Some UK Wine Issues


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Some UK Wine Issues

Bill Hunt | | Oct 29, 2011 05:25 PM

Along with the "TCA" wine issue, that I just posted of, I encountered some "oddities," in London last week.

We hosted four dinners, and two were also at Michelin starred restaurants (as was the one with the TCA incident, and each figures into the posting below), and things were not quite what I had anticipated. I had dined at one, a few years back, and things were totally different, regarding the wine service.

I'm going to rather lump things together, to get some thoughts on what I encountered, as the exact details should not make much difference.

There were two of the dinners, that were for groups of about 8 - 10 diners, and the menus were open, and I was then charged with choosing the wines for the table for each course. Before any orders had been placed, and even before the first amuse bouche offerings, I ordered a Chassagne-Montrachet and a Puligny-Montrachet (1er Cru each), and asked for Burgundy "balloon" glasses. No problem. The wines were presented to me, and I accepted each bottle (one per each of two restaurants). At that point, the sommelier disappeared! No wine was poured, either for me to taste, or for the guests to have. Though I had commented that the temps were excellent, and that no ice buckets were required, the bottles were placed in an ice bucket. As the amuse bouches were presented, I asked for the sommelier. He/she did not appear. With a second amuse bouche, I requested again, and in the other case, requested the sommelier from a passing server. In each restaurant, when the sommelier finally arrived, I asked about the wine. In each restaurant, the response was "Oh, you want me to serve the wines now?" I am sorry, and maybe this comes from being a "Yank," but "DUH! That IS what I want, or I would not have ordered the wine to begin with." With a look of abject surprise, the sommeliers did offer me a taste, which I approved, and finally, my guests were given wines.

In both cases, the sommelier flatly insisted that the wines be chilled, though I assured each that the cellar temp was quit good. The wines were now quite cold (guessing about 48F), so the wines were not showing well. One sommelier DID finally place the bottle onto the table, but the other refused to take it out of the ice. It was not until the second (in one case, and third in the other) bottle, that they finally eschewed the ice bucket. At least each restaurant had adequate glasses, and did not hesitate to use them, per my request.

I did not want to cause any sort of a "scene," as I was hosting, but this was just flat unacceptable. It also seemed somewhat universal, and I am worried about what looks to be some sort of a trend.

In one case, I had also ordered a Gevrey-Chambertin PN, and asked that it be poured along with the Chard for the first courses (many mushroom dishes around the table), but I could not get the wine, until the second courses were served - absent sommelier, and no server would touch the accepted bottles.

Also, in one restaurant, the chosen Puligny-Montrachet ran out, and I accepted a substitute, but the sommelier refused to give each guest a new, clean glass, and just poured the second wine atop any of the previous wine, saying "They are the same wines, just from different vineyards and producers/négociant and different vintage. Now, as we had requested larger bowl glasses, maybe the restaurant had run out of them, but that was not mentioned.

What did I miss? What has changed in the restaurant business? Why can't the host get what he/she requests, especially as I had guests relying on MY choices, with not only the wines, but the timing? Has the role of "sommelier" been elevated to the status of executive chef, where only what they want, will be honored?

Thanks for the comments and thoughts,


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