One of my more memorable sommelier experiences happened early one Saturday evening at the Cypress Club. I was working with the late and great Randy Goodman that night. It was early in the shift and a party of four had just been seated on the main floor. The two couples were clearly friends and looking forward to sharing a night out. I immediately noted that one of the guys was carrying a magnum of red wine, which he placed in the middle of the table with a great flourish. No doubt he would attempt to impress-bore-torture his wife and friends with the wine. One more important detail: His wife was sitting across from him. And she was wearing a white linen dress.

The stage has now been set.

I approached the table, said hello, and offered the bottle owner’s assistance with opening and serving the magnum. The wine turned out to be a current release of a popular Napa Valley Cabernet. I also gently reminded him that there would be a corkage fee on the bottle. He said corkage was no problem and that he didn’t need help. He had things under control and would take care of opening and pouring the bottle for his wife and friends. I nodded and returned quickly and placed glassware and an underliner for the bottle on the table. I again politely offered to open the wine for him. Bottle guy again said he had everything under control. I clearly remember him using that phrase twice.

I then ambled over to the other side of the restaurant and stood next to Randy, who had watched the initial exchange with great interest. He turned to me and said something along the lines of “this is going to be rich.” What happened next can only be described as worst-case scenario.

Bottle guy retrieved a fancy corkscrew from his pocket. With a grand flourish he stripped the magnum of its capsule, demolishing it in the process. He then almost turned the bottle on its side as he inserted the auger of the corkscrew. Next, with enthusiasm not unlike a Jehovah’s witness approaching the first doorstep of the day, bottle guy quickly removed the cork from the bottle. He then removed cork from the auger of the corkscrew and placed it in the middle of the table so everyone could be as impressed as he was. Then, with what can only be described as deadly intent, he grabbed the magnum by the bottom of the bottle with his right hand to pour the wine.

I have to stop for a moment and note that pouring wine using this grip—holding the bottom of the bottle–is problematic at best, especially with a magnum. Unless you have huge Jesse Ventura hands, the likelihood of sloppy pouring, drips on the table, or other more catastrophic mishaps always loom. Moving on.

Bottle guy went to pour for his wife and guests. What happened next was like watching a Sam Peckinpah movie when it goes into super slow motion and all the cowboys get shot. As bottle guy reached across to pour for his wife, she of the white linen dress, he lost control of the magnum and dropped the bottle on the table, right in front of her. Wine immediately started sloshing out of the bottle at high velocity on to the table and glugging relentlessly into her lap.

As the bottle hit the table every head in the restaurant whipped around to see what was going on. Service came to a screeching halt. Instantly, Randy and I were across the room at the table. I grabbed the bottle, put my hand over the top, and set it upright on the table. Randy—and two other bussers who had appeared at the table out of nowhere—immediately started triage, cleaning up the table with cloth napkins. They also helped the poor woman sop up what must have been at least six ounces of bright purple Cabernet that had made its way into her lap.

The incident happened so quickly that she was stunned and could barely move, much less breathe. Bottle guy was also frozen. The other couple was horrified. With Randy and the busser’s help, clean up was quick. I then offered the four of them a glass of Champagne at the bar while we reset the table. After several awkward seconds, the other couple said something like “why don’t you give us a few moments.” We did, retreating a safe distance away awaiting further instructions.

The four of them sat in stony silence for about a minute. Suddenly, bottle guy’s wife stood up and forcibly threw her napkin in his face. She then grabbed her purse and stormed out of the restaurant. The other couple watched in shock as she left. They spent the next couple of minutes staring down at their cover plates. Then they looked at each other, stood up, wished their friend god speed, and left. Bottle guy sat in stunned silence looking at the comet trail of Cabernet that now adorned a goodly portion of the table top. I walked up quietly, put the cork back in the bottle, and handed it to him. Then I said, “we got this.” He nodded, got up, and left the restaurant.

​As the curtains of the front door billowed with bottle guy’s hasty retreat, dining in the restaurant resumed but with a great buzz over what had just happened. The cleanup and reset of the table took longer than usual. The rest of the evening went without incident.

After the shift, Randy and I were downstairs having a Fernet Branca in our office. We replayed the accident multiple times poring over every detail. We then pondered bottle guy’s fate, and whether he would be sleeping on the couch–or in the garage–and for how long. We also wondered if his wife would hound or even humiliate him every time he went to open a bottle of wine, especially in front of friends. Would she would forever remind him of the “incident,” and rightly so? In the end, we agreed that the matter was really simple. If the sommelier offers to help you, let them. And don’t be a schlemiel.