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RESTAURANT WINE SERVICE

Keep in mind that about 99% of winery "marketing executives" believe that having their products on a wine list is THE WAY to expose their wines to new customers. 
Many view a place on the wine list as some sort of "free advertising."
Many even sell their wines to restaurants at a special, low price (one winery, for example,  offers its wine for $144/case wholesale to stores, but for restaurants it costs  $96!!!)

Please send me your tales of woe or high praise for service in the realm of dining out!
gerald@weimax.com

 

MORE CORKAGE FEE RANTS
We don't mind paying a "corkage fee" in a dining establishment when we bring our own wine to accompany our meal.

Typically we bring something that's not on the wine list which will enhance our dining pleasure.  We usually try to order a glass of white wine or a flute of bubbly as an aperitif, so we support the restaurant's wine "program."  

Some places will waive the corkage fee if you order a bottle of wine from their list.  This is a nice and attractive policy.

A restaurant in our area has a curious policy:  $20 for opening your first bottle and $30 for your second.

Perhaps the reason people bring wine to this place is the price of a bottle on their wine list.  A full bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne is $108 (wholesales for about $33 these days).  A half bottle of a Napa Sauvignon Blanc is $38.  That's for a half bottle.  We sell full bottles in the shop for $24.

At these prices, no wonder people bring their own!

 

MAYBE THEY OUGHT TO ROB YOU IN THE PARKING LOT, TOO?
A fellow who attends some of our Wednesday evening wine tastings routinely has a bite to eat in one of the area restaurants prior to the tasting.  The other day he told us of asking for a glass of water at one establishment.
The server asked "Still or sparkling?"
He opted for sparkling.
Everything was fine until the check arrived.
This glass of sparkling water appeared on the bill for $8!
He questioned the server, who politely explained "We had to open a bottle of water to pour you a glass."
The patron asked to take the rest of the bottle with him!

This same place has its wine list posted on their internet web site.
The water costs them a little less than two bucks a bottle.
I noticed a white wine on their list that seems ambitiously priced.  We pay about $7 for this wine.  Even if the restaurant pays the normal wholesale price of $8, perhaps you'll agree the $42 a bottle price on the wine list is a bit out of line.

Why not offer customers something called "value"???

 

WINE SUGGESTIONS
The local wine sales-folk were all amused with the opening of yet another new restaurant in an old location.  Just prior to the opening, the chef met with the wait-staff to talk about wine and food pairings.

A wine-interested/wine knowledgeable waiter offered the suggestion of a Pinot Noir with a pan-roasted salmon served in a red wine sauce finished with a swirl or two of butter.  The local wine sales-folk all were amused and dismayed.  It seems the chef "corrected" the server in the choice of wines, finding the "proper" selection for this salmon dish to be a Sauvignon Blanc. 

Let's see:  fatty, oily, rather "meaty" fish.  Red wine sauce.  

Why not suggest a fine vintage of Budweiser?

 

CORK DORKS
I've heard from a few people that it is no longer proper protocol for the server/waiter/wine steward to offer the customer the cork from the bottle after opening the wine.

I disagree with this for several reasons:

1.  I want to examine the cork.  Many wineries have a "branded" cork in the bottle and some even print the vintage date on the cork.  I wish to see that the brand (and if possible, the vintage) match the label. 
2.  I wish to see the condition of the cork.  If I've ordered an older red wine and the cork is not deeply stained by the wine, this would indicate potentially improper storage (your bottle may have been standing upright for years!).   This will, undoubtedly show up in the wine.
3.  If the wine I've ordered is "corked" (that is, smelling of a wet, musty, dank basement), the cork will smell bad.  If the wine smells musty and the cork does not, then perhaps it's the work of the winemaker and not simply a "corked" bottle.

 

CUSTOMER SERVICE
We met some visiting East Coast wine people recently who told us an amazing tale of dining in San Francisco.
They had arrived at dessert, having had appetizers and main courses, along with a few nice bottles of wine.
One of the desserts is accompanied by a glass of Port (for one inclusive price).   Two others opt for a glass of the same Port (not included as part of their dessert). 
The waiter sets the Port and dessert combo before one diner and asks "Who else has the Port?"  One of the party raises his hand.  There's yet another glass of Port and this is set before someone else.  It is quite clear that there is a color difference in one of the glasses of Port. 
The bill arrives and, instead of being charged for a simple $15 glass of Port, they are horrified to discover they've been billed for a glass of something in the vicinity of $100/glass.  They had not ordered this deluxe potation.
When they protested, the manager informed the diners the restaurant couldn't have made a mistake and that if they were billed for the 1937 Colheita Port, then they got the 1937 Colheita (never mind they didn't order it!).
The manager wouldn't budge on the bill.  And, since the party was of a certain number, the restaurant added in the tip on top of the bill.  However, they didn't point this out to the person whose credit card had been charged and even left the little space on the receipt for "Tip" blank, so the patron could add further injury to their insult.

One of the dining crew called to say he was impressed when, a month or two after this incident, a phone call from someone in the management of this famous eatery.   They apologized for the whole mess and said they would send along a gift certificate for $100.

More than a month has passed and no envelope has yet been received by the East Coast wine folk.  Perhaps the restaurant sent this via The Pony Express?

 

MODEST CORKAGE FEE

Napa Valley's The French Laundry, regarded by many as the place to eat when dining in the wine country, sent out a letter explaining its new corkage fee policy:

September 1, 2000

Dear Friends,

The French Laundry has enjoyed an incredible six years producing wonderful experiences for our customers who come to enjoy delectable food, an array of world-class wines and gracious service.  To produce an experience such as this every day takes an unusual amount of attention-to-detail and an unusual amount of resources for a restaurant as small as we are.  Our philosophy can't be based on how many people we can seat or how often we can turn a table.  The experience of The French Laundry is based on the philosophy of perfection and quality and the ability to provide our customers with a unique environment and a tremendous culinary adventure.

Our goal is the same in relation to our wine program.  We pride ourselves on an approachable and inviting wine menu that appeals to each one of our customers whether they come to experience one glass of wine in our garden or an array of fine wines which have been carefully chosen to complement our five and nine course menus.   In order to purchase many of these fun, exciting, rare wines, we must sell a great percentage of our inventory on a regular basis.  For the first year we not only have a sommelier but an assistant sommelier as well.  The additional personnel and the growth of the wine program towards all world regions has made it crucial that we move inventory on a regular basis.  Space constraints and the lack of a full service bar also contribute to the importance of wine sales for our small establishment.  We have a broad range of wines for all of our customers.  Our prices range from 15.00 to 2500.00 dollars.

Our wine service policy has been based on a thirty-dollar fee for customers who bring in their own wine.  We have seen an incredible increase in the amount of customers who are bringing in their own wine to the restaurant.  The wines brought in by our guests range in price from a six-dollar bottle of Sauvignon to a price-less Bordeaux.  While we graciously present our customers their wines utilizing our wine service materials, we immediately take a loss due to the lack of sales.  We believe the amount of wine that is brought into the restaurant is detrimental to our progressive world wine program.  Just as wineries and other businesses need to sell their merchandise and services - so do we.

In order to curtail this problem, as of September 1, 2000, our wine service charge will be fifty dollars per bottle.  We hope The French Laundry's wine menu will be broadly used for many different reasons and occasions.

The staff at The French Laundry would greatly appreciate your support on this matter.  We thank you for your understanding and look forward to seeing you this year.

Sincerely,
Thomas Keller (chef/owner)  Laura Cunningham (General Manager)   Bobby Stuckey (Sommelier) Keith Fergel (Assistant Sommelier)


Wow!  Fifty bucks for corkage!  I appreciate restaurants which have a nice selection of wines, however, when dining out, I don't think it is necessary for them to offer hundreds of wines.  They don't offer the cuisine of 40 different countries, do they? Why do some places feel the need to offer wines from every nook and cranny on the planet????
As The French Laundry is learning, people don't like to pay what they consider an unreasonable price for a bottle of wine.  That's why they're dragging in their own bottles in record numbers: customers are rejecting the chance to pay exorbitant wine prices. 
When a restaurant maintains a huge wine inventory, they have tremendous costs in financing this endeavor.  That means customers are asked to pay for a bottle of wine they will drink during dinner, as well as helping pay for one (or two) which will remain in the wine rack for another year or two! 
If a Napa Cabernet costs $50 retail and the restaurant charges a standard $150 for the same wine, the $50 corkage fee is not likely (in my opinion) to deter these people.  

What do you think? 

 

WHOOPS!  NAILED!!!
I heard this shocking story from a winery proprietor.  We were discussing the viability of "Wines By The Glass."  His brand is frequently offered as such and he was explaining how he and his partner are often reluctant to order their own wines.  For fear of discovering something else.

THE STORY:
A fellow is dining in a posh restaurant and orders a 2-ounce pour of a premium single malt Scotch.  The waiter orders this from the bartender and brings the tumbler of Scotch to the table.
The gentleman sniffs and tastes and is curious. 
"Please bring the bottle of whisky so I can see the label." he instructs the waiter.
The waiter brings the bottle and shows it to our hero. 
Our hero then says, "Bring an empty tumbler and pour for me another shot of this whisky."
The wait follows orders and pours the single-malt. 
Horrified!
It seems the color of the liquid in both glasses is NOT even close to being identical.  Nor were the whiskies.
MY POINT:
Few people are familiar with the characteristics of wines sold in various places "by the glass."  Would you be able to identify the wine you've just ordered as the wine the restaurant is selling or could they pull the same shenanigans?
When was the last time you ordered a wine by the glass and had the server pour it for you (table-side) from its bottle ?

 

WINE SPECTATOR AWARD
While conducting some "industrial espionage" in Washington State, we chose to dine in a restaurant which had The Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" for its wine list.

We found The Spectator must have a different set of standards than we do!
Despite the fact they're located in the heart of a major wine producing area, this restaurant had, for example, just 7 Washington State Chardonnays (6 California offerings...Acacia, for example) and 3 Washington State Sauvignon Blancs (4 from California!).  Too bad!  Washington produces some terrific Sauvignons.

The red wine offerings were not too much more diverse.

There was also a number of entries on this wine list which were spelled incorrectly.

We ordered a bottle of one of the locally-made Sauvignons, as we like to "drink local" if the selections are worthy.  This was in the "barely-worthy" category.

As the red wines didn't spark any excitement, we inquired about the corkage fee.  The server said it would be "about $12."  Traveling as we periodically do when we might find ourselves in a vinous desert, we pulled a bottle of 1990 Sassicaia out of our insulated cellar bag.  We offered the server and the proprietor of the establishment a taste.  The owner of the place had, to his credit, "heard of this wine...doesn't Antinori have something to do with it?" he asked.  

The corkage was bumped to $15 when I answered the server's question as to the relative value of that bottle.

I suppose this restaurant is a small oasis in the desert, but shouldn't a Wine Spectator "award" be valued for something greater than the paper it's printed on?

 

DIRTY DISHES
Bob and I dined in The City after a recent tasting.  The wine list we were presented, aside from being selected poorly, had a variety of errors through the list.   They even had a "1998 Vintaged French Champagne" on the list.  This was remarkable, since French law requires vintage-dated Champagnes be aged three years and this was in 2000.   Many of the winery or varietal names were spelled incorrectly, too.

We ordered a half-bottle of Sancerre which was presented properly, but inquired about the corkage fee, since their red selections left much to be desired (unless you're a big fan of Kenwood, Fetzer or Michel Picard wines).  We brought out a bottle of Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, where upon the waiter offered to bring us more suitable "Burgundy" glasses.  I invited him to bring an extra so he could taste for himself. 


Unfortunately, two of the three glasses had more fingerprints on them than an FBI file in Washington D.C.  I showed the waiter this and he set one glass on an adjacent table and then polished up the other glass.  I poured wine into the newly-polished glass and said that one was for him....I'll wait until he could bring a clean glass for me!

 

WINE GLASS RENTAL
Dr. TP, who is a frequent patron at The City's finest establishments, was recently agitated by the additional charge on the bill at the end of the meal.  Aside from being asked to pay a mark-up of something like 300% on the wines she ordered, she was also charged a supplemental fee for the use of the special glassware at this eatery.  

It seems a number of San Francisco dining establishments routinely charge this fee for the use of the more costly and likely-to-break Riedel stemware.

 

BUT GERALD, YOU SAID THIS WINE WAS GOOD!!!
Some San Francisco customers dined out one night and selected a wine from a winery whose wines I have suggested to them in the past.  The waiter told them, "Oh, that's not a very good wine!  Please order something else!"
They did, but called me to inquire as to what was wrong with this particular wine.

I asked the representative for the winery, who was, as you might imagine, not delighted to hear this story.  It seems the restaurant was out of stock of that particular wine.  They would not be receiving more until they cleared up a long overdue, outstanding invoice with that winery (state law here in California requires accounts to be paid in 30 days...accounts not paid within 42 days can only receive shipments on a C.O.D.-basis. 
Rather than merely cross the wine off the wine list, reprint the list or, politely say, "We're temporarily out," the server sullied the reputation of this winery.  

 

WINE BY THE GLASS
A Tale of Bait & Switch

Our colleague here at Weimax, Ms. Ellen, cautions readers to be careful when ordering "Wine-By-The-Glass" when dining out.  She has, twice!, ordered a glass of a particular wine. 
Once, for example, she ordered a modestly-priced Sonoma Chardonnay which we had featured at that time here in the shop.  She tasted the wine they brought to her table and was curious, because the wine tasted differently from the wine we had in the store.  The server brought the bottle and....SURE ENOUGH!!! It was NOT the wine they had listed on the menu or wine list!  It turned out to be Kendall-Jackson's somewhat fruity and slightly sweet Vintner's Reserve!

Now, most people don't have as sharp a palate as Ellen's, so when ordering a "wine by the glass," you might consider asking the server to bring the empty glass and the bottle to the table.
Of course, since the bottle is probably opened before you've ordered it, there is still room for shenanigans.

 

WHAT GOES WITH THIS?
I am amused to read the menus and assortment of combinations perpetrated on the guinea pigs (diners) by local chefs.

Is there a local restaurant which doesn't serve something with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes?

This little ranting regards the wine pairing possibilities of various courses.  

I was just in a place in Palo Alto which offered a lovely starter of smoked salmon with a mustard sauce and capers.  It was presented beautifully.  The plate was gorgeous!  The salmon was smoked (not cured), so it was chunky, smoky and rich.   The capers and mustard sauce "worked" nicely with the salmon.  There was, curiously, a few spoons-full of lingonberry jam on the plate as well. 

Lingonberries, somehow related to cranberries, grow in Norway, Finland and Sweden, would be a companion, perhaps, to some sort of cured salmon.  The combination of mustard, capers and sweet lingonberry jam made no sense to my palate.  What kind of wine goes with this, anyway?  I opted for a Hefeweizen beer.

 

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