Name: Peter Birmingham –
Nationality: American –
At the moment: USA / Texas
Writer – Wine Director – Sommelier
Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Did you have any particular mentors?
My first interaction with dining with wine occurred when I was invited to taste 1964 Von Simmern Riesling Spätlese with a chicken salad appetizer, I recall the refreshing fennel and celery provided wonderful contrast to the Rheingau wines emerging stone fruit & petrol aromas. The smoked Quail entrée was paired with 1934 Pommard (a Negociants bottling, yet the wine at 42 years old I knew was not a common wine). My Uncle Marion Perry was the provider of these two wines held in the family occasions honor.
What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with those qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?
I thought almost all restaurant front-of-the-house employees were performers, with a willingness to put themselves out there for the guest’s enjoyment and perform extemporaneously, adjusting delivery to each tables wants/needs performance.
What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e)? How to find a good position at home or abroad? Any further tips?
In a competitive field your best bet to being recognized as one of the sommelier contenders is to know your craft, and history of wine production, be on top of the trends, newest wine archeological discoveries, classic service techniques, and rules (so you can bend them or break rules if the need requires).
Go to the busiest restaurant in your city and sit down for an interview with the owner or GM, and pitch your sommelier idea if they don’t have one already.
Be upfront about your shortcomings of experience (if applicable) or your track record of success. Play up your positive qualities and sell yourself!
If seeking an international position I would recommend an intermediary job placement agent who could get you onto the ground floor introducing you to the right decision-makers. IndeedFlex is ripe with positions, beware of fine print working visa requirements and long delays.
When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what, in your opinion, would be the best approach?
Inquire if the guests would prefer a specific type of wine, or if many guest’s only drinking whites, or a preferred style of oaky, buttery type wine. It’s rare to get a free thinker who embraces interests and pairs different wines with specific courses.
What is your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well-known brands or are you considering new brands as well? How do you decide?
Protect your assets! I have used Reidel as the choice for restaurants, but of late there are so many excellent glass producers that recommend doing research with the suppliers available to you. I have limited my offerings to tulip champagne, ballon-type Pinot Noir, a Cabernet style, and an all-purpose white/sweet dessert glass.
Make sure you’re training your staff properly on how:
To wash, clean, and polish without breaking or snapping bases causing injury and glass stock depletion.
VITAL IMPORTANCE work with suppliers to custom fit wash racks and positions at staging areas to maintain safety and glasswares integrity.
A newly discovered supplier could begin an excellent win-big financial collaboration with the distributors for restaurant purchases. Especially if the distributor is new and hungry to make deals, and put their best foot forward.
What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?
Considering from the guest’s POV if the beverage is one of many similar wine color types leading to palate fatigue, always with food pairing consider if the restaurant would like to surprise and delight the guest. Like with other spontaneous acts, guest permission communication is courteous to avoid guest surprise and disappointment!
Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?
If the guest is buying wine from the restaurant I think it is de riguer to approve the bottle first, always asking the guest for their approval of the wine afterward.
What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on pricing wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?
Consider where the guest is coming from experience-wise, are they newly minted and looking for a happy good time, or a seasoned diner not willing to put up with smoke & mirrors?
Although I’ve had little success selling owners and financial advisers on the merits of competent and sanely priced points, everybody wants some profit. Find the business’s average contribution to the bottom line and your pricing sweet spot. All prices below the sweet spot markup are 4x or 400% of the cost. The wines in the sweet zone markup 3.75x to 2.5x cost. Everything bottle priced above this uses discretion markups on bottles. Reward the knowledge guest’s with a bottle-priced prize for their acumen.
Wines that are in short supply or allocated can naturally withstand market pricing.
How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?
I’m a member of more wine organizations, publications, and emails than anybody should be. Subscribe and read monthly reviews of popular magazines (Decanter, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirit, Edward Behar, Stephan Tanzer, etc) and stay on top of favored wine websites for updated new plantings, or events, so you can have a spontaneous conversation to use at tableside to prompt conversation.
How would a new vineyard get their wine noticed and what is the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?
Most sommeliers I know travel often to regions to find new discoveries. All wineries seek exposure, and the best to assure you’re welcome is to be a good guest. Carry a thoughtful modest restaurant home regional gift to give as gifts.
Always send a thank-you note to your hosts (state region distributor and the wineries greeting or hosting you). This not only makes you a welcome guest, but you also become VVIP and with all perks/special allocated wines, your reputation will proceed you everywhere you travel. The wine circles are close-knit and they talk amongst themselves and know who to recognize.
If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?
In the new changing climates, I would be a flexible and adaptable grape to growing conditions.
For New World regions I’d embrace grapes that naturally have high acids like Vermentino, and Assyrtiko, and workhorse grapes like Arinto. These grapes have acid-cut, ripe fruit and do not require elaborate oak treatment to shine.
Reds, I think are going to require a lot of exploration to reveal which are going to be top performers. Case in point in 1984 I was at a newly built property in the Tuscan hills of Montecucco with Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet planted the wines made were from ripest (at that time ‘82/83 vintages) they were thin, angular, and tannic; and count to 2010 opulent, tope, firm acidity but fleshy. A vineyard requires more than good taste buds, you need a looking glass to predict the outcome!
Which top 3 types of wine (your faves would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?
I always keep recent release wine in stock, it’s really hot where I live so my refrigerator is filled with zesty whites like Assyrtiko, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Dry Rosé (plus fruitier examples like Zafeirakis of Greece, or Renardat-Fache’s Bugey-Cerdon of Jura), and fruit-forward Portuguese reds, Australian Shiraz-Grenache blends, Beaujolais, and Sicilian red Cerasuolo di Vittoria. If I need any mature vintages, I know who to source to assure the provenance.
Any interesting suggestions about magazines or online platforms?
see above to answer How do you stay informed + Get on the sommelier collective of DC run by Jamie Smith – r[email protected]. He offers cutting wine news and nerd alerts!
@ by Dominik Kozlik – Zeitgeist Sommeliers – www.sommelier-jobs.com
Dominik Kozlik e.U.
4020 Linz, Austria