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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 4, January 2003   
Wine at RestaurantWine at Restaurant  Contents 
Issue 3, December 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 5, February 2003

Wine at Restaurant

Choosing a wine at restaurant is not always easy: sometimes your find competent personnel whereas other times the wine is penalized by a very bad service

 When we sit down at a restaurant's table, we probably expect that the manager and its collaborators are competent in their job, and the served food is, not only enjoyable, but also prepared with care, the same we usually expect for wine and we expect it to be, in a certain way, special and served the best way possible. Unfortunately, it is not always like that, particularly for wine. Paradoxically, wine seems not to have a good relation with restaurants, it is often served in an approximate way, at the wrong temperatures and in wrong glasses, sometimes the prices seem to be exaggeratedly high and, worse than anything else, in case the wine was suggested by the restaurant's personnel, it is not even suited for the food that should match instead.


 There is a great deal of interest about wine and about everything related to it, consumers surely acquired a better knowledge about this subject, unfortunately, speaking in general terms, the treatment wine usually gets in restaurants is not surely the best. Of course, there are many exceptions to this, not all restaurants are the same, there are some where wine is served, suggested and managed excellently, however, most of restaurants seems not to have understood the importance of a proper service of wine and its proper valuation. When the wine is not properly valuated in a restaurant can be easily realized: there are some details that allow to understand both the quality of wines and the quality of service in a restaurant and, be sure of this, a restaurant which pays proper attention and care on wine's “details” is also a restaurant which cares about the service and making of the foods. Certainly, we cannot expect to find a sommelier in every restaurant, this would surely be something which would guarantee a certain level of quality, anyway, it would be nice to expect that both the restaurant and its personnel to respect certain “manners” in order to properly valuate wine and, as a consequence, the quality of foods and of restaurant as well.

 Unfortunately, in many restaurants the approach with which they usually serve and suggest beverages, particularly wine, is not only wrong but also counterproductive. It is most likely that this happened to many of you, as soon as getting sat down at a table, being asked “what shall I bring for drinking?” or “Shall I bring white wine or red wine?”, even before having taken a look at the menu. This surely is the worsen approach, particularly for wine, because, as a matter of logic and practice, one should decide what to eat before ordering any beverage or the most appropriate wine. In other restaurants the wine list, that is the useful tool both for restaurant and for customers and which shows prices as well as short information about the wines sold, it is not even available, even worse, it is presented to the client only in case is explicitly requested. Lastly, rapidly check the style of glasses that are on tables that are not still occupied as well as the beverages other clients ordered: in case you see few bottles of wine, inadequate glasses, it is more likely that wine is not properly valued in that restaurant. Distrust buying wine in such restaurants: the scarce attention the manager pays to wines is a sure sign they do not sell much wine there, perhaps they do not want to sell wine as a matter of choice and the few, or many, bottles they keep in their cellar are probably there since a very long time and probably kept badly, therefore, you cannot expect to find neither a good service nor a good treatment for served wines. Finally, the wine which is served at a restaurant must be obviously paid, therefore it is not right to pay for something which is not properly valuated and this does not justify at all the high prices of restaurants.

 Talking about wine's prices at a restaurant it is good to make some distinctions. Generally the price is higher, sometimes more than three or four times, if compared to the one at which it is usually sold at a wine shop; this is a deprecable custom which is worsened in case the quality of service, as well as of wine, cannot be justified by the price. However, there are restaurants, which should be preferred by customers, provided they also have a good level of service and care, which have very honest prices, most of the times the same prices found in wine shops and, curiously, they also offer a higher quality of service: this is an indisputable sign the restaurant's manager has understood and realized the commercial opportunity of selling more wine as well as having a more honest and loyal relation with his or her clients.



 In best cases, as we sat down at a restaurant's table and as soon as we decided what to eat, we will see a sommelier approaching our table which is ready to suggest the best wine according to what we ordered, both respecting client's taste and preferences: a good sommelier suggests, listen and helps the client in choosing a wine without imposing anything, indeed, just proposing. Who is a sommelier? The definition that we will give later about this noble and ancient profession, can be in clear contrast with what can be sometimes found in restaurant and that should be in charge as a sommelier. Unfortunately, sometimes there are sommeliers that probably did not understand or realized his or her real role and they can be defined, in the best cases, as simple “wine servants”. This kind of sommelier, not only denies and diminish the professionalism of the whole category but, lastly, really acts as a deterrent to the culture of wine, something that should be part of his or her duties and roles instead.

 The sommelier is that professional figure that, not only has a perfect knowledge of wine service, as well as the important aspects concerning temperature and glasses, it must have, first of all, a deep and vast knowledge about wine culture, about wine areas of the world, particularly about the area where he or she works at. The sommelier has a good knowledge about enology and, last but not the least, a good level of general culture, knows how to properly treat clients and must be able to have a good relation with them since the beginning, must be good in being trusted and must be good at listening and to understand client's wish, personality, taste and preferences, must help him or her in choosing a wine without imposing anything and without making use of a silly culture with the only purpose of showing his or her disputable superiority; this would surely be an obstacle for his or her job. A good sommelier is modest, humble, never presumptuous, and always looks for a way to enrich his or her culture, which is never sufficiently complete, as well as his or her professionalism, knows his or her job and never impose anything, sometimes he or she may stir up client's wishes, can eventually warning the client about a wine which could not be the best choice for a specific food, however, it is the client that must have, unequivocally, the very last word about his or her wine. In case you find such a sommelier in a restaurant, trust him or her completely: he or she will certainly suggest you the best wine and, lastly, he or she will suggest you, honestly and sincerely, excellent wines having a good price while having a good quality.


Wine List

 Some restaurants seem to have a bad relation with wine list: most of the times is creased, pages are dirty and worn out, sometimes wines indicated in the list are not available. They probably did not realize yet wine list is, first of all, a commercial tool which helps the restaurant in selling wines and it is the tools that allows restaurant to sell wines better, last but not the least, positively qualifies both the restaurant and the wine. Having said this, wine list can also be seen as a sort of magic wand, indeed, it should be remembered that wine list must be, first of all, properly used and it must be used in the best way possible, the wine list itself cannot certainly make any wonder. It should be remembered a bad and ugly wine list, as well as a wine list improperly used, will negatively predispose the client both to buying a wine and to the interest for it.

 Sometimes restaurants have wine list which are practically useless and unreadable, written in an obscure way and poor in useful information for the client, sometimes are created in a way to show off a hypocrite and useless knowledge about wines. It should be remembered clients go to the restaurants because they want to eat and drink, certainly good things and coherently to the restaurant's style, surely not to see a ridicule “show” where the manager as well as its collaborators do everything they can in order to parade and show stupid immodesty and to strut about all the time. To these people we would like to remind that competition truly exists and that clients, fortunately, have the capacity of deciding whether to go to the theater or to the restaurant.

 The characteristics a good wine list should have are clearness, both of prices and of wines, it should be properly presented, easily readable and, lastly, enjoyable to read without any waste of time or being cause of doubts or misunderstandings. It should be clear and direct, it must make things easy for the client to choose a wine, surely it must not make things hard or impossible and it should never be a waste of time. A good wine list should, for example, present wines according their type, from the ones usually served as aperitifs to the ones served with desserts, categorized by regions or production areas, where the area in which the restaurant is located at should be presented first, to list wines in each category according to their prices, from the cheapest ones to the expensive ones. Every wine should have information about its name, producer, vintage and possibly its grapes; besides this, a short summary about its characteristics would be useful in helping the client with his or her choice.

 It should be noticed, however, such a wine list is not suited for every restaurant, in particular for the smaller ones. In case a restaurant's wine list does not look like an “encyclopedia” and does not have hundreds of wines in it, this does not mean the restaurant is of a bad quality. There are some restaurants that, as a matter of choice, decide to offer some quality wines, and those wines have been selected according to the foods served there, and this is would surely be something that every restaurant's wine list should have. In case the wine list does not have a long and rich selection of wines, it does not mean the manager did not pay attention to wine: check how the wine list has been written and the way it is presented to the client; this is the real sign of the consideration the restaurant has about wine, no matter the quantity and the number of wines.


Service of Wine

 As the wine has been chosen, the bottle is presented to the client who ordered and it should be served. The bottle must be brought at the table sealed and capped, in case the bottle is presented uncorked, complain about it and reject the bottle. The bottle is opened and uncorked in front of the client and the cork should be left on the table, hopefully on a saucer. The client is not supposed to check the cork, he or she may do so if he or she wishes, of course, is the sommelier who is supposed to check that, the cork is left on the table in order the client to make sure the cork is truly from the wine's producer, in other words, the cork is left on the table in order to make sure the wine was not altered or counterfeit and it really is what the client actually ordered.

 As the bottle has been uncorked, a small quantity of wine is served to the person who ordered the bottle in order to be tasted and to make sure the wine has no defects. In case you are the person which is supposed to taste the wine, don't get nervous and take all the time you actually need in order to properly check the wine. In case the wine has defects, tell the sommelier or the person who served the wine, of course with tact and discretion and, in case the wine is really defective and the faults were not confused with some proper characteristics of that particular wine, ask for the bottle to be replaced.

 In case the wine will be considered and evaluated as good, the other clients will be served, clockwise and from the person who is at the left side of the one who ordered the wine and, it will be a good norm and practice, not only as a matter of chivalry, but mainly for a matter of respect and education, to serve ladies first and then gentlemen. The last person to be served will be the one who ordered the wine.


A Troublesome Subject: Defective Wines

 It may happen that, as we taste a wine, we find out it has some defects, probably the most frequent one of them all is the the famous “corky smell”. In this case do not make things “tragic” and do not negatively consider the restaurant, it should be remembered this is something that may happen even in the most refined and elegant restaurant. Most of the times a defective bottle is not because of restaurant's fault, provided they kept the bottle in the best way possible. In case you happen to find a defective bottle, tell the person who is serving the wine and do that in a polite and kind way, without accusing or blaming anyone for what happened. Express your opinions in a polite but clear way, without arrogance, and ask for the bottle to be replaced and, in this case, the bottle will not be paid, of course. After all, in case the bottle is really defective, there is not reason why one should pay for something bad, particularly when the bottle is defective because of the restaurant's or producer's negligence during one of the phases of the wine making or storage.

 Things are different in case the client ordered a wine and subsequently found out he or she does not like it. There are wines that have aromatic characteristics as well as particular flavors and they could not be liked to anyone; this surely does not mean the wine is defective, it simply does not meet the taste of the one who ordered it. In this very case, it is not thinkable, as well as not honest, to claim the replacement of something which was ordered and chose by the client. Finally, it should be noticed that in case a competent and serious sommelier works in a restaurant, it will be very hard that a defective wine, or a wine which does not meet the client's taste, is going to be served.


Wines Sold at the Restaurant

 Wine at the restaurant is not sold in bottles only, even though this is the most frequent case. Considering the many forms a wine is sold at a restaurant, we are going to talk about four of them: the so called “house wine”, wine at the glass, half bottles and, lastly, the wine that client brings at the restaurant.

 House wine is usually offered by any restaurant and this can also represent a convenient choice provided the wine offers proper and right conditions. It would be good for the restaurant to provide clear indications and information about its “house wine”, such as grapes used to produce the wine, producer, even when it was the restaurant itself which made the wine, and the vintage. It should be also good the wine is presented and served in a bottle, just like any other wine, never in carafes, a practice that would actually promote the alteration and the reuse of wine. Sometimes house wine is presented in bottle expressly created and labeled by the producer for the restaurant: make sure the label has all the information usually found in wine bottles, in case it is not like that, don't trust that wine.

 A good habit which is becoming more and more common is the one of serving the “wine at the glass”, that is the client can buy only a glass of wine without being forced to buy a whole bottle. This alternative is also valid in case a person goes to the restaurant on its own, or, even better, it allows the client to always match the best wine with every food. It should be noticed, however, the selection of wines offered “at the glass” cannot be as vast and rich as the one offered in bottles: the restaurant's manager cannot uncork hundreds of wine bottles with the sole purpose of serving one glass of wine and waste the rest, this is obviously understandable. However the selection of wines usually offered at the glass can surely satisfy most of the cases and can properly match the foods served at a restaurant and, most of the times, the price is also reasonable as well.

 Another good alternative is the wine served in half bottles, this is certainly a good choice for those persons that, either for necessity or wish, eat a meal at a restaurant all alone, moreover, half bottles are useful when clients wish to drink some more glasses of a wine and uncorking a regular bottle would just be too much. Unfortunately, and this is a criticism for both producers and restaurants, the production of half bottles and the subsequent availability in restaurant is not very common; this would be instead a good commercial opportunity offered to those who do not drink much wine and to the ones that would love to try more wines in the course of a meal.

 Finally, there is another opportunity, very common in certain countries, such as United States of America, where the client brings a bottle of wine at the restaurant while just buying the meal. This habit is usually called “Bring Your Own Bottle” or, in short, “BYOB”. The restaurant usually asks for a corkage fee, which is not always cheap, for the service of the bottle and, in this case it is good to make sure about this fee and act accordingly. This practice, however not really common, allows restaurants not to lose a client while allowing the client to have a meal which is suited and matched for his or her wine: a good opportunity for both the client and the restaurant.


 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 4, January 2003   
Wine at RestaurantWine at Restaurant  Contents 
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