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Category Archives: Wine advice

Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine

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wine advice Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Jeff:
I agree with you about restaurant wine prices. Even though I want wine with my meal, I rarely order it when I eat out. First, the cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is two-thirds of the price of a bottle in a store. Second, with few exceptions, wine lists offer very little, if any, local wine, and the wines they do offer are unimaginative grocery store wines. Why don’t restaurants listen to consumers, or their consultants? The consultants tell them this, don’t they?
Frustrated in Texas

Dear Frustrated:
Ironically, I had a similar conversation with an executive at a major U.S. wine company the other day. You’d think, he said, since almost every restaurant that lowers prices sells more wine, that everyone would lower prices. Instead, he said, restaurants seem to be focused on revenue, where they don’t care if they sell less wine because they think higher prices will make up the difference in sales. This approach didn’t make much sense to either of us, but what do we know?

Dear Curmudgeon:
With all the screwcaps and synthetic corks these days, is it still necessary to store wine with the neck tilting down? And is there a period of time where traditionally corked wine can be stored standing up?
A standup wine drinker

Dear Standup:
Wines with cork closures are stored on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out. Since a screwcap or synthetic won’t dry out, you can store it anyway you want (as long as you keep the wine away from light, heat, and vibrations). Having said that, and to answer the second part of your question, most wine can be stored standing up, regardless of closure, since you’re probably going to drink it long before it matters how it was stored. One of my favorite wine statistics: as much as 90 percent of the wine that is bought is consumed with 24 hours, making storage irrelevant.

Hey Curmudge:
Enlightened wine drinkers know that white wines are at their best when poured at a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Ergo, shouldn’t the same apply to sparkling wines and Champagnes? So when people get the juice as cold as possible and then make an effort to keep things that way by shuttling the opened bottle back and forth to fridge or ice bucket, is that not counterproductive?
Love those bubbles

Dear Bubbles:
You asked something I have never thought about, figuring white wine was white wine. However, most of the sources I consulted said bubbly should be a little cooler than non-sparkling white wine — mid-40s F vs. low- to mid-50s F. No one quite knew why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the bubbles), but this gives me an opportunity for a class project in the fall when I teach at El Centro. We can do a temperature tasting.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews

Restaurant wine prices: A better way

winetrends

Restaurant wine pricesWhat better way to follow up this month’s very popular post about escalating restaurant wine prices than with a story about restaurants that charge reasonable prices and sell more wine — and make more money — in the process? That was the theme of my piece in the current issue of the Beverage Media trade magazine, where one restaurateur told me: “We want our customers to be able to have dinner for two with a glass of wine each for $35 a person.”

Revolutionary thinking in a world where glass of wine costs $10 and bottles are marked up four times their wholesale price, no?

The highlights of the article, as well as a few of my thoughts:

• The debate centers around volume vs. margin; that is, does the restaurant want to sell a lot of wine, or is its business model focused on the amount it makes per bottle? This margin approach, which has been the model most restaurants use, has given us the $10 glass. Not surprisingly, those who use it still see no reason to change.

• Yet an increasing number of restaurants see a better way. “There is sort of this infrequently spoken gripe from consumers: ‘Why are we paying these kinds of markups?’… [T]hey are going to be cynical about your wine program.” says Stan Frankenthaler, chief officer of food, beverage and strategic supply for CraftWorks, which operates about 200 restaurants under 11 brands, including Old Chicago and Rock Bottom. That someone at a chain said this speaks to the failure of the margin model, since chains have some of the worst and most marked-up wine lists.

• A better approach: Pricing tiers, like 4 times wholesale, 2½ times, and 2 times, based on quality and availability. If the wine is difficult to find, for instance, or offers exceptional value, we’re more likely to pay 4 times markup — and especially if we have legitimate, less expensive choices instead of grocery store wine masquerading as something else.

• This story includes advice from my pal Diane Teitelbaum, who died shortly after I interviewed her. “You can sell a $100 bottle once a day, or you can sell $20 bottles of wine all day and all night,” she told me. No wonder everyone misses her so much.

 

 

Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux

wineadvice

winespeakBecause the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Wine Curmudgeon:
You use the term structure for wine, which sounds like a lot of jargon to me. What does structure mean?
Confused by language

Dear Confused:
Think of a wine’s structure like the structure of a house. A house has to have a foundation, a floor, and a roof. Leave one of those things out, and you don’t have much of a house. A wine, regardless of price, needs structure, too, and that includes tannins, fruit, and acidity in the proper proportions. Leave one of those out, and it’s like a house with a crappy roof — livable, but why would you want to?

Hey Curmudge:
Where do you buy your wine? I know you try to find wines that are available, but how do you do it?
Curious consumer

Dear Curious:
I’m one of the few wine writers in the country who buys wine to review, and it’s probably more than half the wines I do. The rest come from samples that producers send, and that number has fallen significantly since the recession. I shop for wine at least once a week in two or three places. I go to grocery stores like Kroger and Albertson’s, independent wine shops (Jimmy’s and Pogo’s are two of the best), chain wine shops (we have Spec’s and Total Wine in Dallas), and specialty stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market. That way, I can compare prices, see who has what, and talk to retailers and customers. I enjoy this, not only because it’s part of a job that I like, but because I come from a long line of retailers, and learned to appreciate this stuff when I was a kid.

Jeff:
I have tried a few red Bordeauxs, and most are not very good in the $10-$20 range. I like many California cabernet sauvignons and red blends, and am not put off by the “earthiness” of French wines. But most of the Bordeauxs I’ve tried are just harsh and bitter. Any suggestions for reasonably priced Bordeaux would be appreciated.
Searching for French value

Dear Searching:
You aren’t alone — Bordeaux has priced most wine drinkers out of its market, whether from greed, infatuation with China, or French stubbornness. It’s almost impossible to find quality red Bordeaux for less than $20 a bottle, as you note (Chateau Bonnet and one or two others being the exception). Instead, we get poorly made wine, whether with unripe grapes or raw tannins — just like the bad old days. Ironically, we talked about this in my El Centro class last week, that the wines that most Americans used to drink to learn about wine are now too expensive for most Americans to drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews
Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

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