The 'sommelier's sip' -- service or impertinence?

From The New York Times


Stephen Silberling, a tax lawyer who considers himself a knowledgeable wine drinker, could not contain his astonishment as he told me of his recent experience in a New York restaurant. He had ordered a 2007 Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche, a wine he and his date had enjoyed so much the previous week that they decided to drink it again. As they sipped their first glass, however, they both thought the wine tasted different, and they debated whether it was flawed.

Listening to the conversation, the sommelier piped up.

"He said, 'I’ve tasted the wine, it’s fine,' "Mr. Silberling recalled. "He tasted the wine? I was very surprised. I had never heard of that being done before."

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.

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