Last year, supermodel Gisele Bundchen caused a stir by sipping wine during the Super Bowl. Some even thought this act caused the Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady, her beau, to crumble, bring the team down with him.
Fans of the Steelers and the Cardinals who make it to Tampa for this year’s Super Bowl on February 1 are, given the scant attention paid to wine at stadiums, likely to have few such vinuous distractions. But Tampa does have one wine destination worth flagging: Bern’s Steakhouse.
The restaurant has a legendary wine list with about 600,000 bottles that have been accumulated constantly since the restaurant opened in the 1950s. Some are housed in the 3,000+ square foot wine cellar in the restaurant but the bulk of the collection is stored in two temperature controlled warehouses off premises. Stars of the collection include an 1851 bottle of Gruaud Larose, some Madeiras from the 18th century, and large verticals of Bordeaux.
I’ve never been to the restaurant but I was talking with an NYC wine collector last year and he told me about weekends that he and his wife like to take in Tampa to visit Bern’s. They go with four to eight friends and make reservations for Friday and Saturday night. They have a lengthy meal on Friday, sleep in on Saturday, get manicures or play golf (they said there’s not a lot to do), then go back for a huge, long dinner on Saturday that can last ten hours at the table as they plunder the cellar. Whoa! Who knows if they are keeping this up hedonism in recessionary 2009 but it shows what damage wine lovers could do at the restaurant. A lot more than in the stadium, that’s for sure!
Related: “Eric Renaud Senior Sommelier” [WSJ.com]
Intrigued by the notion that an entire restaurant will be opening in Manhattan tonight with baby bottles for stemware, I decided to try this vessel out for myself. Since we have two lads, one of whom is baby bottle age, I had to go no farther than my own kitchen.
Filling it up with some red from last night, I took a sip of the wine before screwing on the lid. Still passable on day two. I screwed on the lid. I sucked.
Mrs. Vino: “Obscene!”
It was kind of like having a governor on your car that prevents it from going over 50 miles per hour. Or 5 miles per hour as the case may be since a mere drip escaped at a time.
I tried a fresh aromatic white. Sipped with the lid off, I got lots of nice aromas of tropical fruits etc. Once I screwed on the rubber nipple, those aromas were trapped! I felt like one of those subjects in the Cal Tech study. Yes, it’s a $100 wine! Whatever you tell me! Just give it to me in a glass!
Prediction: within a week, the restaurant will be offering normal stemware as well.
Earlier this year we talked about those juice boxes for adults aka wine in Tetra Pak. Now you can regress even further, straight past sippy cups. Yes, via Diner’s Journal we learn that the new fondue restaurant, La Cave des Fondus (20 Prince Street in Nolita) will offer red and white wine (and beer) in baby bottles. Perhaps the only thing scarier is the fact that this restaurant comes from Paris. Yes, Paris! Check out the video to see how much they love it there!
So when will Riedel get into the baby bottle market?
Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for the NYT who also moonlights as presidential debate analyst, has an expose in today’s paper about unequal treatment of men and women in restaurants. Is it chivalry or chauvinism, he wonders. To the tape:
Because men can generally put away more food and alcohol, “men spend more, women spend less,” said Steve Dublanica, author of the recent best seller “Waiter Rant.” In addition, he said: “Men eat and leave. Women eat and stick around.” So a server attending to women may have to wait longer “to turn the table over, get another group, get more tips.”
In a follow-up blog posting, Bruni added this tidbit too from a restaurant veteran: “When drunk,” she told me, “men fight, and women vomit.” (Except for Jermain Dupri who vomits in his girlfriend’s (Janet Jackson) lap after which she squealed and had her driver high-tail the Maybach outta there.)
Do you encounter different service at restaurants, particularly when it comes to wine service such as ordering and sampling the bottle? If so, is it supremely annoying or entirely appropriate?
If you decided to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for you restaurant wine list, what would you need? The answer according to Robin Goldstein is $250 and Microsoft Word. Restaurant not actually required.
Goldstein, the author of The Wine Trials, has a posting up on a new web site describing how he invented a restaurant name, Osteria l’Intrepido, a riff on “fearless.” Then he typed up a menu (“a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes”), put together a wine list, and submitted both to Wine Spectator–along with the $250 fee. The list was approved and given an Award of Excellence (see screenshot).
Then Goldstein decided to add a twist. To the tape:
It’s troubling, of course, that a restaurant that doesn’t exist could win an Award of Excellence. But it’s also troubling that the award doesn’t seem to be particularly tied to the quality of the wine list, even by Wine Spectator’s own standards. Although the main wine list that I submitted was made up of fairly standard Italian-focused selections, Osteria L’Intrepido’s “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past 20 years.
Click through for the list complete with WS annotations and scores.
Reached by phone today, Goldstein said that he also presented this information at the annual meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland over the weekend.
“I didn’t have any empirical evidence of the quality of the restaurants other than my own impressions,” he said. “I wanted to see what the standards of the Awards of Excellence were. The results speak for themselves.” His experience will be part of an academic paper he is working on about standards for wine awards.
In 2003, Amanda Hesser explored the Wine Spectator restaurant awards in a piece in the Times entitled “A Wine Award That Seems Easy to Come By.” She concluded that the 3,573 restaurants that year grossed Wine Spectator $625,275. But the annual application fee then was $175 as opposed to the $250 that Goldstein and others paid for their application fee this year.
In a further sign of how our currency is rapidly becoming the American peso, the wine list at The Modern restaurant on West 53rd Street (below MoMA) in Manhattan now lists the euro equivalent pricing.
During lunch there yesterday, I asked if they actually accepted euros for payment. They said it is for informational purposes only to help their European guests make the conversion. Must be a pretty picture for the Europeans! The only catch for them as they order their magnums is that the price on the menu does not include service and tax as is the norm in Europe, which could lead to a 25 percent upside surprise when the check comes.
Bad news comes in threes, allegedly. After a third high-profile, stinging rebuke, can America’s wine servers now breathe a sigh of relief? The main issue in all these critiques is tempo and how diners feel rushed. Polemicist Christopher Hitchens, who last attacked God and now brings his wrath down on America’s wait staff, is the most recent critic of wine service calling it “cruel abuse” (um, yikes) in Slate. To the tape:
The vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked is the very height of the second kind of bad manners. Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle.
The same thing bothered Roger Cohen who took his complaints to the unlikely location of the op-ed page of the New York Times:
I was dining the other night with a colleague, enjoying a respectable Russian River Pinot Noir, when he said with a steely firmness: “We’ll pour our own wine, thank you.” This declaration of independence was prompted by that quintessential New York restaurant phenomenon: a server reducing a bottle of wine to a seven-minute, four-glass experience through overfilling and topping-up of a fanaticism found rarely outside the Middle East.
Finally, the generally sunny John and Dottie dropped the hammer on wine pairing menus in the WSJ in February saying that at Le Bernardin “the wines came and went as a blur” and that, in general, ordering the wine pairing menu “can mean being treated like a rube.” Although tempo was their biggest gripe, they also criticized other aspects of the service including glassware and wine freshness.
So is wine service in American restaurants going to the dogs? Eric Asimov did note a labor shortage two years ago in skilled staff. But Mike Steinberger argued convincingly that American sommeliers were better than their French counterparts.
One thing is for sure: markups are high and a recession is nigh. Gallo, not a name one usually thinks of in restaurants, recently admitted that a weakening in dining out was crimping their overall sales. If diners start staying home then maybe wait staff will be able to linger longer.
Why does so much food writing neglect wine? A lot of restaurant reviewers gladly discuss the decor but don’t discuss the wine program even though wine can easily account for a third or more of the diners’ final bill. Most food blogs don’t look to include a discussion about wine either even when they are writing for home cooks who can escape the exorbitant mark-ups of wine in restaurants. Many wine blogs, by contrast, have shifted the discussion about wine away from simply tasting notes of berries and leather and the concomitant scores to talk about pairing food and wine. Why no wine love from the foodies?
I put the question to Ed Levine who runs the food juggernaut SeriousEats.com. Ed is friends with such wine luminaries as Josh Wesson of Best Cellars and Daniel Johnnes of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants who have poured him many great wines, trying to convert him to wine’s pleasures. To no avail. With good humor, Ed told me “I’ve never had a wine that takes food to the next level. I’ve never had a wine that impresses me like a great hamburger.” He also cited cutting wine as a good way to cut calories.
While Ed just doesn’t like wine, which is fair enough, he suggested that other food writers might be intimidated by it. That may be true since there are a lot of details about wine, from the producer name, to the vintage, to the grapes and where they were grown. But that shouldn’t stop an thumbs up or thumbs down for a certain wine and why it did or didn’t work with a certain dish. A lot of food writers are all too happy to have an opinion about a hamburger and if they don’t like it, then it’s a bad hamburger. By contrast, if they don’t like a wine, I fear they think it reflects badly on them as if they should know more about it. That’s too bad.
At least food writers aren’t alone: wine is woefully underrepresented in food TV shows, and, as we’ve discussed before, it’s not likely to change on the Food Network. How about the Travel Channel? When Tony Bourdain advises his viewers about which wine goes with still-beating snake heart, then we’ll know a page has been turned in the way foodies think about wine.
What makes food writers neglect the cork in favor of the fork: a lack of interest? Price? Intimidation/lack of confidence? Rampant teetotalerism?