How to choose wine in a restaurant
Those of you who take advantage of restaurant meal offers may be taken aback that the final bill ends up being twice the amount you bargained for. The reason, of course, is wine and service.
Wine, in particular, is contentious. On the face of it, the mark-ups appear huge for what seems essentially just opening and pouring a bottle, but they reflect the costs involved: investment in stock, storage space, glasses and staff training all adds up. What I find hard to swallow, however, is that those mark-ups presumably also include service, and then (with the occasional rare exception such as Tate Britain) service is charged again on the whole bill.
This seems like a broken model, but it’s the main way restaurants make their money, so I don’t see it changing any time soon, particularly in the current tough trading climate. That said, an increasing number, such as M restaurants in London, have a retail outlet, too, and on quieter nights offer wine at shop prices; others offer BYO at least one night a week.
With less enlightened establishments, though, it pays to know how to negotiate a list. First, it’s worth dispelling a widely held myth that it’s the second or third wine on the list that’s the least good value. More to the point, it’s the wine you’re most likely to have heard of, so beware French classics such as sancerre, chablis, saintémilion and – don’t get me started – champagne, which is often offered at the beginning of a meal as if it were a gift and then turns up on the bill at £14 a glass (plus service).
A good guiding principle is to go for grape varieties and wine regions that you may not have heard of – grapes such as falanghina, zweigelt and bobal, for example, from lesser known areas of Italy, France and Spain. Wines from countries such as Greece, Hungary, Romania and Portugal generally represent good value, too, while unfashionable wines such as sherry (yes, still, amazingly) and muscadet are also rarely overpriced (though previously out-of-favour beaujolais is creeping up).
Finally, you might like to be reminded that, if a wine is corked or just tastes a bit tired, you should tell your server as soon as you taste it. Sometimes it may come from a bottle that’s been kept open too long. If it doesn’t seem right to you, don’t be palmed off by an “It’s supposed to be like that” response. That could be true with natural wines, but they should have flagged that up when you ordered it. Before refrigeration, shrubs were a popular way to preserve fruit, but they also work in cocktails. The drink is named after a character Bernie Sanders played in the lowbudget 1999 film My Ex-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception.
For the shrub, wash the grapes, cut them in half and put in a very clean tub. Pour over the sugar, seal and leave for two days. Strain the resulting syrup into a clean bowl, whisk in the vinegar, then pour into a sterilised bottle and seal. Shake well, then refrigerate, checking on the shrub and shaking now and then.
To make the cocktail, combine the rum and shrub in a tumbler, top with soda, garnish and serve.
The Good Egg Soho, London W1