By Jonathan Feiler
Recently I was asked what was the most frequent question I get asked by guests, and this gave me a bit of pause. I get asked a lot of questions on a daily basis, many of the which I have the answers to immediately, and others that I either need to research or take some time to formulate an appropriate response.
After some thought, I felt that the question I get asked the most by my guests is: Is it [the wine] worth it [for the price]? This question at its core is not really a question about money, but a question about quality and quantity. I find that many guests just don’t have the vocabulary and/or the basis of knowledge to express how a wine is perceived on the palate.
I hear a lot, “I wouldn’t know if a wine was good or not” or “an expensive wine would be lost on me.” My response is pretty much the same every time: You will know when you taste it when the wine is of high quality. I relate quality wine like shoes, watches and nice cars; once you put on the shoes or wear the watch or sit behind the wheel, you intrinsically know the sense of quality and precision. With that said, a wine DOES NOT have to be expensive to be good, nor does price guarantee quality, especially these days. However, like all things in life, you may get what you paid for.
Because I, and my sommelier team, frequently get the question of “Is it worth it?”, we put together a class that teaches our guests how to answer that question for themselves. I have now taught this class many times and have been encouraged by the “ah ha!” moment that these guests have had. The class is designed to be a behind-the-scenes look on how wine is made and discusses the elements that give wine its structure, flavor, length and, of course, value.
These elements include, but are not limited to, geography, production method, aging, grape variety and producer. We also teach them the vocabulary needed to discuss these wines and how to describe them to restaurant and wine store professionals, so they can become better consumers and receive the wines they enjoy. I have found giving the tools and information that we as professionals know, creates a more educated consumer.
As we get into holiday season and year end, consumers are buying wines to enjoy with friends and family or to give as gifts, and many don’t know how to make these purchases. Many consumers believe if they buy an expensive or “famous” wine, that it will be enjoyable. As we know, this may not be the case.
I encourage my guests to look outside of the traditional growing regions for the wine styles they like, such as the Côte d’Or, Champagne, Bordeaux and Napa Valley, and search for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Côte Chalonnaise, Sparkling Wines from Southern France or Long Island, New York and unique full-bodied red wines from Southern Italy.
These days, especially with supply shortages and rising prices, having a solid foundation of wine knowledge can give our consumers a leg up to use that knowledge to be more confident in choosing a wine that they may not have chosen otherwise and create a special moment at the holidays and for years to come.
As we reach the end of another year, I, like many of us, reflect on what I have learned, what I have taught and what I want to accomplish in the future. My hope and goal for all of us this new year is that we all become better students, better teachers and better beverage professionals. Cheers!
Jonathan Feiler is Group Director of Wine for Ocean House Management Collection, including the Forbes Five-Star Ocean House, the award-winning Weekapaug Inn, the Watch Hill Inn and the Inn at Hastings Park, where he oversees the wine and beverage program and practices a wine philosophy centered on versatility and approachability. He also is responsible for a full program of beverage education classes for individuals and groups.