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.

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Bring It.

June 24, 2010

Since 2007 it’s been legal to Bring Your Own (store-bought) Wine to Halifax restaurants. Establishments are left to choose whether to participate in BYOW and how much to charge you for the effort. A number of restaurants in town do take part, with corkage fees in the $10 – $25 range (Halibites has a list). Admittedly, I don’t take advantage of this service nearly enough – mostly because I’m too disorganised to plan ahead –  but this past weekend I gave it a go. A friend was visiting from out-of-town and we decided on dinner at Morris East – a wood-fired pizza restaurant on Morris Street that happily lets you BYO. I stopped by Port of Wines beforehand to pick up two wines I’d been meaning to try: 2007 Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras “Les Christins” (Southern Rhône) and 2007 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina).

Morris East (Credit: nsca on Flickr)

Now, a proper foodie would’ve snapped some pics of the delectable Charcuterie plate we shared, or captured at least one of the fine pizzas we filled our bellies with: Pepperoni & spicy banana peppers; Puttanesca, fresh basil & goat’s cheese; Housemade sausage with bacon, onion, pineapple & mozzarella … but I’m not a proper foodie (see note re disorganisation above).

I did get a picture of the wines though. (Albeit these were taken a few days later, after having gone back to the shop to re-buy the wines specifically for this photo, but what matters is that we have visual!)

Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras and Catena Malbec

Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras and Catena Malbec

The Perrin & Fils “Les Cristins” Vacqueyras was the favourite and only slightly shy of being too heavy for the pizzas. Someone described this wine as “racy” and I think that’s perfect. Deep, opaque, inky/black/purple colour with a little sediment. Notes of black cherry, black currant, leather, smoke, liquorice. Full-bodied, dense mouthfeel, slightly firm tannins (little young?), touch of bitterness and more black fruit. $29 at Port of Wines.

The Catena Malbec was a very close second. Rich burgundy colour, opaque. Intensely fruity nose, with cinnamon, raisin, mocha and clove. On the palate the fruit was big and powerful, but well-balanced with just enough acidity, softer tannins and slightly looser/mellower structure than the Vacqueyras. $24 at Port of Wines – great value.

BYOW is a great little program, especially if you dine out often. It’s an easy way to branch out and try different wines, and you save a little (or a lot) on the bill.

A hat-tip to the friendly BYOW table service at Morris East.