Some people are open to new adventures when it comes to wine types, varieties and styles. Some have to be gently (or firmly) talked into new suggestions.
The unifying characteristic among most people is that appreciation and anticipation will create enjoyment.
By creating a base knowledge and a basic list of expectations, I give the guest the tools to find enjoyment in a new experience. I, as the server, am responsible for giving my guest the best chance to enjoy an unknown selection.
As a member of the hospitality industry, I hear and share similar stories with other bartenders, servers, and managers about guests that only drink a specific grape variety or style. Often it is just the trepidation of the unknown that dissuades them from trying something new.
I typically would not try to raft down dangerous rapids alone for the first time or swim with sharks off the coast of South Africa unless I have a trusted guide with me. I believe that wine is not much different. I must become their trusted guide, and it is my job to give my guest reasonable expectation and encouragement on their next wine adventure.
I have found that the key is not to compare familiar varieties or preferred wine style with the new about-to-be-tasted-for-the-first-time selection. Rather, the goal is to highlight the unique qualities of the unknown offering by providing a list of possible visuals, aromas and tastes.
I want the guest to focus on this information, using my words and explanations like a scavenger hunt for flavor, smell, and mouthfeel. I want to avoid having a guest think, “Do I like this wine as much as the one I usually drink?” In my mind, comparisons only have people living in the past.
So, at this point, I want the guest to look forward. I want them to think about what I have told them about where the wine comes from, who makes it, and why it is special to that specific region. I want to see their eyes searching for levels of clarity and nuances of color. I want them to search for aromas that hide in the corners of the glass. I want to see their minds race as they decipher blackberries from raspberries and ponder tea leaf from tobacco. I want to see their eyes light up when they discover dusty tannins rolling around their teeth. I want to hear their conversation build as they search through the spectrum of flavor and finish that is only available in that glass at that specific time.
I want all of this – they do too, believe it or not – so it is my responsibility to guide and offer a mental map with milestones of expectation. These prescriptions allow the guest sit back and enjoy the quest in front of them.
Wine is at it’s best when it is instigating conversation and dialogue.
I am at my best when I give my customer an enjoyable new experience. I build the foundation of that encounter with colorful information and insightful expectation. Information is responsible for anticipation and appreciation.
Enjoyment, in the end, is just the byproduct of information.