Five questions to ask your sommelier
March 17th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

If you're ever out to eat with the Eatocracy editors (and seriously, we wish all of you were),  you'll probably notice we're not afraid to ask questions. We fancy ourselves pretty knowledgeable when it comes to food, but we certainly don't know everything. If you meet somebody who claims such - give them a gold star for us.

In terms of wine, two of our favorite questions are: "What grape needs some loving?" and "which one tastes most like a barnyard?" ... OK, so we like our wine a little funky, but the point is this: Sommeliers like Joe Campanale are not only there to help you, they want to help you.

Campanale is the co-owner and beverage director of dell'anima, L'Artusi and Anfora restaurants in New York City - he is also Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Five Questions You Should Not Be Afraid to Ask Your Sommelier: Joe Campanale

1. “I generally like this kind of wine. What do you have that’s similar?”
"This is the question you should always lead with. If you have an idea of what you like, the sommelier’s job gets that much easier and the likelihood of him or her selecting a wine you will like increases exponentially. When you find a wine that you really like, it pays off to write down the name of it and try to remember how to describe it - this will give the sommelier a very clear idea of your preferences."

2. “I’ve never heard of this kind of wine. Can you tell me something about it?”
"Don’t be embarrassed to ask about a certain kind of wine or varietal. If you’ve never heard of it, the odds are most people at your table haven’t either. Even if you like a particular type of wine, it’s always a good idea to ask about one of the neighboring wines on the list because it may be similar to what you want, but even better."

3. “What do you think is drinking well right now?”
"Most restaurants have dozens, if not hundreds, of wines on their list, and they’re not always ready to drink. You can’t always pop the cork and have them be perfect - some need decanting, others need another year or so - and it helps to know if the $100 bottle of Barolo you ordered will be better the next time you visit the restaurant or later on in the meal."

4. “What’s something off-the-beaten-path?”
"Sommeliers are notorious for adding esoteric wines that they discovered and fell in love with to their lists. Those wines are usually among the most interesting and most reasonably priced wines at the restaurants because they don’t have the name or brand recognition of, say, a Napa Cabernet."

5. “What do you think is the best wine to go with our food?”
"This may seem like a really basic question, but it’s one I wish more people would ask. Most people tend to want the style of wine that they want, but sometimes it’s a good idea to leave it in the hands of the sommelier to make the best choice. Also, feel free to give a price range. It can be a big range or a small one, but it’s always welcome information because we don’t want you to end your meal in bottle shock."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Help Desk • Sip • Think • Wine

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. A fan

    Where can I find a wine similiar to this one.... Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founders Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2000. I had it on the inagural sailing of the NCL Pearl in 2006 and loved it!

    March 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • ummm....

      I'm guessing that Google could provide you with that exact wine. These interwebs are powerfuls.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  2. Warren

    This was a great story – I am going to use some of this advice! To the editors: I saw someone give a great presentation at Vino 2011, an Italian wnie festival.Her name was Jean Reilly – she's a master of wine and she runs the Morrell store and wine bar in NYC. Maybe CNN could ask her the same question about wine stores? And what about asking a Sake sommelier for advice – the only thing harder to buy than wine is sake!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  3. Jesse

    I have found most commercial wines to be a little too sweet for my taste. I actually love a very dry wine. I have had an aversion to anything sweet since infancy. I found a great source for wine at I have made three batches from their stock. A Merlot, A Red Burgundy; and my latest a Cabernet Sauvignon. Friends ask where I got the wine and I tell them "Read the Label". Wow, You made this. Great.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Kev

      Funny, I typically find "most" commercial wines to be too dry for my palate.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
      • ummm....

        Funny, anybody that claasifies wine as dry or sweet has no clue what they are talking about.

        March 21, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  4. Greg

    Is this wine dry or wet?

    March 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  5. obama mama

    any good wine from wassila?

    March 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  6. obama mama

    let's toast to Libya, another war in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Kampai!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  7. J

    Darn "sommelier" Pirates

    March 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  8. Chris

    where is the: "Which wine will make my date take her clothes off the fastest?" question?

    March 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • J

      Rufy Wine

      March 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  9. ed bailey

    I married into a Russian river clan in healdsburg. Learned a little about wine and you questions are pretty good.the hot seat candidate, judge stoney in UTAH, check out no to stoney on Facebook. He needs firing and imprisoned!

    March 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  10. mattski

    I didn't know we had a Sommelier. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • A fan

      Nice Monty Python Ref. lol

      March 20, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  11. Carnie Vore

    What wine goes well with take-out from Waffle House?

    March 19, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Esteban

      Wild Irish Rose

      March 19, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • David Hoffman

      With steak dinners I get sangria. With the pork chops I get merlot. With the chicken dinners I get a pinot.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Thomas

      What's the word?


      What's the price?

      40 twice.


      March 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  12. Lump Lump

    worst questions to ask: what's good? do you have a good chardonnay? is the malbec good?

    Me: "what do you like?"

    customer: "i like cabs, pinots, you know, anything"

    that is like walking into a music store and asking "what's good?" or upon asking what you like, replying, "oh, you know, i like heavy metal, classical, pop".

    March 19, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  13. Popeye

    Coming from kids who were getting trashed on Boon's Farm last year, this is good Freshman advice.

    March 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  14. givemestreettacos!

    Right, like I would ever have the bucks or desire to eat in a restaurant that has a "sommelier!"

    March 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Bb

      Well, at least you have an achievable goal here...

      March 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
      • Aaron

        I write this with tears in my eyes! I've become addicted to the CNN comments- This one almost made me pee my pants

        March 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  15. mobrule

    is this kid old enough to drink wine?

    March 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  16. Valerie

    Good article. Thank you!!

    March 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  17. ObamaAlabamaSlamma

    Can I be approved as a master sommelier if my main focus is carbonated non-alcoholic beverages?

    March 18, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • kidding me?


      March 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • David Hoffman

      Yes, if they are produced with 100% all natural juices from organic fruits and the carbonated water was distilled water before the carbonation was added. You can create amazing drinks with no alcohol.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  18. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    What kind of flavored tobacco should I smoke with my keef in my hookah?

    March 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • The Witty One master smokommelier@JDizz

      I would recommend a well rounded double apple. The sweetness of the apple plays well with the slightly less sweet keef to tease the palate in interesting ways.

      March 18, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • J

      Keef is BS it does not get you any higher, slightly more intense for about ten minutes, hardly worth the effort.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  19. McJingles

    Yeah, a real 5@5, this is all very good advice and I'm glad it was posted. I think I might have been too intimitated to ask some of these questions before, but now I feel more comfortable about it. Thanks!

    March 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Tom

      I am only "somewhat" knowledgeable about wines and LOVE learning new things and discovering new tasty wines! Asking questions is GREAT and Sommeliers DO love it when you do!! :-)

      March 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  20. fob

    I like his advice, especially #5.

    March 17, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
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