Here’s another example of a meal gone bad due to hot wine, and a few ideas that offending restaurants might think about if they want to keep their customers, their good names, and maybe even make a few bucks along the way.
Last summer I was in NYC for a few days and arranged to have lunch with some old college friends at Boqueria, the well-regarded Spanish restaurant in the Flatiron district. Because of the influence of my siblings’ Basque and Catalan in-laws, and several trips to Northern Spain, I have come to love the food and wine from that part of the world. When the day arrived, I was excited to see my old friends and to immerse myself in what I hoped would be a lunch that would echo the joy of dining in San Sebastian and Barcelona. The first bottle I ordered was a txakoli, the tart and almost effervescent Basque white, which, when served properly, can be a perfect defense against a hot and humid New York afternoon. The young waiter cheerfully presented the requested wine, but I noticed that it lacked the condensation or perspiration a wine fresh from the cooler should have. I asked for the bottle. It was warm. This waiter must have been a rookie or very poorly trained, because he didn’t understand why I became agitated. His response? “Oh, well, we store our wine in the basement, and the basement in this building is really warm. Would you like me to chill this for you?” No, I like my white wine the same temperature as the grilled fish. Of course I want it chilled!
Like many of you, I have dozens of such stories, of local eateries where I always bring my own wine because I can’t trust that the restaurant’s offering won’t be cooked, to high-end places where the wine by the glass service is execrable, and that’s being generous. (In case you’re wondering, execrable is a fancy word for “shitty.” ) In those places you’re better off ordering the soup — it’s usually cooler. Too often it seems that restaurants, whose wine revenue can make or break a budget, know less about the handling of wine than many of their customers.
Restaurant owners and managers, if storage or temperature control is a problem, there are some things you can do. Reduce the number of offerings so you are able to better control and maintain inventory, benefitting both you and your customer. Buy a laser thermometer that tells you the internal temp of a wine before you serve it. Get rid of one of those tables or booths against the wall and put in a fridge or cabinet. The money you make on wine will pay for the table. Or, maybe get those beer glasses out of the reach-in fridge, and then raise the cooler’s temp to the point where both whites and reds can sit comfortably in close-to-correct cellar temperature. It’s always easier to cool down a white wine that is already slightly cool, or bring a red up to speed when the situation calls for it. Have to cool down an embarrassingly warm red on a regular basis and you’ll start creating beer drinkers. Finally, for all those wines that are ruined because of heat and light, well, that’s just crumbling up money and tossing it down the plumbing. Who in their right mind does that? If you start to take care of your wine as it deserves, you can stop wasting your money, and stop frustrating your customers. It’s a win-win, everybody’s happy. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
If you have other ideas that restaurants can use to improve their handling of their wine, let’s hear them. Anything that helps more people drink more wine is a good thing. A very good thing.