Lessons in Wine Service (Lessons from Charlie Trotter)

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Ten Speed Press

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At Charlie Trotter's eponymous restaurant in Chicago, the innovative and award-winning wine program is an essential part of an extraordinary dining experience. LESSONS IN WINE SERVICE outlines and analyzes the intricate challenges inherent in developing and executing consistently outstanding wine pairings and service. Aspiring sommeliers, restaurant owners, and wine servers will learn how to hire and train the right staff, provide precise and intuitive service, and craft and maintain a compelling wine list.


Ed Lawler
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illustrated edition
Ten Speed Press
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Ten Speed Press
Lessons in Wine Service (Lessons from Charlie Trotter)
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Pros: Great info for wine professionals, insiders, and enthusiasts.
Cons: There is not a lot of practical information for home users.
Reviewed by: Ruben Urias

Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter, is more than your everyday overview of serving wines.  The book is, in fact, a coaching lesson for hospitality professionals on elevating their own wine service.  Topics range from hiring and training staff to the finer points of running the front of the house.  The lessons in the book are taught by example, with dozens of personal stories from current and former staff members.  And from these stories we learn not only about fine wine service, but also about the extent of Charlie Trotter’s passion for wines.  While geared heavily toward restaurant professionals, wine enthusiasts will also enjoy this book.  

Charlie Trotter is a superb chef, restaurateur, and one of the top culinarians of the world.  But his passion for wine tends to set him apart from his colleagues.  His deep understanding, appreciation, and use of fine wines in his restaurants is unparalleled.  Unlike many other kitchens throughout the world, where wines are selected to compliment a particular dish, Trotter instead treats the wine as the center piece of an evening.  The wine is so important that he often changes proteins, sauces, or garnishes in deference to the wine!  And its this philosophy that can be seen in each lesson or tip provided in this book.  

Really, then, this book is simply a way for professionals to analyze and improve their own wine service through reviewing how Trotter likes to do things.  When discussing the hiring of staff, for instance, Trotter describes the kinds of people he desires—people who are professional, passionate about wines, and who can read customer’s minds.  When describing the manner in which his staff serves wines, we learn about the theatrics of serving the wine, and about his corking station where servers prepare bottles of wine to be served—all within view of the customer.  When describing the knowledge that he expects his staff to have, we learn, for instance, that he encourages travel to vineyards to familiarize themselves with the actual soil that the vines grow in—allowing the servers to better explain the flavors that customers may experience.  By reading how Trotter serves wine, and by realizing the level of professionalism he expects from his staff, industry professionals will plainly see areas that need attention in their own wine service.  

While this book is most helpful to professionals, everyday foodies will also enjoy this book for its mini-biography of Charlie Trotter.  His restaurants and wine lists were not always as grand as they are today.  The author gives us the behind the scenes rise of Trotter from humble chef, to world renowned culinarian.  We are also introduced to the sommeliers who helped Trotter along the way, and who benefitted from Trotter’s demand for excellence.  People tend to forget that even the most respected chefs had humble beginnings, and we see in Lessons in Wine Service that Charlie Trotter himself is no exception.  

With the well written personal stories, the overall lessons taught, and the bullet point recaps of each chapter, there is not a lot to find fault with or criticize in this book.  Further, finding drawbacks to a collection of tips from a battle-worn chef seems almost inappropriate.  If anything, the single drawback would be that this book is so geared toward the wine professional, that home cooks will not find much direct guidance in understanding wines.  But, then again, the lessons and stories shared by Trotter and current and former staff will definitely provide plenty of indirect counsel.  For instance, who would not be inspired to make their own visits to vineyards to inspect, smell, and touch the soil of their favorite wines to see if they too can recognize why those wines taste the way they do?  And while the purpose of describing the surgeon-like precision needed to remove a crumbling cork was to illustrate the care that Trotter’s staff gives to each wine, the reader will now know a new method of cork removal.  So again, while this book is geared heavily toward restaurant professionals, wine enthusiasts and Trotter fans will also appreciate the book and will find little to criticize.  

Lessons in Wine Service is definitely a good read for the wine professional or anyone intrigued with the insider’s view of restaurant service.  Learning Trotter’s personal wine philosophy and seeing his staff put it into action is inspiring and provides a number of useful lessons for any reader regardless of experience.  While the non-professional will not gain as much direct guidance from the book as the professional, it is nonetheless a worthwhile read with plenty of lessons for them too.  


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