When ordering a bottle of wine in nice restaurants, I have been often been presented w/ a different vintage than stated on the menu. Sometimes I don't say anything and other times I comment that the bottle is not the vintage noted on the wine list (and sometimes the server becomes defensive). I am not an expert by any means, but sometimes I do know that the '03 (or whatever) was a special year. Or call me paranoid, sometimes I think they hold back the '03 for a regular because their supply is running low and begin serving the succeeding vintage to others. Of course I realize that often they just have not updated their wine list. But what is the proper course of action. This situation happens relatively often, say one in five instances. I am also not talking about ordering straw bottles of chianti at the local pizza joint, but in restaurants that supposedly build their reputation as establishments that serve fine wine.
Thanks in advance for any comments.
I've found that they tend to leave great vintages on wine lists to help sell bottles. A tactic I've had a local restaurant use is that they open the bottle from the inferior vintage before they even bring it to the table so it makes sending it back that much more awkward.
The good news about California vintages is that because of irrigation there isn't the variability you get in European wines.
You have couple courses of actions :
Always check _before_ the waiter open the bottle .
- Tell the waiter it's not the wine you ordered (maybe it's a simple genuine mistake) and the waiter will get the right bottle.
- If there is no listed vintage left (and the list is out of date), ask for the price of the bottle and either accept or refuse
- Refuse the bottle and ask for the wine list again to make a new selection.
If you know a bottle you ordered is there and they refuse to sell it to you, just leave the restaurant (pay what you owe), they don't deserve you; and tell that to the waiter/maitreD/whoever is in charge that night.
I've had this happen to me in nice restaurants only twice. That said, living in SF (and before that DC) I think the standards may be a bit different than in other parts of the country. When this happened the first time, I mentioned to the server that it was not the vintage on the wine list, but that it was fine. When it happened the second time, the wine brought out was actually from a stronger vintage than what was listed on the wine list and I said nothing.
Vintage is, of course, incredibly important. Bringing out the wrong vintage can be like having someone order a ribeye steak, having the server bringing out beef stew, and saying, "well, it is still a cow."
I can certainly see a vintage change happening without the wine director realizing it, and I bet much more often than not it is an honest mistake on the restaurant's part, as opposed to some devious plan to pass off mediocre wine at high prices. For me, if I got the wrong vintage and it would change my opinion on which wine to get, I simply alert the server or sommelier that this is the wrong vintage and could he please either bring me the wine list again so that I can choose a different bottle, or else check to see if they have any of the vintage that I had requested.
If you don't get the food you ordered, is it still awkward sending it back? If you order a meat or fish dish and it isn't cooked to order (e.g., medium rare steak), do you eat it anyway or send it back?
Depending on the restaurant, the server may just be pulling from the bin and has no idea that the vintage on the bottle is different from the one on the list. Bottom line is that you are the customer, and you don't have to accept something different from what you've ordered.
When I get a wine list that has no vintage dates on it, I ask the server to find out the vintages for a couple different wines I'm considering, and then make my choice.
I've seen this happen fairly often at places that don't really have serious wine programs. I don't like it, but it's understandable. At a place with a legit wine program, I'm more likely to get annoyed. If there's a full time, dedicated wine employee, the staff should be made aware of vintage changes.
I slightly disagree with Steve WRT CA vintages. I don't really want any '98, '00 or '03s landing in a glass near me. Sure, they're not as bad as the '02 Piedmont bottles, but the juice just isn't as strong as it is in other years.
It USED to happen much more often in the days when restaurants were dependent upon the wholesale companies for the printing of their wine lists. But since most (non-chain) restaurants print their own lists in-house via computer, it honestly happens much more rarely. Indeed, I can count the number of times it happened to me all of last year and through the first four months of 2010 on one hand . . . HONEST!
That said, when it does happen, it can be frustrating and downright exasperating! But I find it does happen to me more in mid-category restaurants rather than in the French Laundries, Gary Dankos, and Chez Panisses of the world. As for the "local pizza joint," Olive Garden, Sizzler, etc., the wine list is more likely not to indicate vintages at all -- something I find far more irritating! -- than to contain the wrong vintage . . .
Just my 2 cents; YMMV
I think Jason is correct. So many restaurants in the mid-range level tend to have wine lists that are very dependant on distributors. They don't get updated so that '05 on the list is now an 06 or 07. Of course, that is why you should always look at the wine before it is opened and decide if you want the wine presented if it isn't the correct year.
Being a wine distributor I believe it is two factors. Equal faults of the distributor and the restaurant. Sometimes the distributor gets a vintage change without notice from the winery. Sometimes the distributor does not get the information from his in house buyer therefore the price lists to the restaurant are not upto date. Sometimes the sales person for the distributor is not doing his job. As a distributor we update our lists monthly which is more than normal by industry standards. Secondly if the restaurant is informed or has a new price list and does not reprint shame on them. I believe that like a lot of restaurants that claim to be wine savy they just don't pay enough attention to the wine list and vintages. As the suggestions come in to you, I, for what it is worth, suggest that if an incorrect vintage comes refuse it and order another wine unless you are willing to settle for it. This is especially correct if there are multiple vintages of the same wine on the list. If the waiter goes to try to find the correct vintage and comes back without the ball is in your court. YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER!!! If a server becomes defensive you have three choices, leave if he is really a jerk and tell the floor manager on the way out why, do not leave a tip or ask for the floor manager to correct the problem. The server is there to make your dinning experience enjoyable not a nightmare. AGAIN YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER!!!
A restaurant should be able to handle vintage changes by simply reading the label when shipments arrive but, as a wine retailer, I was annoyed by the fact that most barcoded wines keep the same barcode vintage after vintage. I've been told that's due to cost and because the mass outlets don't care about vintage changes. I was forced to add vintage to my in-house POS price labels so that I could keep track of stock by vintage. I don't know how many restaurants keep track by barcode, but that could be an issue for them too.
Subtext to this discussion is when a restaurant serves the wrong vintage, the guest doesn't pick up on it, and the guest is charged a higher price than expected due to the vintage. Not fun!!!