EVERYONE has pet peeves when it comes to day to day living. My two major pet peeves include enduring people speaking loudly in movie theaters while the movie is showing, and witnessing slow drivers hog the inner-most lanes in our highways during lean traffic periods. But what tick me off too are wine services that affect total wine enjoyment in dining establishments. Given how much I adore wines, there are many wine pet peeves I have amassed based on experiences not only here locally but in my travels. See if you, my fellow oenophiles, can identify with these wine pet peeves.
1. Lousy Glassware – Imagine a good hearty Shiraz, dark brooding in color, aromas of plums and cocoa escaping out of the bottle upon opening, and then, amidst all the heightened expectation, this Shiraz is poured into a short thick wine glass (worth less than P20 in Divisoria). What a killjoy! In situations like this, I always ask for the water goblet as a marginally acceptable glass. My contention is that all restaurants, especially those who are very proud of their food and cuisine, should invest in crystal glassware. Thai-made Lucaris crystal glassware is actually not so bad to start with and much cheaper than your Riedel and Schott Zwiesel.
2. A Broken Cork – OK, we are all humans, and I have also accidentally broken corks when opening wine bottles, but if I am in a fine dining restaurant, and I just ordered a P3,000 wine off the wine list, shouldn’t the waiter be a little more cautious in opening the wine? I know this happens, maybe less than 2% of the time, but why, oh why, break the cork when it came to my bottle? There are understandably factors leading to a broken cork, and these are not necessarily the waiter’s fault, but should this happen, the dining establishment should readily replace the bottle, instead of getting the waiter to awkwardly attempt to salvage the cork.
3. Generic Wine By-The-Glass – “Waiter, what are your wines by-the-glass? Reply: “Sir, we have White and Red!” In this age of wine sophistication (or so I would want to believe), we sadly still have plenty of restaurants, and I am not referring to simply the casual dining types but even those in the high-rental business districts, that are still labeling their pouring wines as simply White and Red. And by having wines offered by generic reference, you probably have to expect the worst wines if you order. In this case, can I get a gin tonic instead?
4. Unclean/Smelly Decanter – You ask for a decanter because you brought a very “heady” wine – a young Barolo that needs to be aerated faster for better enjoyment. You requested for a decanter, and, fortunately, the restaurant has one, even made of crystal. Unfortunately though, and unknown to you, the decanter has been kept in its original box and has not been used for weeks – then the waiter took this out for your wine. The problem is the cardboard smell from the box was still present, and your Barolo suddenly had additional complexity you wished it never had.
5. Wine List With Out of Stock Wines – Again, being in this wine business, this sort of things does happen quite a bit. A wine supplier sells an establishment a wine they tasted and loved. The particular wine gets listed, and then, due to little demand, the wine was not reordered, and it just ran out while the wine list was still relatively newly printed. It is a huge wine pet peeve of mine because I always take time reading the wine list, and after a deliberate wine choice was made (depending on budget and food being ordered), I would be told – “Sorry sir,we just ran out of this wine.” The reverse could actually be true too, when the wine sells so well that it encountered stock problems due to supply exceeding demand – this, however, is what good wine importers cannot afford to overlook.
6. Unclear Corkage Fee Policy – First, I am against corkage fees in general, and there should be some commonsensical rules, like no bringing of low-priced wines or of big commercial supermarket type wines, or (most importantly) no bringing of wines already listed in the establishment’s wine list. But if you need to charge corkage, a small amount like P300 should suffice to cover wine service and proper glassware – but whatever you charge, it should be consistent. Here I will narrate my worst experience with corkage.
Over a decade ago, I brought a special 1985 Chateau Haut Brion to a popular buffet restaurant in a luxury hotel here in Manila. Corkage was P1 per ml or P750/bottle for regular size then. It was my wedding anniversary and it was the right time to open this 20+-year-old first-growth Bordeaux to share with my wife. When the waiter saw me with this bottle, he quoted me P750/bottle. Being in this business and also a wine writer, one of my “small” perks is to usually have my corkage waived, but since it was a special occasion, I just shrugged off the fee and agreed to the corkage. When the French F&B hotel guy saw this, he upped the corkage to P1,500 and suddenly the embarrassed waiter was back in my table to tell me his superior (the French F&B guy) said my corkage should be P1,500 because of the level of wine I brought in. This was really a blatant indiscretion. Why change the policy when the wine brought in was of the premium kind? Would the hotel rather have me bring a Mateus or a Carlo Rossi?
Continuing my story, I was ready to walk out of the hotel in protest, but my wife said that we should just let this one go, and so I did. However, the shocker did not end there. My waiter came back to me after we were almost done with the wine and buffet. He whispered to me that the French F&B wanted to have a little sip of the 1985 Haut Brion. Gosh – I got furious and gave this F&B guy the long mean gaze, while I drunk every last drop of my wine, even though sediments were already poured into my glass. I even took the bottle home. Seriously. Being a wine person, if I was charged just right, and this F&B guy asked for a taste, I would have obliged, but to double charge me, and then have the balls to ask for a taste at the same time – that was downright insolent!
7. Chilling White Wine Glasses – This has been practiced for ages, but it still makes no sense to me. Maybe it was meant for aesthetics? But it is so wrong. The moisture that comes from the chilling of the white wine glass is a basic form of impurity, just like diluting wine with water. If it was sacrilegious to add ice to wines, then how is this practice different? Why not just serve a cold white wine in a room temperature wine glass and let the moisture form from the cold wine (the moisture will at least be outside the glass and not inside the glass), rather than from a chilled glass!
8. Waiters With Little Wine Knowledge – Again, not to be snooty, but establishments with a wine list should at least train their waitstaff to understand basic wine terms. Sometimes cheap labor in the form of student trainees (OJTs) also adds to this dilemma in wine service standards. But it is really quite unbearable to hear waiters recommend wines they can barely pronounce. I feel, too, that with easy Internet access and Google’s help, waiters should at least do their homework on the wines they have on their wine list.
What are your wine pet peeves? Tell me via twitter or e-mail.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.