This weekend had me in NYC catching up with friends and checking in on old haunts. It’s invigorating getting reacquainted with a city you once lived in, especially one like Manhattan where things are constantly changing. And with all that change usually comes new treats. Well, new-to-me at least. Like, The Ten Bells Wine Bar in SoHo.

The Ten Bells

The Ten Bells

Great atmosphere – small, convivial, rustic, with polished touches – a white marble bar top and funky industrial lighting. It’s cash only, and the menu is strictly chalkboard. At first the wine list appears small, but it’s well chosen with a good selection by the glass and bottle that changes regularly along with the food. At 8pm on a humid Friday night it was rammed with people spilling out onto the sidewalk. We managed to cluster around a high counter toward the back and settle on the Domaine Pascal Pibaleau “La Perlette” – a lightly sparking Rosé from Touraine made from the elusive Grolleau.

La Perlette

La Perlette Sparking Rosé

Domaine Pascal Pibaleau is a biodynamic producer with a focus on natural, organic farming methods including manual harvesting. The alcoholic fermentation for La Perlette is stopped partway through and the wine sits on its lees until disgorgement. Neither sulfur nor dosage is added. A fantastic wine! Lively but delicate fruit, chalky minerality, a touch herbacious, lightly petilant with balanced acidity and a dry finish. Fun to drink and a dream with the spicy octopus, chorizo and duck rilette we devoured.

Uva

Uva

Uva Wine Bar on The Upper East Side was the following night. Another sticky, late evening so we grabbed an outdoor table on their busy sidewalk patio. Specializing in Tuscan fare, it has a hefty wine list with an impressive Italian section. Uniquely, each wine is listed with the varietal in bold, followed by the producer, which I discovered was really handing for navigating (E.g. PECORINO IL FEUDUCCIO ’09 MARCHE 33) Most wines appeared to be single-varietals rather than blends, perhaps by design.

Uva Sidewalk Seating

Uva Sidewalk Seating

We ultimately decided on a Ribolla Gialla from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, La Tunella “Rjgialla”. Very aromatic – lots of pear and quince on the nose with a touch of spice. I was expecting more fresh fruit on the palate but “cooked” fruit was what came through with a slight bitter/nuttiness I often get (and like) in good Italian whites. Solid structure, well balanced and very dry. My dining companion found it a bit too dry and a touch “gasoline-y”, but I think they too were expecting something fruitier. It has an odd flavour profile, not at all unpleasant but not your typical summertime, easy-drinking white. Personally, I liked it but it’s perhaps not for everyone.

La Tunella Rjgialla

La Tunella Rjgialla

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You Shouldn’t Have…

June 13, 2011

wine pressie

Enjoy...

A friend was visiting from out of town a few weeks ago. Upon arrival she plunked 2 handsome traditional-method sparkling wines on the counter for me. “You’ll love these”, she said as she wheeled her suitcase inside. Nothing more was said. I mention this because as I stare at my wine shelf (I have no cellar, for shame!) I observe a row of wines that, although were given to me, I feel I can’t drink. At least not without the people who gave them to me.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this juxtaposition: Someone gives you an outstanding bottle as a gift, with the caveat, “let’s open this some time together“. (Read: “don’t you dare drink this without me”) Now, I happen to be very fond of the people who’ve bestowed these wines on me and would be completely willing to share with them without even being asked… but, it feels less like a gift when the giver tells you what you’re allowed to/not do with it. It’s like your Gran handing you a fiver when you were a kid and saying, “now don’t go spending this on junk!”.

I fully appreciate the torture of parting with a good bottle and wanting very badly to enjoy some of that gorgeousness so generously being given away, but should you find yourself in this conflicted position, I offer some advice: Bring it to dinner instead. Or, invite the person over and open it together. If you must hand it over as an official pressie… do so condition-free.

meerkats

Sharesies! (Credit: Posters Guide)

As it happens, I opened one of those sparkling lovelies with said friend over dinner one night. The other one I took to a Sunday night kitchen party – where I was called a ponce (more or less) for bringing champers to a kitchen party… but the point is, I enjoyed it very much – in my own time and in my own way. I even shared it with other people.

wine vintages

Credit: Food & Wine

An interesting discussion unfolded on Twitter a few nights ago on the topic of vintage discrepancies on restaurant wine lists. It started with the tweet:

Tweet

A host of replies followed. Most people felt the restaurant should compensate the guest based on the argument: it’s not what was ordered. But a few sided with the restaurant and suggested that if vintage was so important to the customer, and the bottle was presented properly, it should have been checked upfront – i.e. they accepted it,  their problem. Somewhere down the middle line was the opinion that whether or not to compensate really depends on the wine, the price, and how vintage-variant the wine is.

The wine in this case was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. High profile wine, expensive and fairly vintage-sensitive. The vintage discrepancy was a 2005 (generally accepted to be a good year)  and a 2008 (a not so good year). The former was listed on the menu, the latter was presented at the table. Midway through the bottle the guests discovered the error and brought it to the attention of their server. The group was mildly annoyed but content enough to keep drinking, no big fuss was made but there were intimations that something should be done (this is mild-mannered, non-confrontational Atlantic Canada, after all!)

Chateauneuf

Credit: Under The Grape Tree

Most restaurants interested in providing any level of customer service would do something. But what is appropriate? What is fair?

It is not uncommon for suppliers to deliver the wrong vintage to restaurants, and in most cases the price the restaurant pays does not change (except perhaps for premium/revered vintages). In this case the restaurant paid the same price for the 2008 as it did for the 2005 even though an ’08 Châteauneuf can retail for about 15% less than earlier (better) vintages.

Market prices aside, as far as the restaurant was concerned, the menu price was fair – it reflected their cost (they did not pay less for the 2008). But they did accept ownership of the menu error on the basis that perhaps the guest would not have ordered the Châteauneuf had it been listed as 2008, and they were keen to tidy up any bad feelings at the table. The restaurant decided to take 25% off the bottle price. Most members of the group seemed happy with this, but one contested: ” it’s still not what we ordered”. Remember, they were happy to keep drinking it.

It is an interesting discussion. Being in the industry myself and a regular diner-outer, I am frequently at both ends of table. If you take the pedantic viewpoint, there is responsibility on both sides: the customer to check that they’re receiving what they ordered, and the restaurant to dutifully keep on top of their cellar management (and by extension, their menu updates). But at the end of the day it is really about customer service, isn’t it? In my view, an unhappy customer has the potential to be much more costly than any “comp”, so if they are displeased, they mustn’t leave that way.