A few years back, when I was studying to earn my “Diploma in Service” with the Sommelier Society of America (a school for wine professionals in New York City), I remember perspiring my way through the final exam, a pretend wine-service exercise. Two top sommeliers, Roger Dagorn (our terrifyingly-serious-but-charming French head teacher) and his right hand, the lovable “good cop,” Renzo Rapacioli, sat at a fully-set table playing hard-to-satisfy wine-ordering customers; I played the sweaty sommelier. Whenever I glimpse an episode of Shark Tank, I’m immediately transported back to that table-side interrogation, where I dodged grenades like “What might you suggest if I order the skate au beurre noisette, but my companion orders the boeuf Bourguignon?” and, “How many premier cru Burgundy vineyards are represented on your wine list, per chance?” and my favorite, “Would you say there’s a higher percentage of Tinta Roriz grapes in this Port or Tinta Barroca? Or perhaps even a touch of Tinta Amarela?”
If the oral examination part wasn’t terrifying enough, there was also the demonstration portion, which included everything I hate about formal (read: French) wine service. From the presentation of the bottle, swaddled in white linen like a new-born baby, straight through to decanting it with trembling hands over a candle (to look for sediment) on a tableside trolley, it bugs me. Personally, I bundle most of these maneuvers into what I call “the frippery” of wine service: stuff that makes most people I know slink down in their seats in hopes that the sommelier will call on someone else to taste the wine.
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But then I see that person: The Imbiber. He's the one—and it's always a man—who relishes the pageantry of it all, the pomp and circumstance, who imagines that everyone else in the room is intently watching this noble ceremony take place. And when the sommelier places the just-pulled cork on the table to the right of the glass, The Imbiber picks it up ceremoniously, rolls it between his thumb and forefinger, and takes a deep, satisfying sniff.