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Jun 1, 2009 09:58 PM

Wine Pairings at the French Laundry

We have a lunch reservation at the French Laundry and I have a question about the wine pairings. I have heard they are quite good there (I have enjoyed pairing at Quince but was dissapointed at Gary Danko) and would be interested in other thoughts. Also, thoughts on whether the reserve pairing is worthwhile would be appreciated.

In addition, I have a question about quantity. My SO will be driving us back to San Francisco and is worried that after 12 course and multiple tastes of wine, she might be a bit overwhelmed. On the other hand, there is the concern that sharing a single tasting might be insufficient. We plan on walking around (or just lounging) for at least an hour or so after the meal.

Just for calibration, we will typically share a single bottle of wine with a restaurant dinner and only on occassion will we do a cocktail or glass of champagne before that. For nice dinners we will often order bottles that approach, but do not exceed the $100 price point.

Any thoughts on the best strategy would be appreciated.


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  1. TFL hasn't done wine pairings in years. It's a true pity. I can't see anything on their web site that suggests otherwise.

    A common strategy is two half bottles - their half bottle list is extensive, interesting, and one-of-a-kind.

    As you know how a single bottle effects you, you should be able to calibrate your personal comfort level.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bbulkow

      I agree--I think that the half-bottle strategy works best. Glass of champagne, then a white half, then a red half, maybe an espresso instead of a glass of dessert wine? It's a lot, but a half bottle is about 2ish glasses? So you end up having ~3 glasses of wine at lunch. Hmm. Sort of like a 2-martini lunch, right? Walk down the street to the Bouchon bakery and get a double espresso.

      It's better to drive out either after 5 or before 3. 3-4 is when all of the vineyard workers are getting off work and the second honeymooners are racing to get to one last place before it closes, so there's a lot of traffic and you're more likely to get into a fender bender if you're in traffic. You want smooth sailing.

      You could go south into Napa proper and do a little window shopping or go to the outlets. Don't go north on 29 to kill time. The traffic after a boozy lunch will drain the life out of you.

    2. Since you're having lunch, you can hang out in Yountville until you're ready to drive and you'd still be able to drive back during daylight. Not a huge numbers of places to hang but there's enough within walking distance.

      1. I think your bigger problem will be that you may be in a food coma from all the rich food and just you will just want to take a nap. Add in wine and it could spell trouble. I would stay in the area for a bit after your lunch (which will be Friday, Saturday or Sunday as these are the only days TFL does lnuch). You can hang out at Vintage 1870 and browse the shops. Bring some shoes for walking around.

        I've only done the wine pairing once and that was years ago (now days I bring some wine in and buy some off the list). I actually drove back to SF after that meal and it wasn't too bad. From what I recall they didn't pair with every course and the pours were not huge. The problem (from The French Laundry's perspective) is that dinner is not the same for all diners. Thus pairings can be difficult as one dinner may need a pairing which is totally different from the other dinner at the same table. I will agree with bbulkow that you might want to try getting a half bottle or two. Also you can always call and inquire as to The French Laundry's wine pairing program and what they can do for you. Calling them ahead to ask about this sort of thing will be highly appreciated by the Restaurant. The might be able to accomodate you with something.

        2 Replies
        1. re: skwid

          I would suggest that you spend the night - rooms are not that expensive and the experience will be so much more enjoyable. Also, you can get some coffee and pastry the next morning at Bouchon Bakery for the ride home.

          1. re: lizziee

            Since the OP will be having lunch I don't know that staying the night would be necessary. Driving right after the meal is suboptimal by all means (at least for me). Walking around for a bit would be a good idea.

        2. Was just at the Laundry for dinner a couple nights ago. We didn't see any wine pairings on the menu, but noticed the table next to us had the sommelier select by-the-glass choices to go with the courses.

          The food amount is not excessive -- we weren't overly full after our dinner, nor overly tipsy. We drink about the same as you, and we brought a bottle of red (corkage is $50) and purchased a glass of white.

          You can also walk around the vegetable gardens across the street either during or after your meal, or travel a couple blocks downtown to browse some of the nearby stores/restaurants like the V Marketplace or Bouchon Bakery. The super-buttery brioche from Bouchon Bakery was one of the best things I had that night, so it might be worth taking a loaf home.

          1. French Laundry doesn't do wine pairings (but I suspect they will be happy to help you pick out wines by the glass).

            On driving, I went for dinner a few weeks ago, and while there was a lot of food, it was spaced well enough that you walked out satisfied but not food-coma-full.

            7 Replies
            1. re: kloh

              Oddly friends have told me that they have done wine pairings; maybe it is something that TFL does sometimes not others. In any case, the half bottle selection does appear extensive, so with a little bit of help from the sommelier, I am sure we will have a wonderful meal.

              Thanks to everyone who provided their thoughts.

              1. re: SFDude

                I called them about about it before going, and the lady who answered the phone told me that they didn't do wine pairings. But you never know!

                Enjoy your meal!

                1. re: SFDude

                  They used to do wine pairings. I forget when the stopped - it was a number of years ago.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    I was there in January and the somm was more than happy to pair wines for us...we went through several half-bottles and some by-the-glass stuff. There were three of us, and when we chose different options for a particular course, the somm chose appropriate wines for each dish.
                    It's probably not the cheapest way to do it, but totally worth it, imo.

                    1. re: beerandpork

                      When I think of a wine-pairing tasting menu, I think of all the tasting menus where the paired wine is on the menu, and presumably the chef has put some consideration of the pairing into the creation of the dish.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Sure, in that sense they are no longer doing set wine pairings, but you can still have the somm create wine pairings for you on the fly (something i prefer anyway as it allows personal preference to come into play)

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          the problem with the set pairings is that the menu is not set in stone. Frequently if you have four at your table two people will get a preparation of something one way and the other two folks will get a different preparation (one savoy, one salty for instance) so different wines may be required. Thus having a set wine pairing really would not give the experience that The French Laundry wants you to have.