Saturday, May 05, 2007

A lesson in flaws

Why is it that wine brings out the snotty stepchild in people? Oh, I'm totally including myself in that category.

So on a recent trip to Phoenix I spent an evening with friends at Postino Wine Cafe and was given an ironic taste of my own medicine regarding the act of sending flawed wine back. I ordered a glass of Verget GSM. It came to the table smelling like a cardboard box soaked in clorox, and that of course, is not fun. I am particularly sensitive to the smell of TCA ("corked wine") ever since that class back in Napa where we all had to stick our noses into a glass of pure extract of this shit. Maybe I'm oversensitive, I dunno, but I can't drink the wine if it's there. I tried to suffer through it anyways because I didn't want to be that customer, nor did I want to appear like a big fat snob in front of my friends. But I look over at the two of them, enjoying the wine they chose, and I decided that all I had to do was be polite about it, send it back, and I could be enjoying my wine too.

I'm hesitant to mention that our service at Postino had already kinda sucked, having been ignored completely simply because we were talking to another couple of people who'd come by to say hello ("I'm sure your server didn't want to bother you while you socialized," says the girl I flagged down. Uh, darlink---I can talk and drink at the same time. It's kinda the point. And even if that were the case, it was not well supported after I'd gone to the restroom to find my server sitting on a stool yicky-yacking with another guy. Okay, I'm not hesistant at all to mention this). But when I politely asked that the bartender check my wine to confirm it was corked, I got this, with a snotty smirk: "Would you just like me to bring you another kind of wine?"

What occurred to me even before any retort was the revelation that I, as a bartender, had done this exact thing before. See, the term 'corked' is often used by the uneducated to switch to another wine when they just don't like what they chose. They've heard the term, and they know it has some legitimate meaning, and can use it to avoid embarrassment. I know this because when someone tells me "I think my wine is corked", the first thing I do after taking it away is to check it. It's usually fine. But I have, more than once, said afterwards: "Here's something you'll like better, sir."

I had now found myself on the other end of this, only (dammit) the wine really was corked. And I really was irritated. There's no way to say: "no, really, the wine's corked" without looking like an asshole. So rather than cause a fuss and ask that another bottle of the same wine be opened, I switched to something else.

All was well until the server came back and said: "So do you like this wine okay?"

"I liked the other wine just fine, except that it was corked," I said through my teeth. I wanted to say: I've had Verget before, I love Verget, and I totally know my shit, and you're a jerk!"

But then I would have been the jerk. So I said yes, thank you.

Wine knowledge is something people attach directly to their egos. Just like any other geeky knowledge base, it's something we're extremely proud of, regardless of our level of expertise. We perceive that it separates us from the teeming masses somehow, and if we are servers of wine, it is what raises us above the level of the frat boys who sling drinks at the pick-up bar down the street. Wine is an exalted beverage; to display our knowledge is to claim membership in the elite and be admired by our less informed peers.

This, of course, is a great pile of steaming horseshit, but the cause of both my arrogance and that of the server who smirked at me.

So here's my proposition:

1) If you go to a restaurant or bar and you don't like the wine you've chosen, just bite it and say so. You do NOT have to suffer through something you don't enjoy. But please, don't pull out the 'corked' card unless the wine's truly flawed. Because if it is, the server needs to examine that bottle and toss it.

2) If you're a server at a wine bar, get over yourself. I do what you do, and if I can step back from my silliness in order to be gracious, so should you. If a person says their wine is corked, then assume it is and offer to open another bottle. If they say no and want to try something else, then smile and bring them something else. Don't assume they don't know what they're talking about, because they actually might.

P.S. I should mention, now that I've been so honest about my disappointment with Postino, that it's a really lovely place. Their list is varied and interesting, and the food is excellent. The atmosphere is excellent---warm and open, comfortable and cleverly decorated. I'd just like to see the servers take an arrogance management seminar.



Blogger Jerry said...

Here! Here! Well said.
Good to read your smartass ramblings again. Welcome back.

8:18 AM  
Anonymous wineguy said...

Welcome back. I've been missing you for so long, and now your wine is corked! Better luck next time...

11:48 AM  
Blogger Japan-O-Matic! said...

"arrogance management class"...hee hee hee hee...nice.

Where can I get one???

6:28 PM  
Anonymous winebroad said...

Frustrating. I've alerted winery tasting room staff about corked wines, only to have them pat me on the head (figuratively, of course) and keep on pouring the tainted stuff for the masses. Another time, I sent back a well-past-its-prime steak in a pricey restaurant in Nassau (that's what I get for not ordring the conch, I guess). Instead of apologizing profusely for serving me a spoiled $38 piece of meat, the waiter merely said, "We want you to be happy" as he took away my plate, and refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with it. Does this sort of thing happen to men too, or is this sort of crap reserved exclusively for women?

11:19 AM  
Blogger O'Pine said...

Taj, it was great meeting you at Wink the other night. Love the blog! Thanks for turning me on to it.

Why is that the good guys hold their tongues, letting the bad guys get away with it, all in the name of "being polite." I call bullshit. If the wine is corked (for real) let them know. If you get that "can i get you something else" crap, simply say, "No, I adore this wine. I drink it all the time. I just want a glass that isn't from a corked bottle." And on the way out the door, let the manager know what a charming little boite he or she is running and that the evening would have been perfect had it not been for the slight condescension of the wait staff. Don't let the stupid people win!

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Trey Busch said...


You forget the most important aspect of your experience regarding corked wines...the beauty of screwcaps! I started bottling all of my wines destined for glass pours under screwcap starting with the 2003 vintage, and it has been received with open arms by bartenders who don't have time to screw with opening a new bottle and checking to see if it was corked!

Trey Busch
Sleight of Hand Cellars

3:45 PM  
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One could try quoting the cork with a poly resin to make table and odorless to a great extent.

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