A sommelier is a spirit guide of the culinary world, giving direction to lost souls searching for the answer to one of life's greatest questions: What do I want to drink?
But just because sommeliers are there to assist you in one of the biggest decisions you'll make at dinner, that does not mean you should totally give yourself over to them and their instruction. They're not your grandma giving you wisdom from another realm; they're just a normal-ass person who happens to take care of wine for a restaurant you're at. And as with all normal-ass people you just meet, you don't know if you can trust them. You want to trust them and it feels like you should trust them, but that's probably how you also felt about 98 percent of the people who've totally fucked you over.
So, can you trust your sommelier? To find the answer, ask yourself these questions.
Is it about you or is it about them? A sommelier's job is to give you a more enjoyable dining experience through wine. Their focus should be on you, what you like to drink and what you're having for dinner, not going on and on about the season they spent harvesting in provincial France. I mean, that is tight and I want to hear a little about that for sure. But sommeliers are not paid to hang out at my table and brag. If that were what I was looking for, I'd have dinner with my dad and bring a flask.
Are they advising or are they pushing? Of course, a sommelier has to be a bit of a salesman. They need you to buy wine or else they're out of a job. But if you tell a sommelier that you would really like something like a chenin blanc and they won't shut up about a sangiovese, take note. Maybe it would be better with your entree order, and it's fine for them to give you that recommendation. It is their job to help you put together a great pairing. It is also their job to take your preferences into consideration and steer you in the right direction, whether it's their favorite sangiovese or not. If they make you feel less like you're buying wine and more like you're being pressured into buying 14 cashmere sweaters during the holiday sale at Nordstrom, ignore them for the rest of the night/forever.
Are they knowledgeable or are they preachy? It is one thing to be informative, and it is an entirely different thing to deliver a sermon on how petite syrah is underrated. First of all, no one thinks that. And secondly, no one cares. You're there because they have a banging' special, not because some asshole decided to bring out a soapbox along with their wine key.
Do they refer to themselves as a "somm"? Nope. Cannot be trusted.
Do you like the wines? Even total assholes can have great taste. There's a good chance that there is an egotistical, overbearing, lecturing "somm" out there with a fantastic wine list. If you look at the list and you see wines you already like, then there's a good chance that they will be able to recommend something new and exciting that you'll love—even if the sommelier makes you want to gouge out your eyes with a neighboring table's soup spoon.
BOTTOM LINE: TRUST YOUR GUT. IT WILL ALWAYS TELL YOU WHEN PEOPLE ARE NOT CHILL AND IT WILL ALWAYS TELL YOU WHEN WINE IS DELICIOUS, AND THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO THINGS YOU REALLY NEED IN THIS LIFE.