Two questions as I am somewhat of an inexperienced high-end (michelin starred) diner:
1. My girlfriend and I are going to an upscale French restaurant. We are doing the mutli-course tasting menu. My girlfriend doesn't drink alcohol. As such, I don't drink alcohol around her and obviously, we do not plan on doing the wine pairing or ordering any alcohol. Is this okay? Will we be looked down upon?
2. On the same trip, I am going out to dinner with a friend. He does drink alcohol and has a fairly extensive wine cellar. We too are doing a multi-course dinner at an upscale restaurant. He wants to bring a nice bottle for the entire dinner, rather than do the wine pairing. Is this bad etiquette?
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1. No problem. The only reason you'll be looked down upon is because you'll be seated and the waiter will be standing.
These aren't really etiquette questions, because no matter what is done in either scenario you're not really going to offend anyone.
Does the restaurant prefer you do a wine pairing? Of course. A restaurant always prefers a higher bill.
The second question is a bit trickier. If your friend brings a bottle that is already on the wine menu, then faux pas all the way. Or if the bottle is cheaper than anything on the menu even after the corkage, then faux pas all the way. But other than those two caveats, it's not going to be offensive in the pure sense of "etiquette". Odd, maybe. Offensive? Nope.
Agree with others. For the second one, I would actually feel uncomfortable for the simple reason that in these upscale restaurants, the chef has paired the wines with each course and while you're eating his/her food, you're saying that you don't think they have the palate to properly pair it with a wine. Also, a single bottle is not going to go with all the food. If the point is to experience the offerings of a talented chef, let them serve it the way they intend you to taste it... including the wine selection.
I will ask, since you said this is going to be on a "trip"... have you checked the BYO laws of the state you're going to be in? Where I live, it's illegal to bring a bottle if the establishment already has a license to serve. Not sure if your friend lives there already and knows the law or if you are traveling together to a new state where the laws might be different from where you live.
In most restaurants with a sommelier, the sommelier is doing the wine pairing to the food. The chef isn't worried about making a dish to pair with a specific wine. He's making the food he wants and its the sommelier's job to fine the best wine for that dish. That's why the have a wine professional on staff.
Ipsedixit has the right look at it for #2. If the bottle you're brining in isn't "special" (read: you can find it at a local wine shop, it's a mid range price at a shop) then they'll probably see it as avoiding their wine list because of prices but as long as they have a BYO option, you can do it. If the bottle is special and they have it on the menuu (even if it isn't special but on the menu) then you're treading in some uncharted waters.
It would probably be best to really investigate their wine list before brining in your own bottle. Call and ask for an emailed copy if it's not online.
"In most restaurants with a sommelier, the sommelier is doing the wine pairing to the food. The chef isn't worried about making a dish to pair with a specific wine. He's making the food he wants and its the sommelier's job to fine the best wine for that dish. That's why the have a wine professional on staff."
Yes, of course. I apologize for not splitting that hair.
There are restaurants really serious about wine where the kitchen will come up with dishes to complement a good bottle of wine. Some chef enjoy cooking around a bottle of wine and have the expertise to do so. Obviously advance notice would be needed, not only for the kitchen but also for decanting the wine hours ahead of time as necessary.
You can ask about non alcoholic pairings, some places do them. For a price of course.
For the second dinner, you may wish to start with bubbles by the glass or a half bottle of white from the list (if your friend has red). You can always buy more wine!
I have given up on wine pairings, think they are usually a rip off and rarely spectacular. I prefer to have a few glasses or half bottles for variety.