Wine / Pouring over a taste of bad service

“I didn’t expect a poured glass of white wine with a hand wrapped around it like it was a brick to be thrown to be suddenly plonked down in front of me,” writes RICHARD CALVER

A DOUBTFUL verse that I have never been able to attribute to a particular poet shows the Australian tradition of excoriating bad service:

Richard Calver.

Richard Calver.

“What will you have?” said the waiter,
reflectively picking his nose.
“Two boiled eggs, you bastard.
You can’t put your fingers in those.”

But the tussle with a wine waiter that I recently experienced is relayed more in sadness than in anger, sadness that no one taught him even the basics of the service of wine.

The waiter concerned was serving in a restaurant where one of the reviews I read said it was the kind of place where you saved up to go for a special meal. It was not the sort of place where I expected to be confronted with a basic mistake, especially as it is fully licensed.

I ordered a glass of 2014 French chablis – the wine is named after a town in the northern-most region of Burgundy. The region produces a mineral, flinty greenish coloured wine. I wanted to match the chicken dish with something unusual and this seemed the best bet by the glass. There was no glassware on the table, but I didn’t expect a poured glass of white wine with a hand wrapped around the glass like it was a brick to be thrown to be suddenly plonked down in front of me without a by your leave.

It didn’t taste as I had expected. It seemed overly acidic and over-chilled. And when the waiter finally returned to the table I asked a pertinent question, pointing at the glass of wine: “How am I to know I’ve received what I ordered?”

He looked startled.

“You ordered the chablis.”

“Yes, but that’s not an answer to my question. Could you bring the bottle that you poured it from, please?”

“But you have a glass of chablis.”

“So you say; could I see the bottle that you poured my glass of wine from, please?”

The bottle was reluctantly brought to the table and thrust towards me to inspect. I did so. The label matched the wine’s description on the list. It was the first glass from the bottle so, I thought, the acidity should ameliorate. And it did. But I was nonplussed that the basics of serving wine had been ignored and I’d had to stretch my own sense of manners (well, when sober, at least).

The pouring out of a sip to taste, even when ordering wine by the glass, is much more than good manners, much more than civility. It is entirely practical. It enables the customer to assess whether the wine is corked or in some other way damaged perhaps in these days of screw caps, determining whether the wine in fact as well as in name is screwed?

If there is a smell of vinegar or damp blankets when you smell and swirl then send it back, especially where the place is fully licensed.

The other courtesy is showing the customer that the wine he or she is being served is in fact the wine that was ordered and of the vintage on the list. Please show vintages on wine lists! There is a world of difference between wines produced in 2012 and those produced in 2013 or later.

The customer should be permitted to taste the wine and even though this takes time, it is part of being treated properly, part of an experience that is beyond the everyday, and therefore worth caring about. This is especially the case in a restaurant where the cost of a meal with good wine is beyond the budget of a number of households.

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”

–Laurence Sterne


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