If you’ve ever opened a bottle of wine only to discover it wasn’t anything you thought it would be based on the label, then you can appreciate what Sommelier Cassandra Brown, CS, CSW, does.
“We are looked to be the authorities on wine,” Brown said. “When people come into a restaurant, the sommelier is to be an authority on wine.”
And when Brown says authority, she’s not talking about the snooty kind of sommelier who curls his lip when you ask for the “wrong” wine. She wants you to be happy with the wine you choose.
“We want to make sure that you guys get a quality product,” she said. “We have the knowledge to determine whether it’s a quality product. That’s all.”
We met Brown at the Los Angeles County Fair last September, where she led us through a tasting of classic wine varieties. The idea was to learn about what a typical sauvignon blanc, or cabernet sauvignon, etc., are “supposed” to taste like. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for, say, a chardonnay to have a bit of the citrusy character normally associated with a sauv blanc. But it can be a downer when you plunk down $30 for a pinot noir, hoping for a rich, balanced but somewhat lighter red wine, only to find that the winemaker went for a heavier cab sauv style.
We were at the fair that day for the fun of it and weren’t expecting to do any interviewing. But Brown was such a great teacher, we couldn’t resist. So we asked her, why do all that finicky wine analysis of the color, smell and taste?
“The thing about it is, it’s that it’s part of our profession. But it’s a learning experience for us,” Brown said about herself and her sommelier colleagues. “The way we become an authority on wine is to learn everything about it, to break it down. We do it for us. We don’t necessarily do it for the masses. It’s an education exercise to heighten our awareness, to heighten our knowledge about wine. That’s how we learn. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s a learning tool so that we can be that authority, we can answer that question, so we can justify why this wine tastes that way based on where it was grown or how it was produced.”
And that’s basically what it’s about. A good sommelier (wine server) will ask you what you like and will be able to make a good recommendation based on her knowledge of what the restaurant has and what the chef is making. Because it really is about making sure the customer has a good experience, and being looked down on is anything but.