The Wine Curmudgeon was traveling, and stopped at a major U.S. chain restaurant that will remain nameless to protect its identity. (OK, it was Chili’s.)
One of the group wanted a glass of wine, and ordered the Australian chardonnay that was on the list. And Chili’s does have a wine list — not great, but not awful, either. The wines are professional, and shouldn’t embarrass anyone. Barefoot, even. And, in fact, this post isn’t about the quality of the wine list. Or that the chardonnay, which retails for about $5 a bottle, cost $6 a glass. One deals with what one can get.
Rather, it’s about how too many restaurants — even ones that spend millions of dollars on server training — don’t have any idea what they’re supposed to do with wine. The chardonnay took 20 minutes to arrive at the table, which was bad enough. How hard is it to walk to the bar, pour a glass of wine, and bring it back to the table? More, after the jump:
But that wasn’t the real problem. When the wine did arrive, it was oxidized; obviously, the bottle had been open for a considerable period of time, and the wine had started to turn. It no longer tasted especially like chardonnay, but like bad sherry, with burnt wood and caramel flavors. Oxidized wine is very common at restaurants like Chili’s, because the bar staff sometimes opens the wine at the beginning of the shift (or even at the end of the shift the night before) so they don’t have the “inconvenience” of opening a bottle when they’re busy. This practice, though it saves time, ruins the wine.
Which the restaurants don’t seem to care about. Yet ask them if they would do this to beer, and they’d look at you as if you were crazy. It would ruin the beer, they would say — and completely miss the irony.
So how does this affect how Americans approach wine? Assume that this wine was served to consumers, say those bright, young happy people in the Chili’s TV commercials (who aren’t wine geeks who know oxidation). What happens when one of them tastes the wine, and gets burnt wood flavors instead of green apples? Or when he or she shares a taste with someone at the table?
The reaction is predictable: “Ooooo.. gross.” “That’s disgusting.” “How can you drink that?” And then they order a beer or a margarita and we lose another wine drinker forever, because they’re convinced that all wine tastes like burnt wood. Given that experience, who can blame them?