In light of our recent restaurant survey, I’d like to share a few of my recent wine service experiences.
I was in Buffalo and Ontario earlier this month and dined at two upscale restaurants. On both occasions there were fundamental flaws in the wine service.
In Buffalo, I asked to see the wine list while we were having a drink at the bar. It was not the selection I am used to in New York City, but there were enough reds and whites to choose something interesting.
Information on a wine list is fundamental, but many of the wines on their list had no vintages. This drives me (and us here at Wine Spectator) crazy and is the reason most of the new entries in our Restaurant Awards program do not win an award.
There was a Bouchard Père & Fils Montrachet, no vintage listed, for $85. Knowing this was too good to be true, I asked the bartender to see the bottle. Sure enough, it was the Chassagne-Montrachet, a village-level wine, not the grand cru, from the outstanding 2004 vintage.
At the bottom of the list there was a line advertising large format bottles. I inquired and was given a piece of paper with half a dozen wines. I settled on a magnum of Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District 2003.
When the wine was brought to the table, it wasn’t presented to me. As it was about to be opened, I asked if it was indeed the Martin Ray. It was, however, the vintage was 2002, not 2003. Even better, as ’02 was excellent in Napa Valley.
I tasted the wine, and it was fine, but too warm. I asked that it be chilled for 10 or 15 minutes. Fortunately, we had not eaten our appetizers yet. Improper serving temperature is another fundamental flaw in wine service.
Temperature was also the issue in the Ontario restaurant. We ordered a bottle of red that was too warm and had to be chilled a little. We ordered a second bottle and requested, in advance, that it be chilled. When it was time to open the second bottle, it had not been chilled. We ended up ordering by the glass instead.
On another issue, unrelated to restaurant service, the poor experience was as much my own fault.
My wife and I went to a casual Greek restaurant for lunch in Buffalo. They sold no wine or beer, but the waitress said there was a liquor store next door and we could BYO. Great.
I looked for a nice crisp white to go with assorted appetizers and the grilled octopus we had ordered. Then I realized I had better get something already chilled.
Neither the shop nor the refrigerator had much of a selection—not even a rosé. So I settled on a white Zinfandel from a producer I know. Why not support them?
I returned to the restaurant and opened the bottle. It was awful, tired and oxidized. It was only then that I looked at the label. In tiny print was the vintage—2001. No wonder it didn’t taste good. It should have been drunk in 2002.
I was at fault for not checking the vintage. I just assumed (incorrectly) that it would be the current vintage. Shame on me. Of course, I can’t remember the last time I purchased a bottle of White Zin.
On the other hand, a 7-year old bottle of White Zinfandel should not be on the shelf. Distributors and winery reps (not to mention retailers) need to check for things like this. An average customer having a similar experience may never buy that brand again.
In the end, we had a good laugh about this, because the joke was on me. I should know better. But the wine service issues need to be addressed. Wine is an integral part of the dining experience. When spending a considerable amount of money at a restaurant, that experience should be enjoyable.
Scott Mitchell — Toronto, Ontario — July 21, 2008 11:31am ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — July 21, 2008 11:35am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — July 21, 2008 11:37am ET
Steve Ritchie — Atlanta, GA — July 21, 2008 12:07pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — July 21, 2008 12:16pm ET
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — July 21, 2008 12:22pm ET
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — July 21, 2008 1:26pm ET
John Nelson — Dallas, Texas — July 21, 2008 3:49pm ET
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — July 21, 2008 3:54pm ET
Brian Johnson — Rochester, NY — July 21, 2008 6:31pm ET
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — July 21, 2008 8:38pm ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — July 22, 2008 1:53am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — July 22, 2008 1:58am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — July 22, 2008 9:09am ET
Gary Stoyan — Sherman Oaks, CA — July 22, 2008 9:52am ET
Roy Guilbeau — Houma LA — July 22, 2008 5:24pm ET
Tom Hudson — Wilmington, Delaware — July 23, 2008 3:35pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — July 24, 2008 11:33am ET
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