Guidance with the goddess – Wine in Restaurants
Catherine Fallis Master Sommelier, aka grape goddess
The best sommeliers today are working to create a refreshingly open and wine-friendly atmosphere. They understand that fostering a fun, exciting wine culture works for both the novice and the experienced wine drinker. And most importantly, they remember that the primary focus of their job is to serve you.
The Front of the Plane is So Much More “Me�?
Good restaurants know that you want to feel like a rock star when you come into their establishment, and will go out of their way to make this happen. However, with a little bit of homework, you can have the rock star treatment even in a not so good restaurant. If you want to impress someone, scout out the scene beforehand. The easiest way to ensure a smooth flight is by going where you are known. Regulars get the upgrade to first class every time, especially if they tip well. If this is not possible, try and dine there at least once before the big day. At the very least, call and speak with the Maitre’d and the sommelier if they have one. Explain your plans. Tell them how important the occasion is. Tell them you will take care of them when you arrive—do so discreetly—and watch them treat you like royalty!
Steakage and Cakeage
Corkage fees, charged when you bring in your own bottle, are an attempt to recoup some of the lost profit and are completely justified where sommelier service is offered. They range on average from $15 to $25, though a $50 corkage fee is not unheard of. Many restaurants in high traffic areas don’t allow corkage. Do not bring in multiple or large format bottles. Check with the restaurant ahead of time about their corkage policy. Let the sommelier or manager know in advance, (i.e. when you make your reservation), that you are bringing a bottle in. It is good form to order one from the restaurant as well. You will also win points with your server and sommelier by offering them a taste of your wine.
The Hot Potato Wine List
Look, it’s just a list of the selections. If it intimidates you, close it and ask for the person who put it together. They may be the key to helping you make a good decision. Do you stress out this much when you are buying a tie? A steak? A shirt? It is always completely acceptable to order a moderately priced wine. John Lancaster, Sommelier, at Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco, says, “Sometimes I think the diner fears that the wine steward will simply try to sell him the most expensive wine. Exactly the opposite is the case. The sommelier is the builder of that list and will do everything to give you the best tour. Our goal is to put the right bottle of wine on the table, not the most expensive.�? If a commission-hungry sommelier is trying to sell you a wine out of your comfort zone, be firm and ask them to “come back in a few minutes.�? A good rule of thumb is to spend twice as much on a bottle of wine as you do on the entrée.
Is it true that the more expensive a wine is, the better it will be?
Absolutely not. Price is fairly irrelevant, especially at the ultra-premium level. You may prefer a $25 wine to a $125 wine; only you can determine how much that pleasure is worth. This is not to say that the classics such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne from France, Barolo from Italy, or Vega Sicilia “Unico�? from Spain are not worth their sometimes spectacular prices. It’s all a matter of what you feel comfortable spending.
Excerpted from the grape goddess guides to good living, WINE, with permission from the author.
�?2005 Catherine Fallis MS, Planet Grape LLC www.planetgrape.com