Restaurants That Ruin Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - September 01, 2006
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I’ve written about wine storage before. So now I hope all of you understand what that is. But what about all the restaurateurs? Have you ever been to a restaurant and wondered where they store their wines? Have you ever been served a wine that felt hot, not even warm?

I have. And it still pricks at my wine nerves to no end every time it happens.

I once visited a restaurant on the Big Island, north of Kona. We were tasting wines with the owner and he complained about not having enough storage. So he showed us his storage room, under the stairs. And when he opened it up I felt a stiff blow of hot air come out as he opened the door.

I didn’t know what to say. I felt sorry that his customers were probably drinking “cooked” wines. And it’s probably one of the reasons he wasn’t selling much of the wine he did have.

This is not just an issue for this restaurateur - it’s the same way on Oahu. It’s hot everywhere. Once on Oahu, I saw wines that were being stored right next to a refrigerator. Cool, right? Not really. As I got closer to inspect what wines were in their stock I felt the cooling fan of the refrigerator blowing warm air out from the back of the unit over the cases of wine! It was basically a convection oven for those wines.

And if that’s not enough, a friend of mine told me about a retailer whom he saw storing wines in an open garage, just under an awning! Ugh! What’s up with that?

Now I also understand that running any business is tough. There are certain things that get left to chance because of a lack of funds or attention. But as a wine lover and patron of the restaurants and retailers of Hawaii, I think something as basic as proper wine storage is important enough to any restaurant that serves wine to merit some attention.

Having proper wine storage to me is an integral part of having a viable wine program. Otherwise your guests and clients will not be enjoying their wines because they don’t taste the way they are supposed to, they won’t buy any more wine, the wine will sit in inventory, and the establishment actually loses money because of inventory and holding costs. And your guests may not even return because of the bad experience.

In the end, having proper wine storage can make or break a restaurant’s whole wine program. The same thing goes for any retail operation. If the wines people take home are faulty and they don’t even know it, they just think the wine is supposed to taste that way. They will almost never buy that wine again.

From a consumer’s point of view, some restaurants are our favorites because of the food, not the wine, so we’ll go to those anyway.

But beyond that I think it’s important that we recognize the effort and investment that establishments have put into having the proper wine storage. These are the places that “do it right.” Whether it is an elaborate showcase cellar or simply having a closet with air conditioning and everything in between, it’s great to see that there are plenty of restaurants and retailers that care enough about wine to have it stored properly.

It doesn’t matter whether they sell White Zinfandel or Chateau Petrus, they should be served and sold to us in the condition that the winemaker and purveyor intend it to be.

Otherwise, we customers are wasting our money on cooked wine. I guess I’d rather have an iced tea. At least that’s something that is supposed to be cooked at some point.

A non-exhaustive list of places that have proper wine storage: Vino, Hiroshi’s Eurasion Tapas, Alan Wong’s, Roy’s, Ruth’s Chris, Michel’s, Halekulani, Café Miro, Sansei, Hoku’s, The Bistro At Century Center.

Hopefully, the list grows.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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