Food

Confessions Of Singaporean Sommeliers: The Quirky Anecdotes & Horror Stories Of Their Job

Last Updated: December 10, 2017

Written by Wani

The life of a wait staff can be tough, what with ridiculous requests, impatient diners and long, tiresome hours. It really is no different for the crew who work the floor in fine dining establishments, whose grooming and service standards are, by default, expected to be the best in the industry.

Although service staff can sometimes miss the plot, there are also diners out there who totally have no clue when it comes to dining etiquette and well, social grace, in general.

I spoke to three distinguished wine professionals about the craziest and most hilarious stories they felt the least shame in sharing (or the boldest they felt had to be told to be believed).

Mohammad Fazil, Group Sommelier at Salt Grill & Sky Bar

Mohammad Fazil

Credit: Europace

1. What is the oddest request you’ve had from a customer when it comes to serving wine?

A guest asked for ice cubes to go with his Bollinger VVF (champagne).

2. What is the one trade trick of sommeliers when they are at a loss for what to recommend?

Champagne always works anytime, anywhere, with anything.

3. Share with us a horrific account of an unprofessional wine service experience that you’ve witnessed, heard of, or even been personally involved in.

A cheap, self-proclaimed wine expert came to the restaurant to support our anniversary uninvited. After the table beside him left, he went over to drink their unfinished beers.

4. Tell us one thing you wish diners would not do/should stop doing when ordering wine.

Stop asking for a discount! 

5. What is a little-known secret about being a sommelier that most people don’t know about?

We blend unfinished wines and sell them at a reasonable price if we like the taste. We call it “sommelier cuvee”.

Gerald Lu, Head Sommelier at Praelum Wine Bistro

Gerald Lu

Credit: Jessica from SingaPoured

 1. What is the oddest request you’ve had from a customer when it comes to serving wine?

He wanted to lick the cork. He did.

2. What is the one trade trick of sommeliers when they are at a loss for what to recommend?

“Let’s start with a beer and we can take it from there”. I don’t think there is a trick, but we send a glass of champagne or something similar first sometimes.

3. Share with us a horrific account of an unprofessional wine service experience that you’ve witnessed, heard of, or even been personally involved in.

A female service staff gripped a bottle between her thighs and attempted to pull out the sparkling wine cork. Service aside, it was really quite a sight to watch. It was both funny and horrifying.

 4. Tell us one thing you wish diners would not do/should stop doing when ordering wine.

Personally, I hate it when customers get presumptuous and tell you things like ‘My friend is from France so he knows all about French wine, so you don’t have to help him”.

Yeah, I’m from Singapore, so by default, we can cook chicken rice. In addition, I hope customers realise that there is no need to smell the cork when being presented the bottle.

 5. What is a little-known secret about being a sommelier that most people don’t know about?

We actually pay for wine.

Zainal Abdul Kadir, Regional Head of Sales for PengWine

 1. What is the oddest request you’ve had from a customer when it comes to serving wine?

If you work on the floor long enough, you’ll see it all — nothing really odd actually. It’s not uncommon for guests wanting their wines to be mixed with cola, soda or ice. This happened back in the late 80’s when wine drinking was relatively new in Singapore.

My oddest request came from an elderly couple who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. They got married in 1945 and asked for a bottle of Chateau Margaux of the same year. I had to indent two bottles from France.

I informed them of the cost (very expensive, ouch) and get them to indemnify me should the wine turn out bad. When it arrived, I let it stand straight up for 24 hours. They came the next evening and I put them in the best seat in the house. Candles, decanters, checked.

The bottle was in good condition actually; the label was intact and without much age on it. The cork was surprisingly intact and solid. It was the longest decanting I’ve ever done.

The wine smelled of earth, dust, animal and some funky mushrooms. I poured a small amount into his glass. He swirled and smelled the wine. With a bewildered look in his eyes, he took a sip. Eyes to the ceiling, he declared, “Ok. It’s dead.” He kept the other bottle, but will not be opening it.

2. What is the one trade trick of sommeliers when they are at a loss for what to recommend?

This should never happen. A good sommelier always has a set of questions before he makes any recommendations. He should know the menu like he knows his wine list. He should also be savvy with food and wine pairing.

A good sommelier must also be able to sense the mood and pace of his diners. Knowing when to back off is as important as going the extra mile.

3. Share with us a horrific account of an unprofessional wine service experience that you’ve witnessed, heard of, or even been personally involved in.

Unprofessionalism is:

a. Pouring remaining wine into another bottle, even if it’s the same vintage.

b. Pouring a house wine into an expensive bottle and selling it as that.

c. Denying that a wine is not corked when it actually was.

d. Pushing an expensive bottle to a diner who didn’t know much about wines.

4. Tell us one thing you wish diners would not do/should stop doing when ordering wine.

 I wish diners would drink what they like, not what others think they should drink. I wished they would pose more questions to the sommelier.

They should also be aware that there’s more to wine than just New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and be less afraid to try something new. That’s the only way to learn and experience.

5. What is a little-known secret about being a sommelier that most people don’t know about?

A sommelier is a people person. Being very knowledgeable is not enough. He has to know about what’s happening in the industry, around the world. He has to know what’s trending.

He must have a good personal wine story. And a sommelier should really care about what his diners/guests thinking about the wine/beverage that he recommends.


You’ve read the stories that these three wine sommeliers had to share, share with us what are some other incidents you may have experienced or heard before!


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