Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Restaurant wine buyers--BEWARE wine tip by (PB)

I am currently writing this from Los Angeles--the City of Angels--but there's a little bit of the devil in restaurant wine buying. Caveat Emptor means let the buyer beware. This is wildly good advice when buying wine off a restaurant wine list.

We went to a Pasadena restaurant the other night called the Melting Pot. It's a nice, upscale fondue chain and I perused the wine list on their web site before going out for dinner. I had my wine all selected ahead of time.

I would order a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir, "Russian River," 2007. This is a decent Pinot and sells retail for $32-$38 making this a real value at $47 (by standard restaurant wine markups) .

Before we even were seated I said to my wife, "Watch them try to sell me another wine saying they are out of the one I want." Sure enough, our waiter presents me with a La Crema Pinot Noir "Sonoma Coast" 2008 for approval. He never mentioned that the wine he was showing me was not the wine I ordered. I can only assume he figured I would not notice.

I explained the difference to him and asked what the price adjustment would be to which he went and called in the staff reinforcements. A woman with a rather terse demeanor said the Russian River Pinot was gone.

I explained that the two wines were not comparable and the one they were substituting without notice was a lesser wine. (It sells for around $18-$20.) There should be an adjustment in the price to which she replied in an annoyed manner, "I could take $2 off, that's about it."

In another setting I would have said, "I'll have the water please." Instead I asked for the wine menu back.

Restaurants can certainly run out of a particular wine but there is no excuse for making a substitution without the patron's knowing it. This is called "bait and switch."

What would be interesting is to know how long they have been out of the Pinot I ordered and have been making this substitution. Too bad--it was a nice restaurant.


Sandra said...

Wow- The same thing happened to me and my husband here in Atlanta, only, I don't think the waiter even realized there was a difference until we pointed it out. Thanks for posting this!

Anonymous said...

This happens all too often! At a recent trip to a Manny's Steak house (very upscale) a 2006 Napa Cab was attempted to be passed off as a superior 2004 vintage. When the "error" was pointed out the superior vintage was strangely "gone".

How many business lunches pay a premium for a recognizable label from a poor year?

This was a 100+ bottle of wine. It was sent back with a terse comment and a warning.

Thanks for the post on this!