Strange encounters when wine arrives

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“A popular restaurant full to the brim, ended up offering me a free bottle because of the five wines I ordered sequentially, none of them were in stock,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

A MAN walked into a bar dressed as a tennis ball: he got served quickly.

Richard Calver.

This is a cri de coeur about service. I have had a run of strange encounters. No, not the sort I might be arrested for but the kind where I just wanted the proprietors to realise that wine and its service are very important elements of a night out or even a lovely lunch experience. 

I ask the question: why is wine and its service so often ignored? 

There are three admonitions or words of guidance that I proffer: please train your staff; please check your list for currency and accuracy and please pour the wine by-the-glass at the table.

I am not a believer in coincidence but at two venues that I went to recently, the female waiter confessed that it was her third day.

In the first establishment, I asked for a chardonnay as I had ordered fish that was oily and could take a white with body: I wanted something elegant with length on the palate, such as you get from the best Yarra Valley chardonnays. 

I asked for her recommendation. She said: “OMG, this is my third day and I know that there is chardonnay, I think.” 

Eh? After some time, she came back with two bottles, plonked them (pun intended) on the bar and said: “You can choose from the labels”. 

There was no offer of a taste or a recommendation made but I got my wish and we ordered a Giant Steps 2016 chardonnay from the Yarra Valley at $75, about double its retail price. 

It is a good wine but with a bit too much minerality for my taste. I make the suggestion that staff should be trained on the venue’s wine list, just as they are with the food on offer and ask that proprietors offer a taste of the wine they are selling – it adds marvellously to goodwill and means that repeat custom is more likely.

The second place, a popular restaurant full to the brim, ended up offering me a free bottle of wine because of the five wines I ordered sequentially none of them were in stock. 

I appreciate the gesture, although it came after I saw one of the owners mouth an imprecation to the waitress after the third wine ordered couldn’t be discovered. 

The waitress, who was in her third ever shift, had never opened a bottle of wine with a cork, so I showed her how. 

The food was very pleasant and good value but how could you not know that your wine list was a work of fiction? How could you not train your staff to teach them how to open a bottle of wine with a cork? It took me a few minutes to explain those matters but, seriously, is that what you want to be doing on a night out?

The third experience was at a Canberra chef’s hatted restaurant where I ordered a glass of wine with lunch. The etiquette is to show the customer the bottle before you pour because they know what they are getting and because it is good manners to pour the wine at the table. 

This was not a place where the food or the wine were inexpensive, so this level of service was expected. But no, on this occasion the wine came pre-poured. My companion was more offended than me and she doesn’t drink! So she asked the waitress: “How come you didn’t pour the wine at the table?”. 

The answer came: “We have a device so that we know exactly how much wine you are getting – no waste or overpouring so we know the customer is getting the amount they ordered and the boss is happy because the staff don’t over pour.” 

Intake of breath and a reminder not to return to this venue. Surely the risk of over or under pouring is able to be dealt with by marking the glass? Surely good manners should be remembered? 

 

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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