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06.13.2005

How The Wine Gets Into The Restaurant (and Into Your Glass)

If you're like me, you don't spend much time thinking about the mechanics of a restaurant wine list. Sure, you notice just like I do when there's a great set of wines on there -- a special bottle or two or an amazing by the glass list. Maybe, if you're a regular at the restaurant, you even notice that they change the list every week, or that every time you go there are different wines by the glass.

This is all the visible part of the restaurant's wine program, usually run by the wine director of sommelier, and underneath it is often a rigorous set of processes and objectives that are arranged to make sure that we shop up and have something good to drink.

For a little peek into the backroom of a top restaurant's wine program I point you to an blog entry about how sommeliers deal with wine wholesalers from the VinTrust blog.

AND. Because I'm not one to pass up the opportunity, here's another great post from the same blog about how wine service SHOULD work. The competence of the wine service at restaurants varies from fantastic to downright horrid, and I often find myself bristling at the fact that I can't get better stemware even if I ask the server politely or if a second bottle of wine is opened and poured without letting me taste it first.

Couched as advice from a professional sommelier to waiters, it's a nice re-affirmation of what you should expect from a restaurant that takes wine and wine service seriously.

Comments (10)

Eric LECOURS wrote:
06.13.05 at 3:29 PM

After reading the articles at VinTrust you've reference I can summarize the sommelier's advice as follows: 1) Use standard glasses (small) for wines under $ 90, 2) Fill glasses 3/4 full for wines under $ 90, 3) Return the table often to fill wine to 3/4 full, 3) Finish the bottle as quickly as possible, 4) Pull the bottle as quickly as possible, 5) Ask if the host would like to order another bottle.

This kind of service seems all too common in the Bay Area. When I order a bottle of Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay for $ 75, this is exactly the kind of service I don't want. There's no respect for the wine--small glasses and being rushed. It seems like the attitude is rather, "Let's finish this bottle as quickly as possible and get if off the table." Rather than truly wanting the customer to enjoy the wine to the fullest extent.

Why don't they rush the people drinking ice tea, cocktails or beer? Drinkers of wine spend more on wine than they do on food; they deserve the restaurant's full support in enjoying it.

Jack wrote:
06.13.05 at 4:56 PM

I agree with Eric, that I wasn't exactly encouraged by some of their policies. I dislike my table being interrupted to constantly top off wine (or bottled water!). I'm no longer shy and just say I'll pour them myself...but at some places it doesn't work, as there are too many people who stroll by and think ohmygod, that glass isn't full enough. Perhaps I need to bring a little box that emits a weasel roar when they reach for the bottle of sparkling water!

In general, I do like the VinTrust blog - some great insight into What They Are Thinking.

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.13.05 at 5:00 PM

Interesting problem and not one I experience much in NYC, Eric. I understand why the restaurants offer the bigger glasses to the people not buying the cheaper bottles, since there has to be SOME tangible difference, beyond the gustatory, to justify and glorify the customer's expenditure.

What I don't get is that, in some restaurants, you practically have to tackle a waiter to order another bottle, whether or not you have a large party. And they seem to get flustered if you order a different bottle from the one before. Does anyone have an idea why this peculiar thing may be so??

antonio wrote:
06.13.05 at 6:09 PM

i did not read the links in the post yet, but one of my biggest pet peeves in wine bars and restaurants is the opening and pouring of a new bottle of a wine offered by the glass without so much as even smelling the contents of the new bottle to make sure it is not corked. if it is defective, two things can happen - both bad...the consumer may think the wine is of poor quality (not realizing that it is corked) and probably have a life long aversion to the wine/winery and secondly and most embarrassing for the purveyor, the customer may actually notify the server of the wine's corked nature. i recently noticed at delfina in san francisco that every server sniffed and swigged every new bottle opened before serving it to a customer...

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.13.05 at 6:15 PM

So, Antonio, did they deduct a percentage of the bottle cost for their pleasure? Did you consider that when calculating the tip?

It's always nice to get a buzz on at someone else's expense. By midnight they must have been feeling loo-oose.

Thanks, but let ME determine if the wine's corked or not.

antonio wrote:
06.13.05 at 7:33 PM

terry: point well taken, but keep in mind that most people are not as asute as you are when it comes to identifying a wine's defects. i'll gladly sacrifice the 1/2 ounce they pour to make sure that the wine they're using to top off my almost empty glass (ordered by the glass) is of top quality.

Alder wrote:
06.13.05 at 10:48 PM

Eric,

Interesting. I didn't read that blog entry in quite the same light. Partially I may just have more sympathy for the folks who own and run restaurants. While I might agree with you that anyone who orders a bottle of wine (as opposed to a glass) should get proper stemware, I guess that's just a choice that the restaurant makes.

Like Jack, I tend to prefer to pour my own wine, but I don't mind if someone does it for me. I didn't read that entry as suggesting that they pour the glass 3/4 by the way, but 3/4 of "a pour"

The rest of their guidelines I thought were actually quite good. Making sure that you always get to taste the wine, even if it's a new bottle, always showing the cork, bringing the wine as quickly as possible (I hate it when it shows up when I'm already halfway through my appetizer), etc.

06.14.05 at 9:32 AM

Funny. My wife and I just went to Clio here in Boston (review coming soon) and experienced the 'better wine/better glass' phenomenon first-hand.

To be honest, I think it the pettiest, most offensive thing a restaurant can do, especially at an expensive place like Clio.

BTW, we had a 2002 ROAR Pinot (Garys' Vineyard) and it was amazing (and came with the good glasses). The wine staff was friendly and knowledgeable and the glass thing just seemed out of character.

Mithrandir wrote:
06.14.05 at 12:57 PM

Premise: The restaurant is a business, and glassware represents a capital investment. A goal of any business is to maximize return on capital. Each time a glass comes off the shelf, there is a non-zero probability that it will break. This, and the costs in washing the glassware, constitute the incremental cost of using the glass.

The assumption that underlies the practice of giving high-rollers better glassware seems to be that the larger glassware is more expensive. I have trouble with this premise when well-shaped wine glasses can be had at every price point, all the way down to $8/glass (retail). I suspect that the stemless tumbler style represents the best value for a restaurant, as they are probably somewhat less likely to break when toppled, and take less space to store.

So really, the distinction should not be about glass size, but about stem vs. stemless. This is entirely a matter of form, not function, and thus I would have no problem with a price-point cutoff.

Serving wine in sub-optimal glasses is a sign of poor planning or stinginess on the restaurant's part. Given the margins on wine in most restaurants, neither is acceptable.

Pam wrote:
06.26.05 at 2:06 PM

My own priority in restaurants is not so much the quality of the glasses but the cleanliness, size & shape. If i'm drinking a Burgundy style wine i want a Burgundy style glass, if a Bordeaux style then a Bordeaux style glass etc. All should be spotlessly clean (& clear) & large enough to sniff & swirl. A recent purchase is a stemless, bulbous wine tumbler with one edge lower than the other - when you drink from the lower edge you're nose area fits right into the glass so's the upper edge isn't "bumping" against the nose & upper lip as you sip & taste. Recommendable.

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