Notes from a Wine Detective
By Inspector Vino, Special to tableauvivante
Drinking in Public
The binder gives way to your prying fingers with the creak of leather and the dusty smell of parchment. Conversation lulls as all eyes turn to you. You try to look confident and thoughtful as you peruse page after page, but the writing has somehow devolved into a sea of foreign symbols. Is it suddenly hot, or is it just you?
No, this isn’t your first recital. You’re dining out with friends and they’ve handed the wine list to you.
What to do when confronted with a veritable book of Bordeaux, Barolo, and more? One of the best solutions is B-Y-O-B. Most fine eateries welcome guests that bring their own bottle. But to properly preserve the privilege, there is some etiquette to be observed.
A $10 to $20 corkage fee is average. Bear in mind restaurant wine is about double, but can be up to triple the store price. That means the markup on a $50 bottle can be anywhere from $50 to $100. Even if you view corkage as a thinly veiled tax, $20 beats $100 every time.
Classy places have been known to waive corkage for the right the bottle or event.
When it does come time to stare down a wine list, see how it’s organized. The old school’s standard is to arrange by region and varietal. This isn’t much help unless you see something you recognize.
Newer and better is a list that groups wines by style, often organizing them within groups from lighter to fuller bodied, for example. Some even suggest pairings. Still, it’s easy to be overcome. So just ask.
Wine is enjoying a renaissance. Servers are more versed and, not unlike their wines, younger and more approachable. The Internet seems rife with advice that assumes an adversarial relationship, but fine establishments employ career professionals with both a personal and financial stake in your enjoyment. Only happy customers come back.
If you pretend to know more than you do or try to impress your friends by challenging the sommelier’s advice, you may indeed see their snobby side. By admitting I’m lost, I’ve always been met with friendly, enthusiastic advice.
Of course, this just means you’re about to be interviewed on your tastes. So, for next time…
How to Ask for What You Want
What to do When the Bottle Comes.