with their guests. It is essentially focused on the wine knowledge and passion of the younger crowd, but there is a lot more to being a good sommelier than simply knowing a great deal about wines. From our perspectives, the humility of attentive customer service seems too-often missing in the job-descriptions of latter day “somms”, and we would love to hear Mr. Dalton’s thoughts on that aspect of the craft.


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