Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lost in Translation

The New York Times reports that American restaurant-goers are shocked, shocked to have their wine tasted for them by the sommelier, as if they didn't know their châteaux from Shinola:

Few issues of wine etiquette seem to cause as much consternation as the increasingly common practice of a sommelier taking a small sip of wine, usually unbidden, to test for soundness. Diners often are surprised to learn that their bottle has in effect been shared with the restaurant, even if it’s just the smallest amount.


The practice, which is more common at high-end restaurants with ambitious wine lists, can make diners uncomfortable. Some believe the restaurant may be taking advantage of them by consuming wine that they have bought. Others feel demeaned, that their role of assessing the wine has been usurped.

By way of explanation, the newspaper evokes the tastevin:

“It goes back hundreds of years, when the role of sommeliers was to ensure that kings or royalty didn’t get poisoned,” said Evan Goldstein, a wine educator and former president of the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization dedicated to raising the standards of beverage service. “My understanding is that the tastevin was put on a chain and put around the neck of the sommelier exactly for that purpose.”

Which reminds me of one of my favorite French associations, la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. I once dined with a member, who transformed the mundane business of quaffing wine into an Olympian sharing of the nectar of the gods.

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