Wine Lists, Presentation And Service

Is wine service getting better or worse? I continually ask myself this as I dine around our beautiful islands.

Now, you might think that being a Master Sommelier, I am one of the hardest to please. But, in fact, knowing exactly how it is to serve wine in restaurants, I am actually one of the easiest to please. I do have high standards, but I also make amends for the type of restaurant I’m visiting and the level of service that the restaurant maintains. Obviously, the higher-end the restaurant, the more is to be expected, not only for wine and wine service, but everything that comes with the experience.

I look for the following universal basics wherever I eat when it comes to wine and wine service:

First, I am looking for a clean, clear and legible wine list. Lists that are arranged by “style” or “weight” can confuse me and, like anyone else, the feeling doesn’t make me comfortable – which is something I think everyone should feel when they walk into a restaurant in which they intend to spend money. I often look at those types of lists and disagree with many of the classifications and/or gradations that the author put into place. I have a hard time finding what I am looking for. I also can appreciate artistry in presenting the production of a wine list, but if I can’t read it, especially in low- light situations, it’s going to be a stab in the dark! Fancy fonts and multicol-ored paper only confuse me more.

And while I’m on the subject, unless the verbiage of the wine tells me something really interesting about the winery, history, terroir or grape, I’d rather there be none at all. How many times can you read about red fruit and vanilla?

Second, the glassware must be clean! Please! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask for another glass because the glass is just not clean. I know not everyone will carry Riedel glassware, but what you do have, please make sure they are clean and polished. And please make sure they don’t have any aroma in them. Even if the glass looks clean, it can smell terrible. There could be an odor in the dishwasher or on the cleaning cloth.

The glass also will smell like a cardboard when it comes straight from a box, and some glasses smell like the cabinet they come from, too. Those all can ruin any wine experience.

Third: While these are all parts of the service, perhaps the most important part is the human one. I don’t expect anyone to know everything about all the wines on the list. I don’t even expect a server to know that much about the wine on the list – if they do, that’s already a plus in my book. By the way, where has the som-melier gone? I do expect anyone who serves wine in a restaurant to be able to open a bottle of wine safely and serve it with some skill. This means not spilling or breaking anything, or pouring the wrong wine into the wrong glass, or not blasting the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine like a shotgun. I would prefer my wine without any bits of cork in it, and I expect the glass of wine to be poured at an appropriate rate and portion. I don’t like servers who keep topping up glasses just to try to sell another bottle, and I don’t like the glass completely full, as I need room to swirl and enjoy.

And I expect the person serving the wine to be gracious and pleasant. And even if that person is obviously lacking aplomb in wine service, if they are affable, warm and kind, I will forget that little dribble on the table. After all, shouldn’t all service be that way? If they all were, the industry would definitely be better for it.

A yummy port-style wine

Recommendations: 2010 Justin Obtuse ($14/375ml) This is a port-style wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and it is so yummy! Raspberry compote with baking spices galore. It is awesome with any blue cheese, chocolate or a cigar. 2010 Paripaso Cabernet Sauvignon ($13) Along with some superbly ripe black and red fruit, what I really enjoy about this Cabernet is that it is so soft. The structure is like silk, unusual for Cabernet but beguiling nonetheless.