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Jun 7, 2014 01:50 PM

Corkage in France

I have a problem or two with a very nice bistro that opened in a neighboring village a year ago. We went four times in the first few months and not since.

Because they refuse to put one red Burgundy on the wine list. The patrone says they have a list of local wines. I suggested that they could have a list concentrating on local wines with a few out of region exceptions, but I don't think that took hold.

Well, we have another nice bistro nearby and since they want to sell and leave in a NY minute, they no longer stock red Burgundies but they always have one for me - usually an Aloxe-Corton from Dubreil-Fontaine.

I want to make an effort to go there for dinner (if they have changed the menu - they chose a name that suggested seasonal cuisine but the menu hardly changed for months). I want to suggest a corkage fee of 15€ for a good bottle that I would bring.

What do you think? (Yes, I know this isn't done in France, but it's done all over California).

BTW I even wrote a nice bit about this bistro in the Trip Advisor.

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  1. I think I'd just run with the fact that it's their restaurant and so it's their choice what their wine list will contain.

    In France, asking to bring your own wine will, every single time, be construed as a not-very-subtle implication that their wine list does not meet your approval (and/or that they are incapable of choosing wines that complement their food), and it will go over like the proverbial lead balloon.

    You're fairly fortunate that suggesting alterations to the first guy's wine list didn't end up with you unceremoniously dumped at the kerb...and you'd be pushing your luck well past the breaking point by asking if you could bring your own bottle.

    Drink your favorite Bourgogne at home, and drink from their wine list when you're in their dining room.

    1 Reply
    1. Why don't you ask your (French) wife to call and ask. If they say yes then fine, if they say no you know where you stand. I suggest asking your wife to call because s a local she may be more persuasive than you could be (I am not doubting your communication skills).

      As you say it's unusual in France so don't hold your breath for appositive response. You do live in a re-emerging wine region so I assume their list includes some interesting wines. Why not simply surrender to their expertise? If it works then you have a win, if their choice is poor it's not going to be a tragedy.

      And, yes BYO is common elsewhere, but always wise to remember that if you get the one or two good things from home you may also get all the bad things that irritated you as well. Better to go with the flow and appreciate the benefits of living in France rather than dwelling on the memories of home.

      1. I would add to the good advice upthread that we have visited a village in the Languedoc for some 15 years and have, over time, been adopted into a handful of homes. What I have learned is that in a tiny community, people like to chat. And they chat about others in the community.

        I would be hesitant to make any demands or requests that brand me as "difficult". Just my personal MO.

        I would also remember that while a business may be on the market, it may languish for a long time. Years. During which time you will be dealing with the current owner.

        But remember that I am a wuss.

        1. "Because they refuse to put one red Burgundy on the wine list."

          A bistro after my own heart.

          10 Replies
            1. re: collioure

              No, just French. Burgundy idolatry is an American thing.

              1. re: Ptipois

                Well, if Oregon Pinot Noirs were possible, I'd include them too.
                It's the grape, not the origin.

                1. re: collioure

                  And you never wondered why pinot noir does not grow in Languedoc-Roussillon?

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    There's a little of it here. Makes a wine with fruit but no structure. Pinot Noir requires cool sun - Oregon, Burgundy and select valleys in California are ideal.

                    It's hot down here - Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre prosper. Highs of at least 27C for the next ten days.

                      1. re: collioure

                        I thought you could actually get some decent Pinot from areas like Limoux which have vines at altitude and have a maritime influenced climate. You need to know your growers and their vin du pays as they won't be labelled Pinot but they do exist.

                        In some areas of Languedoc you can get a similar climatic conditions that to the areas that grow Californian Pinot and Australian Pinot from Victoria. Generally hot and dry, but micro climates moderated by the cooling influence of the coast. Languedoc is re-emerging as a quality wine region and there are some interesting developments away from the traditions of the area.

                        Some examples:



                  2. re: Ptipois

                    I don't question any of the corkage advice here. But re "Burgundy idolatry is an American thing." Hmmm, I rise in defense and /or confession. Based on some blogs I follow it seems to me that Burgundy is much appreciated (to the point of what you might call idolatry) by at least ... Scandinavians (!) as well.

                    Anyway, although sometimes those southwestern wines fit the bill, and doubtless go well or best with the cuisine at restaurants there, I can certainly understand the general wish to have something more balanced, bright, and elegant. A steady diet of southwestern reds would become boring to me. And I will admit that after drinking lots of wine, our taste has moved to Burgundy. (In our experience, very few California or Oregon Pinots have the earthy and balanced character of real Burgundy.) --Jake

                    1. re: Jake Dear

                      'Something more balanced, bright, and elegant'

                      I feel the same way and imagine many French folks do too, since one of the nice things about travelling in France is the general availability of lighter-bodied red-wine options when eating out, cru Beaujolais or Loire valley, if the budget doesn't stretch to burgundy.

                      I too have come to prefer this style of wine for most food and most occasions, short of heavily-charred bloody-within red meat eaten in the dead of winter.

                2. re: Ptipois

                  Here's my dilemma. I'm constantly told that, in France, much more attention is paid to producing and selecting wine that is meant to go with the food being eaten. Restaurant owners and chefs in NY that I know seem to go out of their way to encourage me to look at the wine as part of my dinner and pick accordingly. So... following that logic, unless I fully believed that the owner of a place could not afford to carry or find a wine I have access to, but that she or he would utilize it if it was possible, I would assume that the wines chosen were as deliberate as any other aspect of the dinner & respect it. Sure, I might mention it once to see if the thought had not occurred to him/her, but not past that. No more than I would bring a different meat to the place ("have you tried making that dish with lamb instead?"). Exaggeration for the sake of CH argument, of course.

                3. Allow me to answer a few of these friendly suggestions.

                  Their wine list is well-chosen, and I see they have changed it substantially since November. I have never disaparaged their wine list - only indicated that its regional flavor could be preserved with the addition of a few out of department selections.

                  Nevertheless when I go out, I want something special and different. I prefer not to drink local Syrah-Grenache-Carignan-Mourvèdre. I have a bunch of those in my cellar. FYI when someone wants to drink a 1er cru Brugundy with your cuisine, it is a compliment whether you have one on your list or not.

                  I am in fact the local, not my wife. I have lived hereabout longer than she has, and I am on very good terms with all the restaurants we frequent.

                  23 Replies
                  1. re: collioure

                    "What do you think? (Yes, I know this isn't done in France, but it's done all over California)."

                    "I am in fact the local, not my wife."

                    I think I appreciate the contradiction.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      You made a faulty inference.
                      I know about California because of what I read at Chowhound Wine.

                      1. re: collioure

                        Okay. I usually don't do this, but this unfortunately is the moment to do it.

                        I am a wine writer, as well as an English-French-English translator of food and wine books (lately: Jay McInerney's wine columns, which got the Best Translation award last month at the International Cookbook Festival in Beijing, one of my books on wine having won the Edmond de Rothschild award for best wine writing in 2009). Those who know me here know that I do hate to blow my own horn, going so far as asking them to remove any reference to my books and awards online.

                        But there are times when the urge not to let silly things be unchallenged becomes stronger.

                        BYOB is common in the entire US, not just in California. It is definitely not a French thing, though it is not unknown, and is tolerated by some restaurants as long as you ask them for their permission.

                        As a matter of fact, the only French restaurant I know where BYOB is commonly practised *without corkage fee* is near... Bordeaux.

                        In this case, it is quite possible that bringing your darling Burgundian bottle to a restaurant with an all-local-Languedoc wine list would not only be considered bad manners, but the wine would probably not suit the food at all.

                        In this very case, this is what a true local would do: accept and respect the wine list such as the restaurant has created it, bearing in mind that the list reflects the food in the best possible way.

                        Burgundolatry is a strange phenomenon I have noticed particularly in American wine-lovers or would-be wine lovers. Very distinctive.
                        Nothing wrong with that, just sociological facts.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          Merci de votre franchise.

                          I am keenly aware of just about everything you wrote above. So I would never waltz in with my own wine, but I just penned an email that I will send shortly to see if we can find some common ground.

                          Since you are a wine writer, you must know that early on American Pinot Noirs were not as food friendly as French. In fact that was the case with lots of California varietals in the 80's.

                          I remember a little contest at my son’s house a while back. He had a gorgeous Mondavi Pinot Reserve which won the head-to-head tasting hands down, but with dinner the Volnay 1er cru from Lafarge stole the show.

                          As for wine-food matches I’ll take Pinot Noir over Mediterranean red blends any day of the week. It's almost never wrong.

                          FYI I maintain a cave of 225-350 bottles – 99% French from all corners of the country. Good, not grand wines. mostly 7-10€.

                          1. re: collioure

                            A simple solution would be to flip the emphasis in your cellar, drink Pinot at home and off the list when you are out.

                            1. re: mangeur

                              I don't think you quite understand. I only serve Pinot with very good food. Those are the best wines I buy (and I am about to replenish - read €€€ - the stock I bought in 2007).

                              So I order it in restaurants and serve it to my guests.

                              I have written a very nice note to the bistro, and we'll see what she says.

                              BTW I didn't just write a nice review in the Trip Advisor. They asked me to do it - and I did in two languages only to find out that just one would be accepted. I'm one of the more savvy diners hereabout.

                            2. re: collioure

                              I totally understand.
                              I still remember a great California pinot noir from the early 1980s. Forgot what winery it was from (the label was olive green). Sunnier and warmer than most pinots noirs, so I loved it. Not sure it was food-friendly, probably it wasn't. The meal included plenty of garlic and there was no way I could know.

                              Aside from that, I am not a fan of pinot noir (as red wine. Pinot noir in champagne I have no problem with). As a red wine it is elegant and racy, but with insufficient body for me, and a "cold" nature that does not agree with me. Nine times out of ten, a red pinot noir gives me a headache the next day, grand cru or not.

                              White Burgundies are in my opinion the best dry whites in the world. Reds I'm not so sure. Originally, the Burgundian terroir was supposed to be good for whites, not for reds. The Bourguignons (Lydia and Claude, soil experts and vineyard consultants) do insist on that. They say that dry whites are the true talent of Burgundy.

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                See. I knew you were a bordelais! <g>

                                The dry whites are marvelous, but I enjoy the reds just as much and more often.

                                And, yes, Pinot Noir grows well in nearby Champagne.

                                1. re: collioure

                                  I'm a Norman by my mother's side, and an Auvergnate by my father's side. I just surrendered to Bordeaux's sheer seduction :)

                                  My favorite French wines, aside from bordeaux, are côtes-du-rhône, particularly the Northern CDR: cornas, côte-rôtie, hermitage, crozes-hermitage, condrieu and the like. I also very much like wines from the Languedoc, Jura, Provence, and the Southwest. I only have a problem with red pinot noir, including the one made in Alsace. I like wines to be warm and generous.

                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                    Interesting. I recall you had a similar preference for full-bodied over bright acidic coffee in a long-ago discussion.

                                    1. re: shakti2

                                      Yes, I suppose that is part of the same logic.

                                      I do like 'light' reds as well — bourgueil, morgon or chanturgue for instance —, but the ones based on pinot noir do not agree with me. I think they have a "cold" character (in the Chinese sense of the term) and I don't seem to digest them. Only some exceptional bottles like a bonnes-mares from long ago seem to do it for me. So, considering the rarity of that occurrence, and the pricing of decent red burgundies compared to all other wines (including bordeaux), I can safely assume I do not like red burgundies.

                              2. re: collioure

                                Are you taking a really good wine to the restaurant or simply a run of the mill one?

                                That can make a difference, in that a restaurant is more likely to accept a special bottle, especially if it has a bit of age, rather than something similar to the level on their existing list.

                                I would question whether anything in the €7 to €10 range is that good, I know you live in a wine region but at this price range you are buying in the bottom third of the local price range. And whist a Premier Cru burgundy may sound special, it can be considered to be a relatively middle tier wine, especially if it hasn't been cellared. Maybe you need to take a Grand Cru, or a bottle with at least ten to fifteen years age.

                                So maybe it's about the quality of wine you wish to take?

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  FYI my red Burgundies cost on the order of 20€/bottle. From the top producers in several of the Cote-de-Beaune villages - mostly 1er cru. But that's really not an issue.

                                  1. re: collioure

                                    €20 a bottle for burgundy (retail in France) is very much mid-priced. It's probably a wine I would also drink and enjoy and €15 to €20 is very my usual range.

                                    But to be frank it's not going to be particularly special at that price point and therefore not really justify BYO as it's not going to be to different from the quality of wines on most lists.

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      Purchased at the wineries in 2007. I will probably be paying at least 30% more to replace them next fall. I expect to order from Rapet, the leading vintner in Pernand-Vergelesses. I read that Vincent Girardin sold his enterprise; he was a wonderful producer.

                                      Mercurey 2005 Jeannin-Naltet
                                      Clos de Grands Voyens 1er Cru

                                      Santenay 2005 Vincent Girardin
                                      les Gravières 1er Cru

                                      Pernand-Vergelesses 2004 Rapet
                                      Ile de Vergelesses 1er Cru

                                      Savigny-les-Beaune 2005 JM Pavelot
                                      aux Guettes 1er Cru

                                      1. re: collioure

                                        So it's €26 a bottle.

                                        You're still either missing or sidestepping Phil's's still not pricey enough to be special enough to justify smacking this woman across the nose with her own wine list.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Once again, Sunshine, this is not a battle. It's just a friendly conversation.

                                          26€ ($35) is not a lot of money for a bottle of wine in the US. However, it is in France.

                                          1. re: collioure

                                            €26 for a decent burgundy is cheap even in France - it's a wine that has stratospheric pricing. But for general wines then yes, €26 (retail) is at the higher end.

                                        2. re: collioure

                                          Yep I was buying in the region regularity between '05 and 07 and that was the basis of my assessment, great wines which I would love to drink.

                                          But not really in the top tier that I would negotiate specially to take to a restaurant that wasn't an established BYO place. Instead I would be keen to explore the lighter local wines on the list......there must be some if the list is well put together. Not all Languedoc wines are massive powerful, alcoholic beasts that dominate subtle food,

                            3. re: collioure

                              I don't doubt your local expertise, I was simply suggesting that as your wife is French she may have more success at influencing a fellow French person than you would do as a foreigner (no matter how long you have lived there).

                              In my experience the bond of National to national will always trump that of an incomer (in just about every country I have lived in) e.g. I moved to my adopted country over 20 years ago but I am still considered a foreigner so leave certain things (plumbers, builders etc) to my wife as she has the right accent.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                Indeed. In some places, three generations does not a local make.

                                1. re: mangeur

                                  "Indeed. In some places, three generations does not a local make."
                                  Totally off topic but sort-of OT;
                                  In college I commended the then head of the Boston Atheneum on how much he must be pleased that his daughter married a Bostonian - "Oh no, John, his family has been here only five generations."