The low down on restaurant wines

Having worked in restaurants in many different capacities over the years has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I?ve got plenty of juicy stories, lies and exaggerations. However, I wouldn?t be doing my duty as ?The Wine Guy? if I were to deviate and spill the beans. Sorry Oysterites. You can read all about them though if you pick up my newest romance novel. The title is still in the works and it’ll certainly be juicier than Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.

Navigating through a new wine list can be intimidating and unknowledgable or pompous servers, sommeliers and bartenders certainly don?t help either. I bet it would feel good to put them in their place, on occasion. That?s not the point of this article, although you might get a few tips on how to if you read on!

You probably have noticed recently how most restaurants, whether they are fine-dining or casual, have really revamped their wine lists and selling techniques. At The Olive Garden, for instance, you can taste any of their wines before you purchase; even their wines by the bottle. A lot of other corporate restaurants have also adapted the ?taste before you buy? policy although they don?t extend it to wines by the bottle.

I?ve even found a new retail store/restaurant called ?The Grape? where you can taste ANY of their non-reserve wines even if you are purchasing them for off-site consumption. These are just a few examples, as I?m sure you?ve noticed a lot of changes in your neighborhood restaurants and retailers as well.

First let?s expose a few secrets that will help you in your future dining experiences. We all know that wine is marked up in restaurants anywhere from 150% to 300% of the wholesale cost. Ironically, what most of you don?t know is that the higher priced wines are actually the best deals since they have the least mark up. The worst deals in the restaurant are usually the wines by the glass.

Most people think that wines by the glass are a great way to enjoy your dinner without spending much money. What you don?t know is that most restaurants charge you per glass what they pay per bottle. Generally, if you’re going to have a glass or two it’s actually worth it to buy the bottle; especially since a lot of states allow you to take an remaining wine home. A restaurant will open a bottle one day and might not finish it for three, four or five days. I can guarantee you that most wine served even hours after it was opened, even if there is a cork in it, or it was vacuum pumped, has not gotten better but worse. You might not notice it because you’ve never had the wine before, or you’re still forming a sensitive wine pallette.

Don?t you want the experience to taste as good as it can? Correct me if I?m wrong but restaurants don?t charge less per glass if the bottle has been opened for a day or longer. I only drink wines by the glass that I know the restaurant is selling a lot of, or has just opened. If I’m dining with a few people, I’ll generally push for the bottle.

Don?t be afraid to ask your server or bartender if they have just opened a particular bottle or would open a fresh bottle for you. Certainly don’t be afraid to ask for a sample of a wine which catches your fancy. Especially if it’s one you’ve never tried before. Wine loses its youthful vibrancy quicker than you think.

Oh, and as far as putting people in their place … well, ok. Here are a few questions that you can ask your pretentious server/sommelier that they probably won?t know.

1) What grapes are used in Amarone? A: Rondinella, Molinara & Corvina Veronese.

2) Have you ever had a wine from the Basque country? (For this one it doesn?t matter if they answer yes or no. Although a no response will put you up a little higher on your pedestal.) A: Wow, that one varietal, Hondarrabi Zuri, is somewhat reminiscent of a Vidal Blanc meets Torrontes or a Viognier meets Vermentino. Good luck finding it!

3) Name one grape that is made into a white, ros? and red wine? A: Pinot Noir.

Until next time friends.

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