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Jun 4, 2008 09:01 AM

Was the wine director OK to suggest a more expensive wine?

When I recently ate at a 4 star restaurant, I ordered a bottle of red of which they sold the last bottle earlier in the evening. When I asked the wine director for a recommendation for a different bottle, he made a recommendation that he felt was similar in style. When I looked at the wine list, I saw this bottle was almost 3 times the price of my original choice. I feel that was not right. Others I have asked have said his job was to find a substitute closest in style to my original choice regardless of price. I think that since I made a choice of a certain price, his job is to find a substitute of a similar style and price range. Thoughts?

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  1. I wholeheartedly agree...
    with you. He's pressuring you into an awkward spot offering you something 3x the price (unless it was $10, in which case, by all means move up). Perhaps if it was the only wine at that price level, he'd have a hard time, but otherwise, hope you have the type of relationship with your date/wife to tell the sommelier something point blank. Otherwise, always have a backup idea.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Icantread

      Let's assume that it WAS the only wine at that price-point. Then he/she did not do a good job constructing the list. That is the problem of the restaurant. I am often faced with having to pick wines for certain dishes, and work within a budget. It happens to all of us. A good wine list will have choices, especially when a particular wine is getting to be in short supply.

      However, we do agree completely on the situation. The above is just my additional input to the situation, and is not meant to counter anything that you posted.


    2. In your case I'd respond with some brutal statement, along the lines

      "Anybody knows a Chateau Mouton is good, I don't need a wine director for that.
      In my book, a good wine director is the one that can produce an outstanding bottle at an affordable price."

      The higher rated the restaurant, the savvier the sommelier needs to be.

      6 Replies
      1. re: RicRios

        Thanks for the responses. The restaurant was The French Laundry and the wine was $120 bottle of a Napa Merlot The wine he suggested was a $310 of the same. I told him I didn't feel comfortable spending that much and after a few moments thinking, and no suggestion, I suggested a Crozes Hermitage at $115. He suggested a $145 bottle of the same which he felt was a better wine. I had no problem doing that and we enjoyed that wine very much. So the replacement wine was completely different in style than the original choice, fruit bomb vs. terroir, old world vs. new, but comparable in price and enjoyable. Did he do a good job? The end result was fine but it was not what I expect of wine service from TFL.

        1. re: dock

          I have to laugh. Before you disclosed all this information, when I first read the originating post, my initial thought was that this sounds like something The French Laundry would try to pull. The two times I've eaten there, I've found the wine service to be woefully subpar.

          No other Merlot other than one at $310?! At a Napa Valley restaurant?! That's priceless.

          1. re: Brad Ballinger


            Your experiences, and those of the OP, are just the opposite of what we have experienced. We have had 3-star (Michelin) wine service there, without equivocation. They have always been highly professional and most accommodating, with regards to wine service.

            Sad to hear that things must have changed, and not for the better.


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              My two experiences were both in 1998. Maybe things have not changed. I'll pile on with non-wine related complaints. The servers on one of the two visits mumbled so poorly when presenting the dishes that multiple times, I had to call over our head server to have him explain the dish that was just presented. You would think he would tell the other staff after the first request.

            2. re: Brad Ballinger

              Totally agree Brad with the wine service to be subpar for a restaurant of French Laundry's caliber..

              "No other Merlot other than one at $310?! At a Napa Valley restaurant?! That's priceless."

            3. re: dock

              Whoa! We have had just the opposite at the FL. I am horribly surprised, and equally disappointed at the actions of the sommelier. It is totally unlike anything that we have experienced. That said, it is not the right thing to do, and this person should know well, that it is not.

              Sorry about this horrible experience. It should not happen anyplace, let alone the FL.


          2. dock,

            I agree with you. If I were at a nice restaurant and asked for a $95 wine and they were out, I wouldn' think twice if the wine director suggested a bottle that was $110 instead. But th idea would be to keep it in the ballpark. 3 times is absurd and, frankly, offensive.

            On a side note -- every time I can recall ever having ordered a wine off a list at a nice restaurant, only to find that wine no longer available, the wine director has offered me a more expensive bottle *at the same price* as the bottle that was no longer available. Granted, this has only happened to me about 4 times, but those are the only 4 times I can recall ordering a wine only to find it no longer available.

            I am absolutely not saying this treatment that I hav recieved is what a restaurant "should" do -- as Icantread said, if the sommelier tells you to spend an extra $10 on a bottle of wine, then I think that is 100% appropriate. I'm just saying what has happened to me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: whiner

              My general experiences have mirrored yours. Wine gone - well we have an XXX "0X, that we'll offer you for the same price. Next, most often choice is, "we're sorry, but we're out of the XXXX, but have a wonder YYYY, and it's only $5-10/btl. more. Would you like a taste of that, to see if it meets your requirements?" This is always whispered to the host (usually me), so the guests are not privy to any choices. That is the way it should be. Tell me the truth. Do not try and upsell me. Do not put me into a spot with my guests. We will get along swimmingly.

              Still am horribly saddened that the FL would pull such a stunt. They are (or so I thought) so far above that, and do not need to indulge in such behavior.


            2. Well, what does that tell you that they have two "comparable" wines, one costing three times the other :)

              My answer would be that the wine steward should take your price range into consideration. It would be fine for them to say "we don't have anything in that same range", and THEN point out this particular bottle. But just to go right to it is inappropriate, IMO.

              Lastly, they should have had a "reasonable substitute"... say a tempranillo for a cabernet or a riesling for a gewurztraminer.... they should have been able to look over that list and find something in your ballpark, even if in another varietal. If they can't, then leaving that non-existent wine on the list is in itself inept wine management.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chicago Mike


                Agree 100%. You said, in a few words, what it has taken me four posts to articulate.


              2. First, I find it extremely hard to believe that there was only one other comparable wine, regardless of price. I'd be interested to know what you wanted and what was suggested as the replacement. He could have suggested two or three alternate wines in different price categories.

                Second, any professional would've asked at least one question before recommending another wine. Maybe that question would be "Are you thinking of staying in the same price range?" Maybe it would be "What is it about [the wine you first ordered] that you like?' Maybe it would be "What are you planning on ordering for dinner?" The question need not be about price. Do we really want those who wait on us to assume we are buying on price alone? After all, if this is a 4 star restaurant, the server doesn't want to create the impression that you are there to bottom feed. And you probably don't want to be treated that way either.

                However, you've learned that next time you can ask the following question: "Can you recommend a similar wine in the same general price range?" I'm not saying it was your fault for not asking that question. I'm just saying that a question with more information might have resulted in a more thoughtful recommendation.

                1 Reply