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Jul 29, 2007 10:56 AM

Restaurant Wine Etiquette

Hi Folks. Just looking for feedback on restaurant wine service etiquette.

Went out last night to a relatively nice French restaurant. Wanted to order a red for the entrees, and chose the Beringer Cabernet Sauv Knights' Valley 2002. I had tried the wine before and really liked it. However, the maitre d' insisted that he "upgrade" us to a more expensive wine, the Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. He said it was "richer" and "fruitier."

The Heitz was ok, but honestly I preferred the Beringer (from what I remember of it). The Beringer, to my taste, actually had more depth and a more incisive taste than the Heitz, which was ho-hum. I did not say anything to the server, though, because he had given us a deal and I did not want to complain. The rest of the meal was fantastic (I posted a review on the "Western Canada" board).

What would other chowhounds have done in this situation? Stuck with the Heitz and been polite, or asked for the original wine ordered?

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  1. maybe you like the beringer more, but would the heitz have been the better match for your food?

    sounds a bit pushy of him...i hate the "upsell".

    i think because HE pushed it, you wouldn't have been out of line to say "sorry, but i don't really care for this". they can always sell the bottle off by the glass. if you had picked out a wine yourself and didn't like it- well that's a bit trickier.

    what do you mean by "he gave us a deal"? the red flag in my head right now thinks they're trying to get rid of a wine they know isn't so good. if i was in this situation i probably would have been very suspicious of them. and i definitely would have said so if i didn't like the wine. everyone has different tastes and at the very least you would be doing them a favor by offering your contrasting opinion.

    1. A quick research shows that:

      a) pricewise, the Beringer retail price starts at $20.00, the Heinz at $30.00. Considering the usual 2.6 factor, I assume prices at the restaurant's wine list were $52 and $78 respectively, which would seem to indicate a great deal offered to you by the sommelier.

      b) Ratings for the 2002 Beringer Cab Sauv KV are very good:
      Wine Advocate: (89-91)
      Steve Tanzer: (89-91)
      Wine Spectator: 88

      c) 2002 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon was skipped by all 3 rating services above. Actually, they skipped the 2002 Heitz entirely.

      d) Older ratings for Heitz indicate a noticeable quality down slope in the last years. Probably new owners, change of management?

      Considering all of the above, excuse_me_miss's red flag seems to be absolutely correct ( "the red flag in my head right now thinks they're trying to get rid of a wine they know isn't so good." )

      What would I've done in similar circumstances ( no prior knowledge of the Heintz ):

      a) If I knew the sommelier, and had good rapport with him, I'd have given an unqualified green light to the "upgrade", same as you did.

      b) Otherwise, I'd have said: "OK, but what if I don't like it?"
      Answer would have been (almost guaranteed): "If you don't like it, I take it back" .
      And I'd have had no remorse whatsoever to send it back -they'll sell it by the glass anyways-.

      2 Replies
      1. re: RicRios

        What I did not note in my above post is that the waiter gave us the Heitz for the same price as what we would have paid for the Beringer. Because we live in Canada, and US imports are taxed heavily, the restaurant prices for the above wines were $110 CAN for the Heitz and $98 CAN for the Beringer. (We pay some of the highest alcohol taxes in the world in Canada in general and particularly in BC). Anyway, I think that my $98 would have been better spent on the Beringer.

        Part of the reason that I was not more demanding of the service was that my wife and I were being treated by a friend, a wedding gift as my wife and I got married last week. I did not wish to embarrass my friend.

        Nonetheless, I believe that the Heitz is probably inferior to the Beriinger Knights', and I agree that I could have bargained more carefully with the server.

        1. re: anewton

          Heitz has had a long history of making good cabs, especially their higher end offerings (Bella Oaks, Trailside & Martha's Vineyard). Their 'basic' Cab has been more erratic over the past several years, but should still be 'better' than Beringer Knights' Valley, at least from its 'pedigree'. The things is that 'better' is almost always a judgement of the individual. I have noted that Heitz doesn't get rated very much lately, but that could be because they're not submitting their wines (though some would say there's a reason they don't.) That said, Knights' Valley is a good value and has been for years.

          I think the etiquette would leave you room to turn down a wine recommended by the server in the specific way you describe. To some degree it depends on the speciifcs of the conversation, but if you were persuaded that it would be more to your liking..... and you didn't agree..... I think you would have been within the 'etiquette' to ask for the Knights' instead.

      2. Wow. Very odd experience. I can honestly say that the only times anything like that has ever happened to me it has been when the somellier or server says, "let me give you a taste of this wine and let you decide what you think..."

        Even when an entire bottle was opened for me -- a wine that was not offered by the glass -- and I was poured a true half glass -- I said, "nah, I'll stick with the (Etude)" and I didn't feel the least bit bad doing it.

        It is never wrong to ask your server for something on the menu, wine or therwise, irrespective of what your server thinks of what you are ordering.

        1. Sounds to me that he didn't have any bottles in stock of the wine you wanted; thats why he gave you the more expensive wine at the same price.

          What would I have done? All depends on my interaction with the maitre d' .

          Usually I insist on the wine I ordered, they've often suggested a more expensive wine, but can't recall ever them offereing it at the same price.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Gussie Finknottle

            Actually, on at least 3 occasions I have been told that they were out of the wine that I ordered and then I was offered a more expensive wine at the same price. Funny, I can only recall one occasion when they were out and I *wasn't* offered a more expensive wine at the same price...

            1. re: whiner

              The server actually brought both bottles to the table to show me that he had both in stock...but he pointed to the Heitz and indicated that it was the way to go.

              To be honest, I found the Heitz to be a bit nondescript. Nothing really jumped out at me.

          2. Generally I prefer wines from family operations like Heitz over corporate cogs like Beringer, but I've never been a big fan of Heitz's regular cab.

            Wine Spectator didn't necessarily "skip" the 2002--their review of the 2001 didn't appear until last November.