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A wine tragedy

$1m of Mollydooker Wines 2010 Velvet Glove Shiraz lost in forklift crash

  • By Tim Dornin
  • From: AAP
  • July 22, 2011 3:17PM

A MCLAREN Vale wine maker says he’s “gut-wrenched, shocked and numb” after losing more than $1 million of his flagship shiraz when a container crashed from a forklift.

Mollydooker Wines‘ 2010 Velvet Glove Shiraz sells for $185 a bottle, but now winemaker Sparky Marquis has lost a third of his production after the mishap which destroyed all but one of the 462 cases bound for the US.

As the container hit the ground the force of 12 tonnes crushed the cartons, reducing many to a third of their normal size.

“It was unbelievable, crazy. It was not what I wanted to hear,” Mr Marquis said.

“When they opened up the container they said it was like a murder scene.

“There was red everywhere.

“But it smelled phenomenal. They were really impressed with the smell.”

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/business/m-of-mollydooker-wines-2010-velvet-glove-shiraz-lost-in-forklift-crash/story-e6frez7r-1226099902926

Sarah and Sparky Marquis lost a container of $185-a-bottle 2010 Velvet Glove Shiraz. Picture: James Elsby Source: The Advertiser

An incredible loss. I hope the forklift operator wasn’t sneaking hits of The Boxer while trying to operate the lift.

All but one case meant for the US destroyed. Sob. Now that’s a left hook!

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Viognier

It’s French., It’s sexy. It’s a rising star. It’s Viognier.

Pronounced “vee own yay”. it’s a white varietal that has long been famous in Europe, especially for it’s use in Condreau, one of the more exotic French whites. I say “exotic” because it’s flavor profile is different from the typical Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio-based wines that Americans have become accustomed to. If there’s a white grape that most closely resembles it in terms of flavor notes, I’d say that it’s Riesling, although Riesling is sweeter than Viognier. Viognier is usually described as “perfumey”.

Viognier at its best produces a floral, rich-tasting wine. It’s not done as often in an oaky style because oak can deaden the wonderful floral, tropical fruit and spice notes, but there are Viogniers that feature oak flavors.

Due to the increasing US consumer’s expanding interest in wine and a desire to get away from the usual suspects, Viognier is on the upswing here in the States. This is a good thing since Viognier almost vanished from the wine world back in the 60s. Not only has it made a bit of a comeback in France, where only a relative handful of acres were devoted to Viognier plantings, it’s starting to make a foothold in California.

Like Pinot Noir, it’s a fussy and hard-to-grow grape. If proper care isn’t taken, it can produce a flat, somewhat flabby wine. But when it’s done correctly, it produces a full-bodied white with such floral notes as apple blossoms, violets, honey, honeysuckle, jasmine and roses, spicy notes such as mint, tobacco (!), anise and vanilla, and unctuous fruits like guava, earthy fruits like pears and apricots and tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. As you can see, it shares some of the flavor characteristics of Riesling, but without the sweetness. There are two other things that it shares with Riesling and those are it’s luscious, oily mouthfeel and nose. When oak is employed, it’s often of the more “buttery” kind.  These characteristics can move a guest who likes the “fruitiness” of Riesling to the drier and more food-friendly Viognier.

So, what do you pair with Viognier?

They go well with salad-based dishes.  They are one of the few wines that pairs well with Oriental food, especially spicy Thai dishes, and they pair well with coconut spicy curries (I don’t find it as good of a match with Indian-style curries, but that’s a personal choice). They go well with fatty white fish like sea bass and halibut. And they are marvelous with fruits and fruit sauces.

We’re starting to see dessert wines made from Viognier. Since Viognier isn’t particularly susceptible to boytritis, growers usually rely on late-harvesting and manipulation in order to produce a sweet product.

Viognier doesn’t produce a wine conducive to aging. It should usually be drunk within 3 to 5 years because it tends to lose it’s “perfumey” character.

We’re increasingly seeing Viognier used in blending with Chardonnay because it brings a lot of freshness to the sometimes overbearing qualities of Chardonnay. It’s also used in exotic blends like Conundrum (I only suspect this since they don’t really list their varietals).

I’m not going to recommend any particular wines since it’s likely that if you’re even lucky enough to have Viognier on your wine list, you’ll only have one or two to choose from. The best thing to do is to buy a couple of them from your local wine store and get familiar with the flavor profiles. Or perhaps you could convince management to do a tasting.

It’s time for you to add Vigonier to your wine palette.

Image courtesy of http://wine.appellationamerica.com/

It’s hot!

Here in the Mid-South, it’s hotter ‘n a tick on the back of a yard dog sleeping on a WalMart parking lot.

What I wouldn’t give for a nice cold glass of rosé.

“Wait, Teleburst”, I hear you exclaim, “aren’t you always talking about quality??!!?? Why do you want to drink a white zinfandel”?

Well, dear reader, I don’t. I don’t want to drink a white zin at all, I want to drink a rosé, that wonderful light summer wine from the hottest part of France, Provence, or perhaps a Tavel from the Southern Rhone, also a pretty hot area.

A good rosé is a marvelous thing. Just as a Tom Collins is a rather ordinary drink that is transformed into the greatest thing since sliced bread if you’re sitting on a hot porch watching the sun beat down on your tomatoes, a true French rosé is a tonic for the soul.

What is rosé anyway? Some call it “blush wine”, for obvious reasons. It’s the color of a fair maiden’s flushed cheeks when she gets those primordial stirrings. White zinfandel is America’s McRosé. A pale imitation (pardon the pun).

Rosé is basically red wine interrupted. The skins of red grapes are removed before full extraction. This reduces the tannins and lightens the color and body. The wine is then finished in a similar fashion to white. Stainless steel is used to avoid the influence of wood.

I’m not a big expert on rosé and I haven’t drunk a lot of them. therefore, I’m not going to give a lot of advice only to say that, of the few that I’ve enjoyed over the years, I’ve never been disappointed. They are priced so that you can experiment without a lot of downside. Start with Tavel or any of the Cotes de Provence wines. They should be drunk young.

Cop a little of the Provençal lifestyle and take the afternoon off. Throw together a nice tapenade, some summer sausages, perhaps a nice ceviche, some crusty bread, a couple of nice cheeses, a nice arugula salad dressed with a light red wine garlic vinaigrette, a squeeze of lemon juice, croutons, diced heirloom tomatoes and watermelon, find a patio with a big umbrella, gather some friends, snag some Campari and ice, and chill a bottle of  Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 which I can pick up for you locally for 10.99.  Here’s the description, courtesy of Frugal MacDougal’s:

A wine for all seasons, but especially summer in the south. A blend of 80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache, sources from Provence. Versatile and refreshing with its fruit-forward approach, yet dry enough to work with a variety of foods, from spicy dishes to simple fare. The nose exhibits wild flowers and nutmeg, and the red fruit flavors are persistent throughout the glass. Serve it with a good chill.

Doesn’t that just sound delightful? Your next step is to imagine that one of your companions is Grace Kelly, your Austin Healy 3000 is parked around the corner and you are sitting on the Côte d’Azur amid window boxes of geraniums and bushes of rosemary. You can smell the sea air and the roll of $20 in your pocket slated for a couple of days at the Casino in Monaco is burning a hole in your pocket.

Book of the day – The Essential Wine Book by Oz Clarke

Oz Clarke’s New Essential Wine Book: An Indispensable Guide to Wines of the World

by Oz Clarke

  • Publisher: Fireside; 3 Rev Upd edition (December 20, 2005)
  • ISBN 10: 0743286685
  • ISBN 13: 978-0743286688
  • Note: all comments forthwith are based on the 1996 edition of this book.

    Robert Parker says it best on the cover of the edition that I own – The Essential Wine Book…is the best introductory text to wine and the most enjoyable to read.

    My edition is over 15 years old, having been published in 1996. Clarke, a wry Brit who’s not Australian despite his nickname, has found a format that really makes it easy for the wine neophyte to get a handle on the oft confusing world of wine. The book is small enough to be easily handled and large enough to offer space for nice color photographs and numberous sidebars.

    The book is quickly outdated as he gives specific vintage recommendations and specific wine choices. That’s part and parcel of a book that tries to be a consumer guide in addition to a reference work. Even some of the editorial commentary is outdated, but that’s the nature of a rapidly evolving wine trade.

    But what makes this a standout purchase, especially for people who need some brushing up on their wine knowledge, is the ease in which he throws open the curtains to an often complex and arcane wine world.  The book is logically designed and his observations are clearly personal and somewhat idiosyncratic. He doesn’t just plug in the generic tasting notes for the various varietals and regions that some volumes do. It’s clear that he’s describing the various products from his own tasting perspective and when he hasn’t tasted something, he’ll tell you, as in the case of Château Le Pin, the Pomerol winemaker who has surpassed Château Petrus as the world’s most expensive wine due to its tiny output (the output has tripled to ~600 cases a year from the ~200 cases per year at the time of my edition’s publication).

    Clarke has the ability to describe the characteristics of the land and environment that make each wine-growing region unique without sounding too abstract or scientific.

    This would be the perfect book for a waiter to keep in his or her locker or backpack at all times. You can pick it up, open it at any point, and learn something new about wine. His conversational style is refreshingly honest and colorful. It’s a delightful read and there are enough color photographs to give you a sense of the parts of the world that he’s discussing.

    All in all, for beginners, if there were one book that I would recommend, it would be the latest edition of this book, although, if you come across a copy of an earlier edition for $1.50 as I recently did, you should snap it up.

    You won’t be sorry.

    Clarke also has an informative and entertaining web site here:

    http://www.ozclarke.com/

    Wine topic of the day – Petite Sirah

    Neither petite (in terms of body and color) nor syrah (often confused with Petite Syrah which is a small-berried syrah found in the Rhone), this grape was long thought to be a relative or variant of Durif, an almost extinct minor French varietal. According to Jancis Robinson, this has been disproved by modern DNA analysis, although this isn’t held universally. See this site for additional information about the parentage:

    http://www.winelabels.org/artsirah.htm

    And also see the comment section for a comment by Jo Diaz, founder of P.S. I Love You, an advocacy group for Petite Sirah, where she definitively states that Durif, the original cross between Syrah  and Peloursin done by Dr. Durif to try to eliminate powdery mildew in Syrah, is indeed Petite Sirah.

    Petite Sirah has been an important blending grape for years, and recently has come to the forefront as a varietal worth bottling on its own, much as Cabernet Franc has become fashionable. For instance, Petite Sirah is useful for adding color and spine to weaker Cabernet Sauvignon vintages and it’s been used to add body and color to washed out Pinot Noirs. In fact, Petite Sirah has been planted in California since the late 1800s. If you’ve drunk Ridge’s Zinfandels, you have likely experienced Petite Sirah as part of the blend. They use Petite Sirah extensively to augment their excellent Zinfandel program. And, they bottle it independently as well.

    However, it’s a very nice grape on its own. At its best, it produces an inky, almost black color and offers a reasonable alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, offering a slightly lighter body and tannic structure. For someone who finds Cabernet Sauvignon too big,  Zinfandel too “earthy” and Pinot Noir too light, Petite Sirah can be a good offering. when I serve a Petite Sirah, I always mention that the color doesn’t betray the body, that its darkness and opacity isn’t a true indicator of its body. Sure, it’s full-bodied, but it’s generally more “drinkable” than a big, sandpapery Cabernet, at least for people who find them just too big. This means that you can pair it with large-flavored dishes, and, an additional advantage is that it’s somewhat obscure to the average wine drinker and it offers a different flavor profile.

    The problem? Most wine lists don’t even have a Petite Sirah. And if they do, you’re usually stuck with just one or two choices. If you are interested in this wine, you might lobby your wine buyer to add one or two to the menu. Of course, if you do that, you’ll need to personally try to sell it because it’s not going to sell itself.

    What are the general characteristics of Petite Sirah?

    As I’ve mentioned, it has an extremely dark, black color. You won’t be seeing through it as you examine it in the glass. Some fairly frequent notes are similar to Cabernet Sauvignon –  pepper, cedar, coffee, plum, blackberries, dark cherry, i.e. “dark fruits”.

    Some wine experts find it lacking in distinction, a little lacking in character. But that’s what makes it good as a bridge for the uninitiated. What it lacks in “character” it makes up in “drinkability”.

    Bogle and Concannon are probably the best known of the California vintners. They offer low cost versions that are fairly reliable. Ridge, as I have mentioned, is a higher-end brand. Stag’s Leap has another bottling that will set you back some coin (I believe that they spell it with a “y”).

    So what would you pair with Petite Sirah? Pretty much anything you’d pair with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Syrah. Big, meaty, fatty meats. Rich stews. Roasted meats. Game. In my opinion, it would be a better match with tuna and salmon than any of the aformentioned varietals.

    If you google the name, you’ll find some interesting information that can not only help you navigate the “controversies” swirling around the grape, but you might also get a bit confused, but don’t let that stop you from exporing this nice alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage and, yes, Syrah.

    Photo by Jo Diaz, taken at Foppiano Vineyards

    Tipping on wine

    It seems to be fashionable these days to allow the non-tipping or severe discounting on expensive bottles of wine. This is a dangerous trend because it’s even been extended to say that tipping should only be done on food and not alcoholic beverages.

    What’s next – only tip on main courses – you shouldn’t tip on appetizers?

    C’mon people, let’s get real.

    The main reason for these new pockets of “wisdom” is the escalation of price on wines.  As more restaurants offer better and more expensive bottles of wine, the “average American” sees this as a justification for the reduction of the tip. When wine was usually $4 – 6/glass and $30 a bottle, it didn’t seem important. But as the average price of wine is $8 – 15/glass and bottles average more like $40 – 70 these days, people are finding “justifications” for not including this new cost of dining into the tipping equation.

    Frankly, this is just bullshit.

    Here’s an example of how convoluted people are trying to make this. From www.tipping.org’s section on restaurant tipping:

    The Tip calculation should be based on the PRE-TAX ammount (sic). Also, tips involving liquor should follow the following guidelines:

    • If one bottle of wine was ordered, then it is usually okay to include it’s (sic) cost into the tip calculation.
    • If there is a lot of wine ordered or if the price of a single wine bottle is above $10, I think it’s (sic) cost should NOT be included in the final tip calculation.

     

    Frankly, when was the last time you saw a $10 bottle of wine on a wine list? I’ve been in the biz for over 15 years straight now and the cheapest bottle that I ever saw was $18 for a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel and this was in the last millennium. That same bottle costs upwards of $30 in most restaurants now.

    So, basically the last part of this advice cancels out the first part.

    And it’s quite disappointing to see that some young people are “learning” that you “don’t tip on alcohol”. I have no idea where that came from.

    Here’s the deal – wine has always been tipped on – in the old days, you tipped the wine steward/sommelier. The function of the sommelier has been taken over by the waiter. I would never argue that we waiters have the same level of expertise, since not only does the sommelier train far more extensively for wine service, they have actually tasted every wine on their list and every wine that darkens their door. A waiter can never do that. A waiter can’t even usually taste change of vintages either. But a waiter needs to have enough information to guide the guest. A sommelier only does wine. They don’t have to take food orders, deliver food, manicure tables, etc. So, people should consider the added burden on the waiter when the waiter is also responsible for the wine service. We waiters have to spend a lot of our free time staying current about wine, especially those of us who work in restaurants with expensive bottles of wine. For those of us who work in such a restaurant, wine is a very large portion of our sales.

    “But…but…what if I don’t need “wine service” per se. I know about wine and I can pick out my own wine”, I heard the tightwad sputter. “why should I have to tip on wine. All the waiter does is bring the bottle, open it and pour it”. Well, my friend, all I do is take your order for food and bring it to your table, right? Look, the wine service is part and parcel of your dining experience, just as the “food service” is. Plus, in some restaurants, that nice crystal glass that you’re drinking from has to be hand-washed. It certainly has to be hand polished. I remember nights hand-washing and hand-polishing dozens of glasses in a shift (my current restaurant has nice crystal but it’s machine-washable – although every glass on my tables has to be hand-polished, so I don’t avoid that particular task).

    “But…but…wine prices are insane! Why should I tip you on a $150 bottle of wine? It takes the same effort to pour that bottle as it does a bottle of White Zinfandel”. Hey buddy, you’re sputtering again. Well, first of all, I didn’t twist your arm to order that $200 bottle of wine. It’s not my fault that it costs more than your food. It’s not me trying to impress your date or help you close an important business deal or reward a successful colleague. You want to play, you gotta pay. If you had wanted, I could have brought you a perfectly fine $40 bottle of Cabernet instead of the Opus One. Are you going to now argue that you should tip less on the $60 dry-aged filet because, hell, it’s over twice the cost of the $25 sirloin? Obviously it’s no more work for me to bring one over the other.

    People who can afford to buy a $100 bottle of wine can afford the tip. They shouldn’t be chiseling the bill down on the back of the waiter and his or her support staff.

    I’m willing to cut a patron a bit of a break if their wine bill is very high. If you were going to tip me 20% for my excellent service on a $1000 bill ($500 of it just on wine), I’d be happy with $170 and I’d understand. However, if you thought my service was excellent and you would have tipped me $200 if not for the wine and you leave me $100 – $150, I’m going to think that you’re a fucked-up tipper on the low-end or just an OK tipper on the high-end, especially if you praise me for my service. Why should you care what I think? Well, you probably shouldn’t, although many people who complain about having to tip seem to think it’s important.

    So here’s the deal. Wine is part of the meal. It’s tipped on, just like the rest of the meal. If the amount is way out of balance to the food, by all means, adjust down. But you should always tip at least 16% on the whole meal if you thought the service was great. If you are the type that never tips more than 15% regardless, then do what you must. But keep in mind that this will label you as a mediocre to lousy tipper (of course, you probably don’t care, since you don’t reward great service in the first place).

    And, just so you know, most serious wine collectors and wine mavens tip on the full value of the wine. They even usually tip close to the full value of a wine that they bring in themselves. Not only do they pay a corkage fee, which covers the loss of sales to the restaurant, they usually will tip the waiter as if they had bought the bottle from the restaurant to compensate the waiter for the loss of sales. This has been my experience with some fairly important players in the wine community in my city, a city that has a pretty strong wine community. having said that, a dismaying number of “average people” who bring in a bottle and pay the corkage fee don’t tip on the lost sales. They should stop that. I guess they think that the $3 I get from their 20% tip on the $15 corkage fee makes up for the lost $10 tip on that bottle that would have been $50. I just hope they don’t get the idea to bring their own steak in for cooking  to save money on the bill and the tip.

    Cartoon from http://www.winepressnw.com/photos/gallery/2386-a3831-t3.html

    Wine topic of the day – corks and screwtops

    Steve at Waiter Extraordinaire was musing about corks vs. screwtops. Seems his cherry was popped when he got his first “corked” bottle from a screwtop.

    Screwtops, a.k.a. Stelvin closures, are said to be the thing that will eliminate most cases of wine spoilage. TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloranisole, a compound that has caused a few California wineries to have to toss out large portions of some of their bottlings and is primarily responsible for the “wet cardboard” smell of corked wine, can be almost eliminated by going to the Stelvin closure.

    However, this isn’t entirely true. Obviously, wine can be contaminated at various stages of manufacture. Cork taint isn’t the only problem that can occur in wine. wine can be “maderized”, or basically oxidized in the bottle. You can tell this as an unnatural cloyingly sweet flavor in wines that shouldn’t be that way. It might remind you of port, a flavor that’s great if you’re drinking port, but not if you’re drinking a big cab.

    Wine can have an overly sulphuric aroma and flavor. Wines can be “skunky”, which is the result of thiols.

    There are many so-called ‘wine taints” not directly associated with corks. Wikipedia has a good article on them that can be useful for every waiter to at least skim:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_fault

    Here’s an interesting article that briefly covers some of the problems that can occur in the physical plant itself:

    http://www.fst.vt.edu/extension/enology/EN/94.html

    Obviously, most of us waiters prefer the cork. It’s part and parcel of the ceremony of wine. It invests wine with an additional value due to the skill that’s required to remove the cork (a skill easily and quickly learned, I might add). There’s history behind the cork, and the cork adds a tactile element as the guest can pick it up, examine it, squeeze it to test it and handle it occasionally through the meal if he or she desires. There’s also a marketing angle on the cork as most are marked with the name of the vintner. It also allows the guest to become part of the QC process if they know a lot about wine because the cork can tell you some things about the wine that you’re getting ready to experience. and there’s just something primal and somewhat sensual about a cork from a red wine that has been aged a bit – the cork itself is starting to be pliant, and there might be a dark burgundy tip with some earthy-looking deposits formed on the end. It brings home the living and evolving nature of the wine, something you just don’t get with a screwtop.

    And, let’s face it, there’s already a portion of the dining public, and some “tip advisors” that say that it’s ok not to tip on expensive bottles of wine (which is, of course, total bullshit).  Screwtops give them even more reason to discount tipping on wine. They say, “How hard is it to open a screwtop bottle and pour it”, forgetting of course that you might very well ask, “How hard is it to carry a plate and put it on the table”? Or, “How hard is it to open a beer bottle and pour it”? (I’m going to deal with this whole “tipping on wine” think in a future rant).

    Screwtops are bloodless and lack flair. It’s no different opening a bottle of wine than opening a bottle of Perrier. And what do you do with the cap? The guest has been conditioned to take a cork – sometimes there’s a bit of uncomfortableness between guest and waiter. It can be just a touch awkward in these early days of screwtops. I recommend that the waiter simply puts the top on the table in case the guest needs to take some of the bottle home. This of course is awkward from a table busing standpoint. The waiter and the server assistant have to be careful not to bus it. I’m not sure that there is a standard established regarding the handling of the top. This would be my suggestion – bring out a B&B (bread and butter plate) to set the top on. If it’s clear that the whole bottle is going to be poured, simply pocket the cap and remove the B&B. If it’s unclear, then leave it on the B&B until it’s clear that it won’t be used. As always, house policy trumps any advice that I give here.

    My opinion about the screwtop? If it means that less wine gets destroyed because of cork taint, I’m all for it. It’s not clear how much advantage a cork makes in aging over a screwtop (research has shown that it’s not much). For the bulk of wines that are served in restaurants, cork will make absolutely no difference because most restaurant wines are served within a handful of years anyway.

    What is lost is a little of the ceremony, the mystery, the…shall I say it?…soul of the wine experience. It cheapens it a little, but let’s remember that, in the end, what we’re looking for is the quality of the wine.

    If i sound wishy-washy, perhaps I am. I love the opening of the cork. I enjoy it in and of itself and it just feels strange to crack a screwtop. but that’s because it’s a new thing, I suppose. I don’t mind having to take the time to cut the capsule just right, line up my corkscrew just so in order to keep from tearing the cork on the sides (and I’m not always successful), present the cork, etc. Sure it’s time away from doing other things, but as wine is usually a good portion of my sales, it’s time well-spent and time where I get to show a little expertise, although I don’t make a huge production of it.

    Out of the box idea for waiters with extensive wine lists

    If you work in a restaurant that has an extensive wine list, you might consider starting an in-house “wine club”. Waiters can chip in X-amount each “meeting” to purchase several wines off of the list for comparison tasting. You might be able to buy the bottles directly from your own stock at cost, but this could also be against local regulations, so this is something that you’ll have to check out with your management.

    It doesn’t have to be a formal thing. But if you get a few waiters together who have the interest in trying as many wines off of the list as you can, you work your way through a lot of the list at little cost to each person. Remember, this is going to be a tasting thing, so even a $100 bottle (a $200 – 250 wine list price in most restaurants) split between 10 people is still just $10. A third/fourth of a glass of something in that price range is a bargain. And how often are you going to get the chance to taste something like that? And think about doing three or four $30 bottles ($75 – $90 wine list price). That would be a nice, informative tasting for a few bucks, especially if you stay in a certain category or flight.

    The problem with doing this is just doing it. It’s hard to get people together with the schedules that we all work, and we waiters can be notoriously flighty as well. You have to be careful doing it on a day where people will be working afterward. You have to make sure that on days like this, it doesn’t degenerate into a drink fest. If you can convince your management that you will treat it as their normal tastings done during pre-shift, you’ll have a better chance of getting management’s blessing and you might even get management to help out with an occasional bottle that they were planning on using for tasting anyway.

    You don’t want to get too structured with this. Stay flexible. Just figure out which wines you want to taste, make sure that you can get them either from the restaurant or from a retailer (yes, you’ll pay more but the cost is still spread out over multiple people).  Then you simply find out how many people can commit to coming, divide the cost by that number and get the money. The closer you do this to each session, the better chance you’ll have to avoid people who pre-pay but then don’t show and want their money back. In fact, this should be part of the “agreement” – once you’ve paid, it’s your responsibility to show.

    You don’t have to have a set number of people. In fact, any waiter of legal age should be able to “opt-in” anytime they want. The more people who get involved each time, the lower the costs and the more different wines you can taste. You might even do a really high-end wine every once in a while. I know I would gladly pay $20 to taste a recent vintage Latour or Shafer Hillside select. Those are wines that few waiters ever get to taste and tasting wines of that caliber give another frame of reference.

    Heck, if it’s successful, you might even get your liquor reps to occasionally throw in wines of their own portfolio.

    It’s worth thinking about doing, especially if you’re serious about selling wine. Even if you only make it happen a few times a year, that’s that many more bottles that you’ll get to taste.

    On Wine, Pt 4

    What are some keys to selling more wine?

    First, you must have a basic knowledge of the various wine varietals that your restaurant offers. That’s the best place to start, since most restaurants only offer about 10 different varietals. If you don’t know that Pinot Noir is great with grilled salmon because you’re always heard that only whites go with fish, you’re missing selling opportunities. If you don’t the basic differences between Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons, how can you guide your guests toward the best wine to have with their lamb chops?

    So, you need to establish the basic flavor profiles for the various grapes.

    Once you do that, then you should focus on a couple of mid-priced offerings in each category and try to discover the actual differences between them. If you can taste them, that’s the best thing. If not, get your manager to get you some tech sheets from the wine reps. These usually have specific statements about body and flavor.

    It’s easiest to sell what you like, so if you have some favorites, work on trying to specifically describe them to your guests. Your enthusiasm for the wine can only help you in your selling.

    No, you don’t have to know every flavor profile of every bottle on the list, but once you get the general profiles of the various grapes, there are some flavor profiles that crop up repeatedly and you’re usually pretty save employing them. for instance, dark berry fruits are common to Cabernet Sauvignons. Chardonnay often offers apple and mineral flavors. Sauvignon Blancs can have tropical fruit overtones (especially those from New Zealand), or they can have more melon and grassy overtones like those in California.

    The more you can quantify the differences, the better you can guide your guest. You don’t want to come off as a professor, but you want to show that you know what you’re talking about by using specific language, such as, “You should try this Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc with your grouper with lemon beurre blanc because it’s a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It’s got a zingy grapefruit flavor that goes well with the lemon and it’s acidic enough to cut through the cream of the sauce”. Or something like that.

    Just make sure that you’re not just blatantly making stuff up. Just because some Cabernet Sauvignons have tobacco and cedar overtones doesn’t mean that the one that you’re “randomly” recommending will. You’re probably safe to say something specific-sounding but still generic like “dark berry fruit”.

    This is where homework comes in handy. If you’re new to wines in general, starting with only the grapes that your restaurant offers is a good start. Then move to specific wines that you can get specific about. You might also check out some of my previous posts on wine. As I’ve written, there’s only so much you can cover in a blog. Fortunately, there are quite a few very good wine blogs and wine sites. Google is your friend.

    I think just concentrating on wine will help you drive your wine sales. There’s no one single category of product that you serve that drives a check average more than wine.

    Good luck and happy studying!

    On Wine Pt. 3

    In the final part of this discussion on wine service, let’s discuss pouring.

    When pouring wine, it’s important not to pour the whole bottle, even if you’re pouring 6 glasses. You always want to leave a little in the bottle, so you need to get an idea of how much to pour depending on how many glasses you have to pour on the first round. You’re trying to send the signal to the guests that you aren’t trying to force another bottle on them.

    A standard sized bottle will yield four 6 oz glasses. Once you learn how much 6 oz is in your house glasses, you’ll be able to calibrate your pours better. If you have 4 glasses to pour, then you should only pour around 4 oz in each glass. If you have 6 glasses, then you should shoot for around 3 oz. If you have more than 6 glasses, you should recommend to the host that you bring a second bottle. If you bring the second bottle, ask the host if they’d like for you to let them test the bottle. Most will say “Just pour it”, but technically each bottle should be tested. In the case of two bottles, I like  to try to pour equal glasses until the bottle runs out and then start with the next bottle. I try not to mix bottles in a single glass. In the case of bringing a second bottle later, I don’t worry about it and I’ll pour into a glass holding wine from the first bottle. Every so often, you’ll get a guest who insists on a fresh glass when a new bottle of the same wine is brought. Obviously, you’ll comply.

    One complication is that you don’t always know how many people will be drinking wine, so you should always pour as if everyone is drinking. The worst thing that you can do is run out of wine before everyone is served. You don’t want the host to feel that he or she is being forced to buy a second bottle, so, if you have to only pour 2 oz in each glass, so be it. If the host didn’t want you to bring a second bottle, it’s on them if their guests only get 2 oz of wine.

    When free pouring wine for a party, try not to pour a full 6 oz pour. I shoot for around 4 to 5 oz. Believe it or not, you’ll end up pouring more wine that way because people will need their glasses refilled more often. Some people tend to nurse their wine out of habit, even when they’re not paying for it. It’s better to let them need more wine sooner by not pouring as much initially. And, of course, the more wine you pour, the more wine you sell (unless the number of bottles has been limited). It means more work to keep refilling, but it also means a larger check and presumably a larger tip.

    One thing you don’t want though is a lot of half-full glasses on the table at the end of the meal. The host will feel like you’ve deliberately overpoured in order to stick them with a higher bill. So, once the entree is served, you should stop automatically refilling glasses unless they are very low. By the middle of the entree, only pour if a glass is empty or if someone requests it. The idea is to sell the absolute most wine you can but also the exact amount of wine that the party needs. It’s not a big deal if a couple of glasses are half full, but if most of the glasses are left half-full at the end of the meal, you’re sending the message to the host that you’re trying to gouge them.  Let’s say you have a party of 45 people and there are 24 glasses that are half full at the end. That’s the equivalent of 3 full bottles of wine that the host paid for but wasn’t drunk. When a guest can trust that they won’t be paying for things that they don’t consume, they will be loyal customers, and that repeat business is what you are shooting for.

    Finally, as always, house policies trump any advice that I give here.

    In the next installment, we’ll talk about selling wine.