Nice food – pity about the wine service

Only under sufferance would I ever go to a restaurant that offers poor food, but with very few exceptions I have to resign myself to being disappointed with the way wine is served.

If you run a restaurant, please consider carefully what I say below.  I appreciate how much effort goes into providing good food and a pleasant environment, but so often find it sad that the same effort does not seem to be accorded to the wine.  Below I discuss two areas where restaurants are often lacking.

Temperature

There are pretty well established conventional temperatures for serving different types of wine.  Look at the temperature chart at the back of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for example.  I do not think it is tremendously important to get the temperature precisely correct according to what any one authority recommends, but it helps if you know roughly what you should be aiming for.

In particular, note that the highest temperature that any red wine should be served is a couple of degrees under 20°C – it is not the temperature of modern rooms, and even less is it the temperature of your kitchen in summer.  The difference between 18 and (say) 25°C has a huge effect on wine.  Try it!  Too warm and wine is soupy, and has a slight alcohol burn; at the correct temperature it is refreshing and the aromas are better defined.  This is not a difference that only wine buffs will notice.  There is also a corresponding problem with white wines being served too cold.  In my opinion that is not normally so bad, as cold wines will often warm quite quickly in the glass and bottle, but it is also something to be aware of.  If in doubt, check your temperature chart.

A dark cupboard, ground level, or even a cellar, might be the most appropriate place for reds prior to serving.  Eye-level in the restaurant kitchen is almost certainly bad!  Or perhaps have a large stock of wine cooler sleeves in a freezer, and give reds a couple of minutes in a sleeve before serving in the summer.  For whites, it is probably just a question of serving from a correctly adjusted fridge.

If you can afford it, and have enough space, a wine fridge with multiple temperature zones might be a good idea – for reds as well as whites.   I don’t think such wine fridges are really necessary, but they certainly make things easy, and if you get a model that displays wines attractively it could help increase sales.

Glasses

Most people who have an opinion on the matter would agree wine should be served from a tulip-shaped glass that tapers in slightly towards the top.   That enables the aromas to develop, but not escape too quickly, thus allowing them to be appreciated by the drinker. The glass should be clear to show off the colour of the wine, and ideally it should be thin, particularly at the rim.  I cannot rationally justify the requirement for the glass to be thin, but subjectively it seems to make a big difference.

A good benchmark for the size and shape of a general purpose wine glass would be the Riedel Vinum Chianti.  But I am not at all suggesting you need to use Riedel Vinum glasses – there are many cheaper alternatives that will be fine for all but the most fussy of wine geeks.  Port and Sherry should probably be served from a smaller glass – I would suggest the ISO tasting glass as a benchmark for size and shape.

As with serving temperature, I do not believe it is only wine buffs that will appreciate good wine glasses.  They make a real improvement to the wine drinking experience.  Besides, a decent wine glass looks so much more attractive than a small stubby one.

Oh, and maybe one more thing…

Or maybe not.  I am tempted to go on to discuss wine lists, matching with food, quality of information, and the apparently thorny issue of BYO.  But I won’t – I’ll stop now.  Almost whatever wine you give me will be so much better, and I shall be so much happier, if you serve it at the right temperature and put it in a decent glass.

I am not touting for business as a wine consultant, but if you are a restaurateur and have any questions do please ask.  I’ll be more than happy to help, particularly if it will lead to me having a better restaurant experience.

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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5 Responses to Nice food – pity about the wine service

  1. It doesn’t help when you have people like James Martin on the BBC’s Saturday kitchen always insisting that white wines should be served very, very cold indeed.

    Do you find many restaurants that keep the red wine on ambient shelves in the kitchen? I find it’s usually overheating in the corner of the dining room.

    I think it’s equally important to say that if we as customers ask for red wine to be put in the fridge/ice bucket for a few minutes to cool it down, or the white wine to be left out of the ice bucket, however snooty a sommelier you are, you should acquiesce gracefully.

  2. Steve Slatcher says:

    I wouldn’t say many restaurants keep red wine on kitchen shelves, Andrew, but there is one in particular I know of that does.

    You are right that customer requests for wine temperature to be changed should be respected with good grace, but personally I have never found that to be an issue.

    Thanks for the Twitter mention BTW.

  3. Rock on,bro. As far as the UK is concerned, every restaurant owner I speak to claims to be serving the desires of the ignorant majority. I certainly have many friends who like to put their Riojas on the radiator prior to opening. About 95% of those consider it an epiphany to try it at the recommended temp – although there’s always that 5% of laggards. Shame for them.

  4. colin evans says:

    Very interesting info re the temperature of wines. One big problem – and you mention it – the temperature in the bottle compared to the temperature when the wine is actually drunk.
    If the temperature in the bottle is absolutely correct how quickly does it change? Chilled white wine will warm up quickly in a heated room.
    My answer is to slug the wine back rapid and demand another glass explaining that you can only drink wine at the correct temperature. After the third or fourth glass you will not notice the temperature anyway and the wine will taste just as good. Of course explaining your appalling behaviour to your nearest and dearest next morning is more of a problem.

  5. Steve Slatcher says:

    Or if you want to be on better behaviour, Colin, you could take lots of small pours of your white wine.

    That actually brings me onto another gripe I have with some restaurants – waiters who overfill your glass. In fact I’d usually rather they just left me to pour the wine myself thank you very much.

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