by Andrew Chalk
Lettie Teague writes the Saturday wine column in The Wall Street Journal. There is no single publication that gets deeper into the demographic for medium and high-priced wines. She covers her subject eclectically and last week decided to talk about wine serving rituals. I thought, thank God. She is going to deal with the most glaring deficiency in wine service rituals right now (and pre-COVID).
She runs through the old hoares
...giving the cork to the patron prior to service
...the sommelier wearing a tastevin (the metal cup worn around the neck)
...the idea that there is an optimal glass for each type of wine (a dig at Riedel, who built a business on this ridiculous nostrum).
However, she omits the most important ritual error of all...Why isn’t the wine-by-the-glass poured from the bottle right in front of the customer? It’s a ritual that isn’t done, but badly needs to be. I and my S.O. invariably order by the glass. Not only does she have a different palate from me, it gives us a chance to match wine better with the food and, in a city loaded with long wine lists, try more wines. Often it is something we haven’t had before.
All that means that the advantage to the customer of serving wine by the glass from the bottle at the customer’s table are…
It makes certain you get the wine you ordered. This is the most important reason to serve from the bottle at the table. I can’t count the number of times the vintage was wrong on bottles that I have ordered. With by-the-glass service away from the table you never really know. At one of Dallas’ most expensive restaurants, Bullion, I was served the wrong wine entirely.
It gives you the chance to memorize (and photograph) the label of the wine you are trying for the first time. And what about the condition of the label? That may be a clue as to how it was stored.
It gives you a visual cue, prior to tasting, whether the wine was stored at the right temperature. If a white wine bottle doesn’t look cold it may have been stored next to a warm coffee maker.
The downside? None to the consumer, especially in this age of full disclosure. Restaurants will make the effort if buyers expect it so, next time, ask them to do this.
There may be lots of anachronistic and non-useful rituals in wine service, but serving by-the-glass wines from the bottle at the table is one ritual that would improve wine service (and maybe wine sales as well).