The Basics Of Good Wine Service

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - February 17, 2010
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A rich, fruity Cabernet

I think it is even more important these days that people in the service industry actually give good service.

It sounds basic, but it certainly is not very common.

Has service gotten better or worse, in your experience? How is the wine service profession holding up? What is “good” service when it comes to wine?

There are a lot of components that go into “good” wine service. The first component is equipment. Is the glassware appropriate? I know not every restaurant will use Riedel glassware and I don’t expect it. But having no stemware and serving wine in a water glass just doesn’t cut it. Is the glass-ware clean? If the glass is not clean, it will taint the experience of the wine. Even if you bring your own wine into the restaurant, it shows a certain level of service that your flatware and glass-ware are clean. It can only ruin a person’s experience if the glassware is dirty. And chances are the guest will not return when they have a bad experience.


Is the wine stored and served in the proper condition and temperature? Is it too cold or too warm? Is that glass of wine being poured from a freshly opened bottle or has that bottle sat there on the back bar for a week and now they are serving me dank, dry wine? Is the sparkling wine cold enough? I don’t walk around with a thermometer, but each wine has its own “proper” serving temperature. If it is too cold or too warm, it makes a huge difference.

Equipment also includes the wine list itself. Is it clean, neat and clear? Legible would be great. Fancy fonts and small text have a way of wearing on a customer’s eyesight. And I just love it when the server holds it in their hot, sweaty underarm. I don’t even want to touch it when I see that. I also have a hard time reading those “progressive” wine lists. I very often disagree on the degree of lightness or sweetness of the wine that they propose, and it is cumbersome to find a favorite type of wine because whoever puts the list together may have different ideas of how heavy a Pinot Noir is versus a red Burgundy. The wine buckets and serviettes (napkins) also should be clean and presentable, and not look like something that was pulled out of a junk-yard.

The second component in “good” wine service is knowledge. Does the staff even know what they are selling? Have they been trained on the wines? Have they tasted the wines themselves? I don’t need to know how much oak is used in the aging or what the total acidity is in the wine, but at least please tell me how it tastes. This experience part can be overlooked if the server is new or congenial and gracious. But I can’t stand it when someone tries to pretend that they know a lot about the wine when it is obvious that they don’t. That kind of service should have no place in any restaurant. It’s tantamount to lying.

The last component is the skill in serving. This comes mostly from experience and training. I don’t expect everyone to have gone through the Court of Master Sommeliers service training. I do expect to taste the wine (if I’m the host) before having it served to guests. I don’t expect someone pushing their elbow into my face to serve the wine. I do not expect to be spilled on. I don’t like to interrupt my conversation with that same elbow. I do love the server who engages without being overbearing.

Wine service is much undervalued, and my hat’s off to those restaurants that do it right. Those places are sure to withstand the storm and keep happy guests coming back for more. The demand for good service is never satisfied.

Recommendations: 2005 Cedar Knolls Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) This Napa Cab is replete with rich, sweet black fruit laced with a sweet vanilla spice. If I blind tasted it, I would think it was double the price. 2006 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico ($26) This isn’t your “classic” Chianti - it is more polished, riper and altogether finer. It sings with cherry and cranberry flavor with structure enough to stand up to a good bistecca.

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