Thu 22 Jul 2010
July 14 being Bastille Day, we went out to eat steak frites. Completely logical, mais non? Somewhat illogically, the restaurant which we went to, while having a French chef and serving mainly Euro/bistro-style fare, features almost all California wines on its list. The chef told me, in an interview at the beginning of this year, that he would like to have French wines on the list but that he couldn’t afford them. The thought-cloud hovering over my head pleaded, “Let me do your list!” Anyway, that’s not the point.
We ordered our steak frites and two glasses of Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2008. Our waiter was a cheery, eager young woman, what my mother would have called “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” an expression that always puzzled me when I was a child; I got the bright-eyed part, but bushy-tailed? Was she talking about squirrels? The waiter brought the glasses of wine, and here’s where the problem started. Now I haven’t tasted a Lyttons Spring Zinfandel in a while, but over the years I have tasted and consumed many examples of the zinfandel wines, including Lytton Springs, that emerge from the Ridge winery. After a few sniffs and sips of this wine, I was convinced that, unless Paul Draper and the team at Ridge have completely changed the philosophy and methodology of their decades-old practice, this was not a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. What I was smelling and tasting seemed to be the super-ripe snap and spicy toasty overlay of an over-oaked merlot or cabernet sauvigon.
Of course I couldn’t prove my theory because, as happens in about 95 percent of the cases when one orders wine by the glass in a restaurant, we didn’t see the bottle from which the wine was poured. I could have asked the waiter to bring us the bottle but we have to remember that it’s usually not the waiter who pours the glass of wine, it’s the bartender. So the waiter could have been completely innocent.
So, we chowed down on our delicious, medium-rare strip steaks and terrific frites and so forth and mutely drank the wine. The waiter came back to the table after a while and asked if we would like another glass, and LL said yes she would and I said no, not for me, but I reminded her that we were drinking the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, and she was like, well, yeah, duh, of course. Still, the waiter misunderstood and brought two glasses anyway, and I thought, swell, O.K., this will give me a chance to compare the wines, but before I could say, whoop-de-doo — and I have never seen this before in a restaurant but perhaps I live a protected life — she took the old glasses and poured the remaining wine in them into the new glasses of wine. So much for comparison.
Here’s the point.
Anything that happens to the wine that diners order in a restaurant, whether full bottle or by-the-glass, should happen in front of the customer. A bottle of wine, it should go without saying, should be opened at the table. Is the wine a precious bottle that the wine steward or sommelier thinks he or she should taste to see if it’s up to standard? All right, fine, but only with the permission of the diner and done at the table. Does an older wine need to be decanted? Sure, go ahead, but decant the wine at the table or at a nearby waiters’ station in view of the patron. And if wine is ordered by the glass, the waiter or wine steward should bring the bottle to the table and pour the glasses right there in front of the customers.
Such transparency can only promote the sense of goodwill and trust that form the bedrock of excellent service.