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Kosher Sommellier NY

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Gary J

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Kosher Sommellier NY

by Gary J » Thu Aug 16, 2012 12:30 pm

I have been speaking with some of the higher end restaurants in NY about the fact that wine drinking among kosher consumers still seems to be a fraction of what it is among non-kosher consumers...at least in the NY area.

What do y'all think about the possibility of Sommelliers in restaurants? Do they help encourage people to try wine with their meals? Do they add to the intimidation/pretension around wine? Might it be a good addition or a bad one?

And the next question of course is WHO can do it?

If anyone is interested in possibly working 1 or more nights/week at a restaurant as a sommellier please PM me. I'd like to help try & get some sommelliers into NYC vicinity restaurants and see if it helps us to encourage more consumers to try enjoying wine with their meals.

Thanks all...
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Pinchas L

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Pinchas L » Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:16 pm

Hi Gary,

First get them to agree to a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) policy with a reasonable corkage fee, and then we'll talk about having them add a sommellier to their staff who'll push specific wines and labels. :mrgreen:

-> Pinchas
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Isaac Chavel

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Isaac Chavel » Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:26 pm

Let me take a stab at starting the conversation. (I see that Pinchas beat me to it.)

I guess that, at least three, requirements are necessary to be a sommelier:
1. You must genuinely like people, be pleased when you manage to please them, and pledge to yourself to do better next time when you fail.
2. You have to have a sense when not to oversell a higher priced wine.
3. You have to know wines, especially the medium and lower priced ones. My guess is that people ready to spend for the upper-tier wines know about them already, and do not require a sommelier. He/she is there for the less obvious choices.

As to why there is little wine-drinking in the restaurants, just look at the prices.
1. The young people, to start with, are not that into drinking wine; certainly the price lists are sure to intimidate them.
2. From what I read, restaurant prices of wine are usually somewhere between 200 and 300 % of wholesale or store prices. (Yes, I know there is a big difference.) But when I see a wine close to or over 300% of what I pay in the store, why should I buy? The restaurant in NYC has to cover its expenses? Then be happy selling less wine. That's their decision. Volume versus profit margin. Every business faces that.
3. The total kosher world of wine is not that large --- but happily expanding --- the mevushal selection is even smaller. So, here in the US, there is a good chance that wine drinkers know at least a large part of the, if not the complete, selection upon entering the restaurant. So there is less of a "discovery" experience that would be at the heart of a sommelier's job. Add to that the fact that the medium-tier (quality and price) mevushal is really small. How many people are ready to pop for restaurant priced Hagafen, Covenant, and Herzog-upper-end, and their corresponding French fellows?

Isaac
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Craig Winchell

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Craig Winchell » Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:47 pm

A quality sommellier knows wine. Among the kosher populace, there are few. A quality sommelier puts together his own wine list. That means he should be uninfluenced by suppliers. The list represents his personal feelings for a balanced list of quality wines and their food choices, and the list will only reflect wines that by their taste,and not reputation, match the foods being served. And a quality sommelier gets paid for what he does with a high salary.

From the restaurant's perspective, why support a sommelier unless there is the understanding that the likelihood is that he will pay for himself, and way more. From a distributor's perspective, the distributor should be certain that without influence, its wines are good enough to impress the sommellier and match well with the food choices. Otherwise, the distributor (meaning Royal in this case) is better off doing what it often does, write and print wine lists for restaurants front-loaded with their own offerings. And from the perspective of a sommelier, there are few in the Jewish world capable of doing the job, and if going to nonJews, they can probably find better jobs with better support in the general market.

As to whether it adds to a consumer's experience to have a sommelier, unless the sommelier knows what he's talking about, the experience can often be negative. Just look at Hoke's post on the other board under: Curious wine exchange in an Italian restaurant
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Gary J

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Gary J » Thu Aug 16, 2012 5:29 pm

Isaac Chavel wrote:Let me take a stab at starting the conversation. (I see that Pinchas beat me to it.)

I guess that, at least three, requirements are necessary to be a sommelier:
1. You must genuinely like people, be pleased when you manage to please them, and pledge to yourself to do better next time when you fail.
2. You have to have a sense when not to oversell a higher priced wine.
3. You have to know wines, especially the medium and lower priced ones. My guess is that people ready to spend for the upper-tier wines know about them already, and do not require a sommelier. He/she is there for the less obvious choices.

As to why there is little wine-drinking in the restaurants, just look at the prices.
1. The young people, to start with, are not that into drinking wine; certainly the price lists are sure to intimidate them.
2. From what I read, restaurant prices of wine are usually somewhere between 200 and 300 % of wholesale or store prices. (Yes, I know there is a big difference.) But when I see a wine close to or over 300% of what I pay in the store, why should I buy? The restaurant in NYC has to cover its expenses? Then be happy selling less wine. That's their decision. Volume versus profit margin. Every business faces that.
3. The total kosher world of wine is not that large --- but happily expanding --- the mevushal selection is even smaller. So, here in the US, there is a good chance that wine drinkers know at least a large part of the, if not the complete, selection upon entering the restaurant. So there is less of a "discovery" experience that would be at the heart of a sommelier's job. Add to that the fact that the medium-tier (quality and price) mevushal is really small. How many people are ready to pop for restaurant priced Hagafen, Covenant, and Herzog-upper-end, and their corresponding French fellows?

Isaac


What can I say Isaac...I agree with just about everything you wrote here though I must admit some of it had never really even occurred to me. It is a problem that consumers know they can get a certain wine at the shop "around the corner" for a fraction of what the store is selling the wine. Many non-kosher restaurants focus their lists on hard to find or restaurant only wines to avoid this issue. Unfortunately we have so such option in the kosher wine world. The best alternative is to have older vintage stuff that is no longer available.

I wonder if there is any way around this other than the restaurants facing reality and pricing their wines more reasonably.

Great points...thanks for the feedback!
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Gabriel Geller

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Gabriel Geller » Thu Aug 16, 2012 6:43 pm

I know of a few restaurants in Jerusalem that don't have a dedicated wine waiter but having a limited yet good wine list with mostly safe bet wines at very reasonable prices (barely more expensive than at a wine shop).
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David Raccah

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by David Raccah » Thu Aug 16, 2012 7:35 pm

Indeed - a great example of a restaurant with good wine prices is Abigale's. They have basic wines for the price at a wine store. Their upper scale wines stay high - but they think that if you can afford the wine - you can afford the higher margins.

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Adam M

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Adam M » Thu Aug 16, 2012 8:40 pm

Hi Gary - I think it's a fabulous idea for any restaurant serious enough to make the investment into enhancing the dining experience of their patrons.
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Yehoshua Werth

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Yehoshua Werth » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:27 am

With the right person and the right wine back-list the location could see a massive growth in style of clientele and sales.
Would have to be a super personallity & very keen on Food matching not on big names or prices.
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Gabriel Geller

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Gabriel Geller » Fri Aug 17, 2012 11:15 am

Yehoshua Werth wrote:With the right person and the right wine back-list the location could see a massive growth in style of clientele and sales.
Would have to be a super personallity & very keen on Food matching not on big names or prices.

I second that.
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Isaac C

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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Isaac C » Fri Aug 17, 2012 11:24 am

Personally, I don't think that will really increase sales unless the other main issues are addressed first. I think that as long as the restaurants cannot have non-mevushal wines and continue to charge such high markups it will be very difficult to increase sales in the kosher restaurants. $10 - $12 for a glass and $35+ for a bottle of wine that costs $9 for the whole bottle in stores is absurd. Unless someone does not enjoy any other type of alcohol I think you get a much better value with beer and mixed drinks. Most of the cheaper wines are very mediocre wines and very often they are not even the most recent vintage. The better mevushal wines, such as the Herzog Reserve wines and Hagafen wines, are just so expensive that it is difficult to justify the expense unless money is of little to no concern. I prefer wine over beer with a nice dinner but I have no interest in spending $20 or so per glass for a good wine when I can have a great beer for $7-$12.

As an example check out these prices at The Prime Grill:

http://theprimegrill.primehospitalityny ... s/wine.pdf

$106 for a bottle of Herzog Reserve Cabernet! That means you are paying a little over $20 a glass for a bottle that costs around $30!

I think Isaac's point that most people are familiar with the wines so the Sommellier does not add much value is also true as long as the selection stays the way it is now.
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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Adam M » Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:52 pm

Gary - Do you know of an "organization" from which one can obtain a sommellier certification based on drinking only kosher wine? I do not, and would think that this is a major limitation from the perspective of "fine" kosher restaurants offering a formally trained staff. If in fact there currently isn't a proper kosher sommellier certifying body, perhaps we could create one? I'd be all for helping out on this.

Anyone else?
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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Andrew B » Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:08 pm

The Court of Master Sommeliers intro level test does not require a tasting element, as it's written only. Tasting is however part of the course, as you might imagine. The Advanced and Master levels are extensively based on blind tasting and of course lots and lots of knowledge.
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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Craig Winchell » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:04 pm

As I have said many times, there are heterim for tasting and spitting stam yeinam, for the purposes of parnasa (and training as a Sommellier could definitely be construed as being for one's parnasa). Mine is from Rav Gedalia Schwartz of Chicago, but others could pasken a heter. It is noteworthy, perhaps, that my rav could not find a heter he liked, so he wouldn't pasken one, yet still allowed me to use the one pakened for me by Rav Schwartz. I'm sure if my rav, being who he is, could do it, yours could do it too, if he couldn't find a heter he liked. Or if he could, all the better.
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Re: Kosher Sommellier NY

by Elchonon Hellinger » Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:59 pm

I agree with the others and its a strong point of mine, its reflects the still sad state of kosher wines...

What does it say for kosher wine drinking, when most peoples restaurant exposure is to 6-9$ wine bottles they are shelling over 25-35$ in a restaurant..

Why cant restaurants focus on making $ on food, not jacking us for wine ? If Barakan would run 8$ in a store, the restaurants buying by case should be 6$, let them charge 12$ not 25-30$!!!

I frequent mozart cafe and harbor grill in miami, they allow non mevushal bottles and 10-12 uncorking fee's are fair

If the Sommellier was also mashgiach in the sense that he would pour wine that was non mevushal so be it.

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