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May 25, 2007 04:37 AM

Proper wine service?

OK, maybe this is just a DC thing, but I'm kind of curious if this is going on elsewhere- has the art of proper wine service been lost?

We eat out a lot (wayyyyy tooo much) and the last few times I've ordered bottles the wine service has been lacking- some of these places are middle end, some places are high end.

All I expect are the basics:

1. Show me the bottle, let me verify that it is indeed what I ordered.
2. Remove the foil and open the bottle
3. Give whomever is tasting the wine the cork
4. Pour just enough to swirl and taste into the glass
5. If the taster says yes, then decant if need be, chill if need be, or pour starting with the women at the table first.

So the last few times either the waiter has kept the cork, not even allowed me or whomever has ordered to taste, or poured the glass of whomever he was closest to...these all bug me, especially the cork thing.

Am I being picky here or does this bug other people?

Caveat: if I'm drinking a 20 dollar bottle of wine out, this kind of thing doesn't bother me, but it's when we get into the higher price ranges that it begins to bug me

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  1. Proper wine service is no different than proper food service at a restaurant . . . or, at least, it shouldn't be. So the answer is "no," you are not just being picky. You are just expecting what you are due.

    1. I would be willing to "concede" a few of the steps of proper wine service not so much on lower cost bottles, but in lower tier restaurants. I would also like to add that the use of a proper glass and the offer to decant the wine (when appropriate to the bottle) are often missing. The establishments that have proper wine service generally seem to have their food service in order as well.

      1. Passing the cork to the diner has started to be phased out in the last few years. It serves no real purpose when the wine is to be tasted before accepting the bottle or not. The cork can have a bad smell to it without the wine being bad.

        4 Replies
        1. re: MIKELOCK34

          The feel of the cork can tell you a bit about the wine- the smell is usually useless unless it smells like mildew or mold.

          1. re: jpschust

            I don't think it is about the smell but about the condition (moldy, has wine seeped the entire length of the cork). I like to keep th cork especially if I enjoy a new wine as it is a great way to remember the name of the wine(assuming it is not blank ).

            1. re: TonyO

              I too keep them as occasional souveniers, particularly if I order something special. And yes, too many waiters make off with them before I can object....

          2. re: MIKELOCK34

            also becoming less common with the increased use of synthetic corks in higher-end wines.

            the server should also be able to open a bottle of wine at tableside by manipulating their wine-opener only-- not spinning the entire bottle around. the label of the bottle should face the patron/host at all times. if ordering at the bar, the bt should open the bottle by hand, above the level of the bar, though if they have a mechanical, wall mounted opener this can be acceptable. it does take a little practice to get this right, but people don't even seem to be bothering anymore.

            the cork thing doesn't bother me, but not being allowed to taste the wine before accepting it peeves me to no end.

          3. I have not experienced this. Of course, I live in San Francisco where the food and wine culture are incredibly important...

            5 Replies
            1. re: whiner

              Not passing the cork to the diner is happening in many places including New York City and other cities where the food and wine cultures are also "incredibly important."

              1. re: MIKELOCK34

                The cork thing doesn't bother me too much, nor have I really noticed. For the most part, if it's an expensive bottle or a bottle I've brought to the restaurant, I have noticed that some waiters will simply leave the cork next to the bottle for me and my dinner companions to fiddle with.

                With that exception, I don't think you're expecting too much at all, though I've never experienced a waiter pouring without giving the person ordering a taste first (house wines excepted). If the restaurant expect your tip to account for the cost of the wine, then they should expected to provide the appropriate service that comes along with the wine.

                My biggest peeves:
                1. When the waiter never comes by to refill your glasses, if needed.
                2. When the waiter comes by too often and insists on filling the glass past the appropriate level.
                The latter bothers me much more. I wish they'd cut it out.

                1. re: mengathon

                  I have the SAME peeves and make my wishes known to the server(s). I like to allow my wine time in the glass, and pouring on top of what I am feeling is really getting good, spoils that. Also, I always tell the servers to monitor the glasses of the guests, and, if necessary, instruct them on the proper volume. I do not like having a server try to sell me up, when it comes to the wine quantity.

                  Next to glassware, your stated peeves are my biggest.


              2. re: whiner

                I have experienced some improper wine service in a few restaurants in San Francisco.

                1. re: RCC

                  I suppose if I stopped to think about it I have, too. But not at restaurants where I expect proper service -- eg, they didn't know how to chill a bottle of sparkling wine that I brought to Taste of the Himalaya's (they tried to fill the entire bucket with ice as opposed to a mixture of ice and water) but I didn't really expect them to know exactly what they were doing. Now, if the same thing happened at Fringale or nopa, which really aren't that expensive, or known for impeccable wine service, I would be shocked.

              3. Other than the cork ceremony, nothing that you mentioned should EVER be overlooked. The presentation of the cork is one that goes back quite a while, when it was more common for wineries, n├ęgociants and importers substituted lesser vintages of more sought after vintages. It is still part of the whole proceedure, but is less likely to be of any use. If the wine is "corked," the wine should tell the host of that, and the cork is of less importance. Now, it can be used to tell a certain tail - leakage.

                In DC, two restaurants that give one the full wine treatment are: Citronelle 3000 M Street Northwest, Washington and Le Paradou, 678 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC.

                As far as wine service in the mass of restaurants, I fear that is a dying art, like glassware.


                14 Replies
                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  It would be nice to have the expense account that would allow me to go to Citronelle every night, but both of those places are on the very very high end for DC- can't anyone just do it right at the middle or lower end too?

                  1. re: jpschust

                    In the middle, Dino does it right.

                    1. re: jpschust

                      As we only visit, and do not live there, I cannot answer your question. As for wine service, it should be good, regardless of total cost of the meal, until you get to the fast-food outlets, which are not likely to even offer wine. If the wine list goes beyond "white, red, blush," then they should instruct the staff in the proper way to serve the stuff. Unfortunately, I do not have specific, non-high-end, restaurants to recommend.

                      I do not think it is a DC "thing," as I have encountered similar across the US, even in some higher-end spots. Sad note.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        There is a small, but substantial, reason that the cork is removed from the table. It can become a hazardous object on the table that causes spills on customers or tables, or worse-items breaking at table. This is not just a result from the server setting items on the table but the customers not paying attention to where they are setting glasses or plates. Then-whoops!!-water or wine all over the place.

                        I completely agree that the cork should be presented to the person who ordered the wine, kept for personal reasons if need be, but it should be removed from the table-as I have been witness to incidents as the above. There are a few restaurants that provide a wine "coaster", and sometimes there is enough room to accompany the bottle and the cork. If this was available, I would leave the cork only in that "coaster".

                        1. re: cocktailqueen77

                          Yes, in some cases, I've had to hand a load of corks to the server, to clear the area near my wine/water glasses. I do not mind the presentation of the cork, in the least, and have referred to it in a very few instances - usually if there is a question of oxydation. I have also retained a cork, or two, especially when traveling, because I want a reference to the wine, for doing reviews some days later, if a copy of the wine list is not available, and I am too busy, or lazy, to take notes at the table.

                          As for the wine-coaster, I've had some recently, that had a little ring attached to hold the cork. Nice touch, and it kept the cork from being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, as you point out.

                          Thanks for the comments,

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Regarding these discussions about proper wine service no one has mentioned something I only experienced in Italy. The wine server, after opening the bottle and pouring a small amount into a glass, swirled it vigorously and then lit a candle and held it up to the glass and inspected it closely for color and clarity. After he was satisfied, he poured some into my glass for tasting.

                            1. re: tuttobene

                              Clearly something only done with reds, especially older reds, though. It's really hard to tell with some really old reds, though, as they lighten up after just a few minutes of sitting while the sediment falls back to the bottom.

                              1. re: tuttobene

                                When I was in Italy this winter/spring tasting fine wines, they poured a little of the wine, swirled it around and dumped it out to prime each glass. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see these elixirs wasted.

                                1. re: tuttobene

                                  Yes, often refered to as "seasoning the glass." I do this at mass tastings, when I have likely gone from a white to a red. The folk pouring are often adverse to this, but it's better than flushing with water, then having to dry the glass completely.

                                  Part of this proceedure, the candle, etc. is like the sommelier pouring some of the wine into a tastevin to inspect it. This is thought, by some, to be a pretentious act nowadays, but serves a purpose.

                                  I think that the Italians have the right idea.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    I'm much more bothered by wine served at the wrong temperature than any of the presentation offenses that folks have discussed here. I find that I rarely get a red that isn't served much warmer than it should be.

                                    1. re: Dedalus

                                      I agree - and what I find particularly annoying is when I'm given "a look" for asking that they chill the bottle of red for me. It is truly a rare joy to be served red wines at the proper temperature.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        Over the decades, I've asked for an ice-bucket for more reds, than whites in restaurants, mostly in the US. I greatly appreciate a server, who brings the white to the table at the right temp, and sheepishly asks if we need it chilled further. Or the server, who brings a red to the table, not too far above cellar temp. The tip goes up! Now, I have asked for a bucket for a very few whites, but all were ones that we were lingering far too long over in a too-warm restaurant - very few, indeed.

                                        Good point,

                                      2. re: Dedalus

                                        ....or a nice continental white that isn't served way too friggin' cold!!

                                      3. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Actually, I only do this when going back from red to white, but you are absolutely right! It is MUCH BETTER to rinse with a bit of wine than it is with water.