When I was in Chicago a few months ago, I met up with Alpana Singh at her new restaurant, The Boarding House. Alpna has reinvented herself, stepping down as host of “Check, please!” and from a corporate job at Lettuce Entertain You to open her own restaurant. Stretched vertically over three public floors, the main floor bar area at The Boarding House serves wine and pizzas made to pair with wines under the arttistic installation of 9,000+ wineglasses (only takes about 36 person hours to clean!). Although I didn’t eat there, I checked the availability of a table for two in the vaulted dining room: they were booking 10 weeks out. I think that officially makes it a hot spot.
She told me about how she got into wine, what she’s doing to resolve the dearth of sommelier jobs, wither Chicago wine is restaurant-driven or shop-driven, and which wines make people say “wow.” Oh, and which is the greatest country in the world to be in as a wine consumer. Check out my interview with her over on wine-searcher.com.
My wife and I recently had a couple of friends over who, somewhat to our surprise, were not drinking any alcohol that evening. This can happen since a whole family might be taking antibiotics, or maybe you didn’t know the people as well as you thought. Whatever the reason, the issue of guests who abstain, especially if it is unexpected, does raise a question of etiquette for wine enthusiasts: should you also abstain?
In our case, we asked if they would mind and then went ahead and indulged in some Ar. Pe Pe, a 2009 Nebbiolo from the vertiginous slopes of Valtellina (find this wine). I poured the wine in the kitchen, brought the glasses to where we were sitting and, although it was drinking well, spared them my wine snob’s impression of yammering on about the wine.
Since we may all be entertaining more at this time of year, what are your strategies if you have found yourself in this situation? Would you be more likely to join friends in abstaining in a restaurant because of complications in splitting the bill?
After visiting a Philly BYOB, Robert Parker once let an apparent deep-seated contempt for sommeliers flow free, dubbing them defenders of “vinofreakism.”
Perhaps trying to atone for his equivalent to a Howard Dean howl, Parker posted to his web site that he enjoyed his recent meal to A16, a pizza specialist in San Francisco with a long list of wines from Campania and the Mezzogiorno more generally. Even though he admits that after seeing the wine list he wished for a lifeline phone call to his Italian critic Galloni, Parker says the sommelier, Emily, was “very knowledgeable about the wines.”
So which wines did he then have? A Champagne and two 2007 Chateauneufs (one in magnum) that aren’t on the wine list. Oh, and perhaps the best-known wine from Campania, a Montevetrano, which he said was extremely closed. Chew on that…
Shelley Lindgren, wine director and one of the owners, wrote in her book A16: Food + Wine that a wine list based on Southern Italian wines was a tough sell when she opened the restaurant. But soon enough, she writes, “we had a dining room full of curious customers interested in expanding their wine horizons.”
The latest tumblr to break out is Rich Kids of Instagram. If you’re on the fence about whether to repeal the estate tax at the highest levels, just surf on over to the site. Wine features quite prominently in the douchebaggery, such as the photo of a girl clad in a polo shirt, pouring Dom Perignon off a dock into the open mouth of a boy in the water while someone does a naked swan dive in the background.
And there’s this bill for 16 people who consumed 90,000 euros worth of wine at dinner in St. Tropez. (Dom Perignon again! If you’re spending an unconscionable amount on wine, there has to be some DRC in the mix, right?!?). This is a glaring example of how wine can boost a check at a restaurant in a way that beer or cocktails (or food though the caviar is certainly doing its best) never could. Do they tip on that? Well, in Europe, service is included in the bill. And, in this case, so is about $20,000 of VAT.
Steve Cuozzo, restaurant critic for the NY Post, has a rant about wine lists today (“Sour Grapes“). He complains about “esoteric or pretentious” wine lists, filled with Greek wines and grapes he’s never heard of and producers he doesn’t know. Such lists leave him stumped and “at the mercy of a sommelier determined to teach you a thing or two, when all you want is a nice, affordable Bordeaux to go with chicken and summer greens.”
He sure plays a good curmudgeon! But he does have a point: wine can be overwhelming and it’s common to feel swamped when trying to navigate a wine list. Some diners may feel overwhelmed with any list while others, like Cuozzo, may have taken the training wheels off and feel comfortable with certain regions (though pairing Bordeaux with chicken and mixed greens does make the reader wonder about his palate–really, try the assyrtiko.).
All the places that Cuozzo describes in his column sound like they have serious wine programs with someone on staff who has created a wine list with some wines he or she is really excited about. Rather than feeling at the “mercy” of said person, Cuozzo would be best advised to engage that person in discussion about what’s good and what they would recommend with chicken and mixed greens, hear a bit of the story of those who made the wine or how it was made. Who knows, if he did that a few times, he might even learn a thing or two about them there “esoteric” varieties, and feel more comfortable ordering wine off of such lists himself. Then the grapes would not be sour to him, and he could offer advice to his readers about how sweet it is to be armed with a bit more wine knowledge.
What do you do when you encounter a wine list dominated by wines you don’t know much about?
Daniel Boulud’s various restaurants have attracted wine geeks not just for the thoughtful food preparations to pair with the fruits of the vine but also for the gems in the cellar. Michael Madrigale at Boulud Sud and Bar Boulud has been offering glass pours from rare big bottles for a while.
Now Caleb Ganzer, the new sommelier at DB Bistro Modern in midtown, and Daniel Johnnes, Corporate Wine Director for the Boulud restaurants, have started public bidding for wines on Twitter that prospective diners can enjoy in the restaurant. Each Monday at noon, he lists a wine’s starting bid, tags it with #DBwinebid, and, via Twitter, the can bid it up during the following 24 hours or so (highest bid at 5 PM each Tuesday wins). Recent offerings included a 2011 Turley white zinfandel starting at $10, a 1988 Gruaud Larose that was won for $80, and Coche-Dury Meursault 2008 for $160. The current offering is a G. Roumier, Chambolle-Musigny, 2009 with a bid of $100, cheaper than many retailers list the wine. Don’t forget that in a timed online auction, sniping can often lead to success.
A chuckle-worthy video from the folks at CollegeHumor.com. “Impress your friends with a year that’s not the current year because–trust us–that’s good.”
King Solomon was known for his wisdom. And when he ordered a baby cut in half, he made a woman cry.
John Slover is the Solomonic sommelier, though his splitting things in two is more likely to make people happy. When at Bar Henry, he introduced a bottle-splitting program, wherein diners could order 375ml of a regular bottle for only half the full-bottle price (No upcharge! The remaining 375ml is then available to other diners.). This encourages diners to experiment, by, as an example, having a half a bottle of white with appetizers and a half a bottle of red with the main course.
He’s continuing the wisdom of this strategy at Ciano, where he is the wine director at the restaurant that opened last year with Shea Gallante in the kitchen. Slover said wine sales have been strong, adding that the bottle-splitting program “has made money, certainly not lost any.” Two diners sometimes buy a full bottle and then order another half that they wouldn’t have normally ordered to try something new.
Slover divided the wine list into a “market” list where the splitting is allowed and a “reserve” list where it it is not. Unless he can broker a share on one of the pricey bottles. And he has done so, for example, selling a DRC Echézeaux 1985 for $1,200 per half to two tables. One evening, knowing a Rhone fan dining in the restaurant, he proposed a half of 1995 Henri Bonneau, reserve des Célestins, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The diner said, “Bring it on.” Then Slover proposed it to another diner who might be interested and he said “absolutely.” They enjoyed it so much they then went halvsies on a 1985 Rayas.
Let’s just hope Slover keeps his saber sheathed while doing his trademark bottle splitting. That would make us all weep.
Ciano, 45 E. 22nd Street, 212-982-8422