Dining out is awesome. Nothing revolutionary in that comment – but after a particularly excellent experience on the weekend I thought I’d write a post to focus on the subtle and oft neglected art of great wine service. Given that my entire business is built around this, it’s fair to say that I’m a bit more sensitive to it than most; and I truly believe that when it’s done right in a restaurant setting, it really pushes the experience from the ‘good’ to the ‘great’.
So what do I mean by ‘Wine Service’? It’s all about communication. Even though I try more wines than most, I can only cover a fraction of what’s out there; and often appreciate help with the restaurant wine list to find things that may go really well with the food I’m eating. And this doesn’t mean that I need to know that the fine details of “subtle aromas of freshly baked mulberries complimenting the blah blah blah blah….”. All anybody wants is for the sommelier/waiter/etc to talk to them at the level of their understanding, without being patronising or alienating. It shouldn’t be that hard!
When done right, it contributes to the sort of experience that you will be telling your friends about. When done poorly, it probably won’t ruin your meal but will certainly confine your dining experience to mediocre at best – a cardinal sin in the competitive world of hospitality. I’ll start with an example of ‘what not to do’. Some time ago, I was dining at a highly rated restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD. When I asked for some detail around the ‘matched wines’, the waiter started speaking very slowly as if talking to a child: “well we have..Sparkling Wine… White Wine..”. I politely stopped her and explained that I’d like to know more about exactly what they were offering; she then proceeded to tell me there would be 60mLs in each pour and how many glasses I can expect. Obviously, on the 5-10 minutes of interactions we’d had since arriving, they’d judged my partner and I as being solely interested in quantity. By failing to take the time to understand the needs of the customer they severely limited the potential quality of the interaction for both parties.
Contrast that with professional and well judged service and you have the sort of experience that’s worth..well…blogging about, amongst other things! I’m not into Naming and Shaming, but am happy to ‘name and fame’ some of the better places I’ve been to. On the weekend I was lucky enough to eat at Cutler & Co with my wife. We asked about our wine options, and they were explained clearly and efficiently. We chose not to do the matched wines and showed the sommelier some things on the list that we were interested in – she made some additional recommendations at the same price point (no up-selling, another frustrating practice) and we left the restaurant feeling that the night was about creating a great experience for the diner as opposed to just turning tables. Places like this are expensive to eat at, but service like that really shows that it’s money well spent. Not that you should have to go to a top-tier restaurant to get such a drinking experience. I’m an unashamed fan of the wine service offered by sommelier, Pia, the at Melbourne stalwart Church St Enoteca, I don’t know how many times we’ve been but the experience keeps us going back, and taking friends and family with us.
It’s not like these are the only two restaurants n Melbourne that do this very well, but they’ve been recent examples that I felt deserved some special attention…
Until next time, enjoy the rapidly blooming spring; and Happy Drinking!