Pet peeves

Business World - - ARTS & LEISURE - BY THE GLASS SHER­WIN A. LAO

What tick me off are wine ser­vices that af­fect the to­tal wine en­joy­ment in din­ing es­tab­lish­ments.

EV­ERY­ONE has pet peeves when it comes to day to day liv­ing. My two ma­jor pet peeves in­clude en­dur­ing peo­ple speak­ing loudly in movie the­aters while the movie is show­ing, and wit­ness­ing slow driv­ers hog the in­ner-most lanes in our high­ways dur­ing lean traf­fic pe­ri­ods. But what tick me off too are wine ser­vices that af­fect to­tal wine en­joy­ment in din­ing es­tab­lish­ments. Given how much I adore wines, there are many wine pet peeves I have amassed based on ex­pe­ri­ences not only here lo­cally but in my trav­els. See if you, my fel­low oenophiles, can iden­tify with these wine pet peeves.

1. Lousy Glass­ware — Imag­ine a good hearty Shi­raz, dark brood­ing in color, aro­mas of plums and co­coa es­cap­ing out of the bot­tle upon open­ing, and then, amidst all the height­ened ex­pec­ta­tion, this Shi­raz is poured into a short thick wine glass (worth less than P20 in Divi­so­ria). What a killjoy! In sit­u­a­tions like this, I al­ways ask for the wa­ter gob­let as a marginally ac­cept­able glass. My con­tention is that all restau­rants, es­pe­cially those who are very proud of their food and cui­sine, should in­vest in crys­tal glass­ware. Thaimade Lu­caris crys­tal glass­ware is ac­tu­ally not so bad to start with and much cheaper than your Riedel and Schott Zwiesel.

2. A Bro­ken Cork — OK, we are all hu­mans, and I have also ac­ci­den­tally bro­ken corks when open­ing wine bot­tles, but if I am in a fine din­ing restau­rant, and I just or­dered a P3,000 wine off the wine list, shouldn’t the waiter be a lit­tle more cau­tious in open­ing the wine? I know this hap­pens, maybe less than 2% of the time, but why, oh why, break the cork when it came to my bot­tle? There are un­der­stand­ably fac­tors lead­ing to a bro­ken cork, and these are not nec­es­sar­ily the waiter’s fault, but should this hap­pen, the din­ing es­tab­lish­ment should read­ily re­place the bot­tle, in­stead of get­ting the waiter to awk­wardly at­tempt to sal­vage the cork.

3. Generic Wine By-The- Glass — “Waiter, what are your wines by-the-glass? Re­ply: “Sir, we have White and Red!” In this age of wine so­phis­ti­ca­tion (or so I would want to be­lieve), we sadly still have plenty of restau­rants, and I am not re­fer­ring to sim­ply the ca­sual din­ing types but even those in the high-rental busi­ness dis­tricts, that are still la­bel­ing their pour­ing wines as sim­ply White and Red. And by hav­ing wines of­fered by generic ref­er­ence, you prob­a­bly have to ex­pect the worst wines if you or­der. In this case, can I get a gin tonic in­stead?

4. Un­clean/ Smelly De­canter — You ask for a de­canter be­cause you brought a very “heady” wine — a young Barolo that needs to be aer­ated faster for bet­ter en­joy­ment. You re­quested for a de­canter, and, for­tu­nately, the restau­rant has one, even made of crys­tal. Un­for­tu­nately though, and un­known to you, the de­canter has been kept in its orig­i­nal box and has not been used for weeks — then the waiter took this out for your wine. The prob­lem is the card­board smell from the box was still present, and your Barolo sud­denly had ad­di­tional com­plex­ity you wished it never had.

5. Wine List With Out of Stock Wines — Again, be­ing in this wine busi­ness, this sort of things does hap­pen quite a bit. A wine sup­plier sells an es­tab­lish­ment a wine they tasted and loved. The par­tic­u­lar wine gets listed, and then, due to lit­tle de­mand, the wine was not re­ordered, and it just ran out while the wine list was still rel­a­tively newly printed. It is a huge wine pet peeve of mine be­cause I al­ways take time read­ing the wine list, and af­ter a de­lib­er­ate wine choice was made (depend­ing on bud­get and food be­ing or­dered), I would be told — “Sorry sir,we just ran out of this wine.” The re­verse could ac­tu­ally be true too, when the wine sells so well that it en­coun­tered stock prob­lems due to sup­ply ex­ceed­ing de­mand — this, how­ever, is what good wine im­porters can­not af­ford to over­look.

6. Un­clear Cork­age Fee Policy — First, I am against cork­age fees in gen­eral, and there should be some com­mon­sen­si­cal rules, like no bring­ing of low-priced wines or of big com­mer­cial su­per­mar­ket type wines, or (most im­por­tantly) no bring­ing of wines al­ready listed in the es­tab­lish­ment’s wine list. But if you need to charge cork­age, a small amount like P300 should suf­fice to cover wine ser­vice and proper glass­ware — but what­ever you charge, it should be con­sis­tent. Here I will nar­rate my worst ex­pe­ri­ence with cork­age.

Over a decade ago, I brought a spe­cial 1985 Chateau Haut Brion to a pop­u­lar buf­fet restau­rant in a lux­ury ho­tel here in Manila. Cork­age was P1 per ml or P750/ bot­tle for reg­u­lar size then. It was my wed­ding an­niver­sary and it was the right time to open this 20+-year-old first­growth Bordeaux to share with my wife. When the waiter saw me with this bot­tle, he quoted me P750/ bot­tle. Be­ing in this busi­ness and also a wine writer, one of my “small” perks is to usu­ally have my cork­age waived, but since it was a spe­cial oc­ca­sion, I just shrugged off the fee and agreed to the cork­age. When the French F&B ho­tel guy saw this, he upped the cork­age to P1,500 and sud­denly the em­bar­rassed waiter was back in my ta­ble to tell me his su­pe­rior (the French F&B guy) said my cork­age should be P1,500 be­cause of the level of wine I brought in. This was re­ally a bla­tant in­dis­cre­tion. Why change the policy when the wine brought in was of the pre­mium kind? Would the ho­tel rather have me bring a Ma­teus or a Carlo Rossi?

Con­tin­u­ing my story, I was ready to walk out of the ho­tel in protest, but my wife said that we should just let this one go, and so I did. How­ever, the shocker did not end there. My waiter came back to me af­ter we were al­most done with the wine and buf­fet. He whis­pered to me that the French F&B wanted to have a lit­tle sip of the 1985 Haut Brion. Gosh — I got fu­ri­ous and gave this F&B guy the long mean gaze, while I drunk ev­ery last drop of my wine, even though sed­i­ments were al­ready poured into my glass. I even took the bot­tle home. Se­ri­ously. Be­ing a wine per­son, if I was charged just right, and this F&B guy asked for a taste, I would have obliged, but to dou­ble charge me, and then have the balls to ask for a taste at the same time — that was down­right in­so­lent!

7. Chill­ing White Wine Glasses — This has been prac­ticed for ages, but it still makes no sense to me. Maybe it was meant for aes­thet­ics? But it is so wrong. The mois­ture that comes from the chill­ing of the white wine glass is a ba­sic form of im­pu­rity, just like di­lut­ing wine with wa­ter. If it was sac­ri­le­gious to add ice to wines, then how is this prac­tice dif­fer­ent? Why not just serve a cold white wine in a room tem­per­a­ture wine glass and let the mois­ture form from the cold wine (the mois­ture will at least be out­side the glass and not in­side the glass), rather than from a chilled glass!

8. Waiters With Lit­tle Wine Knowl­edge — Again, not to be snooty, but es­tab­lish­ments with a wine list should at least train their wait­staff to un­der­stand ba­sic wine terms. Some­times cheap la­bor in the form of stu­dent trainees (OJTs) also adds to this dilemma in wine ser­vice stan­dards. But it is re­ally quite un­bear­able to hear waiters rec­om­mend wines they can barely pro­nounce. I feel, too, that with easy In­ter­net ac­cess and Google’s help, waiters should at least do their home­work on the wines they have on their wine list.

What are your wine pet peeves? Tell me via twit­ter or e-mail.

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