The other night I joined a couple of friends at a comfortable local restaurant. It was a very nice night on the patio and an enjoyable visit, though there were several things about the wine service that annoyed me. My friends didn’t seem to care at all, and most patrons there probably are not bothered by several of the pet peeves I have concerning wine service. It certainly does not seem to affect the popularity of this place.
I showed up midway through the initial bottle of wine. When it came time to order the second one, I began perusing the list to be set upon almost immediately by the waiter who quickly pointed to the wine below the one that was first ordered saying, “this one is much better.” Of course, it was nearly $25 more expensive. Why it was much better, the waiter certainly could not tell. As it turns out, our first wine, the Antinori Toscana, was rated 90 by the Wine Spectator while the waiter’s suggestion, the Luce delle Vite Lucente – which began as a well-publicized Frescobaldi and Mondavi collaboration – was rated at 88. Maybe the waiter or the wine director believes that the Lucente is better, and a two-point difference from the Wine Spectator does not necessarily mean anything, but the suggestion came off as a rather bold and unsolicited up-sell.
Though the first wine was nice, I spied the Monte Antico on the list, a long-time, affordably priced favorite. The wine and new glasses came out within an instant, while we each still had about a third of a glass left. Though it can be tough to fault overly solicitous and quick service, it was a little odd and slightly cluttered until we had finished the first glasses. The restaurant was doing well to serve – and sell – wine quickly.
The Monte Antico went over well. It is a terrific wine, both easy to drink with plenty of pleasant fruit, and like nearly all Sangiovese-based Tuscan reds, nicely acidic and very good with food. That it was priced at $39 was a little irritating, especially when the cash price at Spec’s is $10 these days, and it’s even cheaper at Costco. A nearly 400% mark-up over retail is a bit outrageous. The other two wines in question sport mark-ups over retail of about 340%, each. That is retail; the restaurant’s cost is much less than retail.
The $39 price was the cheapest I remember among the bottles of red wine offered. I find that rather aggravating. The restaurant can certainly do much better, but, it is usually crowded, so it does not have to. Their customers are typically a little older, well-heeled, and do not mind paying for the easy comfort of the surroundings, menu and wine list. In addition to being expensive, the list does not aim to be cutting-edge, which is perfectly fine. The producers are familiar and dependable. I can be happy with much of what is on the not-too-expansive list.
I just wish it was more fairly priced. Mostly.