In last week’s post, if you missed it, I let some arrows fly at Italy and its wine service. Today, I’m aiming closer to home. Let’s begin with France.
Ah France! A country I love like no other. Nowhere do we see more of the most-beloved grapes reach their apogee than in this country. All of this beautiful wine and not a glass to be found to put it in! Yup, that’s right: You’re as likely to get a Libby stem as you are a tumbler. Now we don’t need that latest version of the most specific stem to enjoy a fine wine, but everyone recognizes that we do need something with some volume to allow the wine to do its thing. I am sometimes left feeling as though there is a glass-shortage in France when I face yet another bottle of Hermitage or Gevrey-Chambertin or even Muscadet served in a clunker. Bummer.
Then there is the issue of temperature (and the Italians are guilty here too). How many times do you order a bottle and they go and pull it off of one of those shelves around the restaurant, open it and pour it? It really is "room" temperature. We all know that wines are best enjoyed slightly cooler than our normal 72 degrees we call room temperature (or far higher and worse when the heater is on all winter or the A.C. isn’t on all summer). Worse still is how tired older wines can be when they have sat on that shelf for years. Wine is alive and to leave it in less than ideal conditions just saps its life and tires it out prematurely.
Then there is the wine list. I recently dined at a very well-regarded restaurant with a very high-caliber wine list and it took no fewer than six tries to order a bottle before they had one of my selections. Really? No matter the reason, this is just not acceptable. Hey, I write a wine list and I know that you can run out of anything at any time and when you do, someone else will order it which is a bummer all the way around. That means it is time to change the list and mediate the problem. But six selections? That’s just crazy, no matter the reason. Though I have only gone 0 for 5 once, I do find it common to have to choose at least two or three alternatives in both France and Italy.
Then there is my very favorite part of wine lists, the part where they show you what they have and you can’t. This is the weirdest thing ever. Are they bragging? Or what’s the point? I was recently at a Michelin three star in Vienne with a very fancy list of older wines and older Chartreuse that were only for the museum. I find this bit of braggadocio very un-fun.
As for America, we drink the best wines from all over the world! We are not an especially provincial country when it comes to wine consumption. The melting pot analogy fits well and on most lists you will find myriad countries represented. After all, isn’t diversity the spice of life!
Glassware, well, this can be improved but we now see better glasses in many restaurants and with prices cheaper than ever, there is no excuse for a restaurant to serve you wine in anything less than special. Further, with more and more knowledgeable consumers demanding such, I have never seen such a proliferation of great glassware and only expect the trend to continue.
As for service, well, too often this is less than perfect, but it is improving every day! I cannot believe the explosion of interest in wine and wine service. It is a level of growth never witnessed before and I can only see it continuing on its trajectory. Restaurateurs now understand what a sommelier can bring to their guests and, with satisfied customers, their bottom line. To me, this interest in getting to know wine is the most exciting part!
Maybe I am being unfair, but I have to say that what we call the Old World had such a head start on the rest of the world in terms of viticulture (oh, a millennia or so) that it seems odd that the wine service in Italy and France is still in the dark ages compared with the progress we’ve made in the United States.
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — January 2, 2008 1:32pm ET
John Miller — Windsor, CA — January 2, 2008 2:27pm ET
Richard Betts — denver airport at present — January 2, 2008 7:45pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — January 4, 2008 2:40pm ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — January 4, 2008 2:46pm ET
Udo Hoerhol — New England — January 4, 2008 9:59pm ET
Richard Betts — denver airport at present — January 5, 2008 9:14am ET
Daniel Grotto — January 9, 2008 3:49pm ET
Eric A Utt — Stonington, CT USA — January 9, 2008 4:56pm ET
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