“Your table sir,” the maitre d’ graciously points out as he escorts me to my seat. The waiter comes by and introduces himself then proceeds to discuss the chef’s specials.
“Tonight we have a Japanese wagyu steak . . . “
My mind wanders from the needlessly complex description of the entrées that sounds more like a lesson from the Rosetta Stone to the wine list. I open the list that is as thick as the YellowPages and begin to peruse the selection.
I am relieved given the pomp and swank of the restaurant that I at least recognize the types of wines. The usual suspects: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Merlot are all there but beyond those, I am as lost as I was when I was listening to the waiter, who is now carrying on about the ‘infused dessert’ selection.
Even after visiting vineyards from Cape Town to California, I still don’t recognize some of the wines on the list. That is forgivable given the number of grape varietals. What really bothered me was that I could not tell you what made one Cabernet choice better than the other- apart from the stupid prices ranging from $96 to $10,000. I like how the 10k bottle is a nice round number but the low-end bottle has to be some off number, so as to make it sound legitimate.
So what is a wine lover to do? Conventional wisdom would say, “Do not choose the $96 bottle that will make you look cheap and unsophisticated.” Maybe I should ask the waiter? No, he will just try to sell me on some expensive bottle to inflate the bill.
At page 120 of the list, I gave up.
“My father will have a bottle of Stella Artois and I’ll have a glass of Malbec.”
Crisis averted. I didn’t look cheap and by ordering Malbec I constructively preserved the appearance that I am a sophisticated wine drinker.
Rule #1: Never order wine by the glass, especially when it is $13. This is not a good idea for the most obvious reason- who only wants to have a glass of wine. But, more importantly, the glass will often be substandard. Wine by the glass, is for your everyday wine drinker who, luckily for him, only has to say “I’ll have a glass of house red,” to be satisfied. But for us, the novice-quasi experts, we require a tad bit more.
Predictably, the Malbec came and it was as bold as a Screwdriver with extra pulp. After a few more swirls, a few more sniffs, I had no choice but to call the waiter and send it back. I had enjoyed the finest Malbecs when I visited Argentina and felt it would be an insult to my palette to continue drinking this watered down, poor excuse for vino.
“May I see the wine list again?”
This time I skipped passed the 300 Cabernets and went to the subheading of ‘Specialty Varietals’. There were two bottles of Malbec listed: One for $96 and one for $225. At this point, I didn’t care if I looked cheap and settled for the $96 bottle.
A different waiter returned with the wine and as she was uncorking it said that it was a great bottle of Malbec because it was made in Mendoza, Argentina. Not wanting to be smug, I held back my comment, “Just about all Malbec is made in Mendoza.”
Skipping my thorough analysis of the cork, I went straight to the sample. Meanwhile, my father was glaring at me like who does this buffoon think he is while enjoying his ice-cold Stella. I swished the wine around, put it to my nose then back on the table. A few swishes later, I was ready to taste it again.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked.
“Meh, it’s not that great,” I commented, “but it will do.”
Immediate buyer’s remorse set in as I began to drink the watery Malbec Part 2. Each sip tasted worse than the last as I could not rationalize the price for this convenience store wine. My dad, having finished his quality Stella, also did not enjoy a few glasses.
My steak came and it was prepared perfectly. Ignoring the protest of my father, who vowed to leave if I carried through with my proposal, I called over the waiter again.
“I’m sorry but this Malbec is awful.”
The manager came and I told him that I felt bad for sending back the first glass so I acquiesced to the first bottle out of embarrassment and now I may have passed the point of no return to ask for another change.
In fairness to me, what else could I have done? In front of me was a tantalizing steak and the only compliment for it was a glass of water or a watered down glass. Taking pity on me, the manager recommended a Cabarnet in the amount of $155 and delivered a quality bottle.
Following this incident, I came up with a few more rules:
Rule #2: If you do go to a restaurant where the wine is out of your budget, drink beer!
Rule #3: If you are looking for a ‘specialty’ varietal like a Malbec and they only have two, one that is the cheapest wine on the whole list and one well beyond your budget, it may be time to consider Rule #2 or move onto Rule #4.
Rule #4: Trust the sommelier when you receive an unabridged volume of wine well beyond your expertise.
Rule #4(a): Your sophistication or lack of sophistication is not impressing nor is it disappointing anyone.
In the end, I was cheap, unsophisticated, and intoxicated.
I should’ve stuck with a Stella followed by a couple of shots- at least I know the names of all of those.