The Wine Curmudgeon posts on what is, to me, the scariest aspect of restaurant wine:
When the wine did arrive, it was oxidized; obviously, the bottle had been open for a considerable period of time, and the wine had started to turn. It no longer tasted especially like chardonnay, but like bad sherry, with burnt wood and caramel flavors.
Ah, yes: the compromise in non-wine-intensive restaurants between the trend toward expanded wine-by-the-glass selections and the fact that those restaurants don’t really sell very much wine. So the wine sits open, sometimes for days, and no one notices until it befouls a customer’s dinner.
Even in good restaurants, wandering slightly off the beaten track in ordering a glass involves significant risk. I find myself shying away from the more interesting offerings, defaulting to the most frequently ordered brands or better-safe-than-sorry alternatives like Sauvignon Blanc. When I’ve experimented, it has not always been with happy result. I ordered a Gamay in a nice restaurant once and ended up with a viscous brew that might as well have been prune juice. The restaurant apologized and opened a fresh bottle, which was fine except that the fresh bottle then went back behind the bar to sit for a few days or a week or a month until the next person opted out of the house Merlot to try something more interesting.
The growth in wine availability at casual dining restaurants has been a boon to wine drinkers. The expansion of the white-red-rose wine list to include a half dozen alternatives is designed to attract relatively upscale wine-drinking customers, and it has been a big success. What some operators miss, however, is that there is a risk that accompanies catering to wine drinkers. Malcolm Knapp, who tracks trends in the restaurant business and who I interviewed for a recent Vineyard & Winery Management article, says that people who are attracted by expanded wine menus will be driven away if they’re served substandard wines.
“People are paying for performance now,” he says. “They know the difference. It has to taste good or they’re not coming back.”
A “wine program” requires commitment. Wine Curmudgeon talks about training programs, but just as important is the commitment to dispose of wine left over at the end of the night, before it gets to the next day’s customers. With mid-price restaurants selling single glasses for almost as much as they pay for a whole bottle, that’s not too much to ask.