The Twilight of the American Sommelier

Restaurants are bustling and dining rooms are buzzing. If you want a reservation at the newest and hottest places, you are out of luck unless you know somebody.

On the surface it seems that restaurants have safely emerged from the despairing depths of the Covid pandemic and the throbbing hangover that followed. Yet one key element that seemed essential in any serious restaurant before 2020 is often missing: the sommelier.

Wine is still poured at many tables. But the dedicated wine professional responsible for selecting and procuring bottles, assembling an intriguing list, training the staff, assessing a table and telling stories that turn otherwise unknown bottles into delicious adventures — those people are rarely strolling the dining room.

For many restaurants, the sommelier is now a luxury, nice to have but expendable in the blunt calculations of the post-pandemic restaurant model. The highest end restaurants seem unaffected — diners at Le Bernardin in New York will still be greeted by a smiling Aldo Sohm and his team of ace sommeliers in their black aprons with silver tastevins.

But underneath dining’s stratospheric level, many serious, wine-oriented restaurants are doing without. Instead, those positions once dedicated to wine are now often hybrids with servers, bartenders or managers handling wine in addition to their other duties.

After many years as a sommelier in Montreal and New York, Étienne Guérin is now managing Sotheby’s Wine, a retail shop on the Upper East Side.Credit…Liz Clayman for The New York Times

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