Tonight, with my wife out of town, I had dinner at the bar in one of the better restaurants in suburban Washington. Having travelled heavily for thirty years I thought it would be a real treat to have dinner at the bar-and then drive home and sleep in my own bed. The restaurant that I went to is not important. What is important is the lesson I learned. Because of my stupidity.
Both the menu and the forty page wine list were presented to me. There was a short list of both wines by the glass and also half bottles. I didn't want to order a full bottle because I was driving. I glanced at both, noted the $11 to 18 range of reds by the glass and the $30 to $200+ range of half bottles. I ordered a 2005 bordeaux whose name I had never heard before.
I need to mention here that I am something of a wine snob. I have over one thousand bottles stashed in closets, on racks and in EuroCaves around our house. My wife gardens. I drink. Most of what I have is for that end but I do have some first growths for investment from years such as 2000. I would like to believe that I am relatively sophisticated and have shopped, invested and drank intelligently. For years.
But I am stupid.
The sommelier-not the bartender, the sommelier-presented my half bottle of wine. He noted the '05 vintage, confirmed that it was what I had ordered and then after opening it presented me with the cork. I sniffed it. Then he poured a swirl into a glass, sloshed it around and noted it's correct color. I thought it looked thin, pale and cheap but didn't say anything other than uttering the monosyllable, "fine." He added that this was the last bottle they had, as if to confirm my judgment-others, many others, had wanted this also.
He poured more into my glass. After he left I tasted it. Swill. Serious swill. (Or, serious, swill!) I thought about complaining but for $40 I didn't want to make an issue out of it.
This restaurant is known for its bread course. The former baker had established something of a following with a number of breads and rolls that were among the best in the D. C. area. But not tonight. That baker has left following the founding chef to another restaurant. Tonight, I honestly thought that the free samples that Harris Teeter serves in some of its store were as good or better although I did like the butter.
There was no amuse despite the $12-20 first courses and $26 to $42 entrees. (I suppose that someone reading this will assume a value judgment on my part because of the way I am expressing this. You would be right.) My first course of asparagus soup was served. It wasn't very good. Nice color, aromatic but just not a lot of flavor. This was followed by a $32 halibut which, for all the world, tasted like what I would make from the frozen food case of Whole Foods. The six ounces or so of it was folded and laid on top of some kind of textural green emulsion that in three bites was gone. The halibut took several more to finish.
Forty minutes after sitting down I asked for the check. While waiting for the bartender (who never once topped my glass or served water until the end of the main course) I took another sip of the wine: swill was a kind appellation.
My check was for $132 and a few cents. I looked at it, noted $80 for a half bottle of wine and exclaimed, "I didn't order an eighty dollar bottle!"
As soon as I said this I noticed that the check was laying directly in front of the exact same bottle of wine as which the check correctly noted was $80.
I was wrong. Really wrong. Really stupid. When the wine was presented omniscient me had glanced at it, noted the 2005 vintage, that it was red (well, a faded red) and the name was French. All of this was correct. It was just a different French wine from what I had ordered.
But I didn't notice this. I said, "it was fine." When the sommelier poured and swirled and noted the color I said, "it was fine." He pointed out the label to me, "this is our last bottle." "That's fine."
I am a stupid man. Such a presumptuous, preoccupied fool that I couldn't even read that it was not the bottle that I had ordered. I was also wrong: I had accepted the wine, tasted it, drank it and whether or not I liked it, finished it. All complaining because it didn't taste like what I had expected it to taste like.
Of course not. Why should it? I had ordered a bordeaux and this was a burgundy.
Tonight I, a stupid man, learned a lesson. As I type this I can only thank goodness that it wasn't say, a bottle of '61 Lafite that I hadn't read the label of. That the check wasn't a thousand or more dollars. I was fortunate.
My real regret, stupidity aside, is that the restaurant had been disappointing. However with the mistake I made that which was served seems unimportant. Rather than I learned a lesson that I should have learned long ago. Now, approaching retirement, there is no excuse for not reading the fine lines...or a label.
Or pulling out my glasses to read what is on it.