Archive for the ‘Wine Bars’ Category

Wine service – BY THE GLASS

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008


I have recently written about wine service in restaurants. While it is a bit of a hot topic right now (depending on who you ask) I want to take the conversation in a slightly different direction; “by the glass service”.

To bring this all together, my issue with wine service in restaurants had to do with how servers were pouring wine, or more specifically, high much they were pouring in the glass. Frankly I felt that almost EVERY TIME I allowed a server at a wine bar to pour, they would invariably pour to a level that did not allow me to swirl the wine – thereby detracting from my full appreciation of said wine.

Today I bring up by the glass service as this is something offered at my restaurants and wine bars for those who want to try a wine, but may not be prepared to buy a full bottle. It is especially helpful if two (or more) diners want different wines. (more…)

Nederburg pours wine at Xai Xai wine bar

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I attended a very informal wine tasting early yesterday evening at Xai Xai, the South African wine bar located in the Hell’s Kitchen district of NYC. I’ve been to Xai Xai before & believe that as far as wine bars go this place is doing many things RIGHT. I also like that this bar is exclusively a South African wine bar with South African wine, food, music & decor.  I firmly believe that there are enough generic or Italian/French wine bars in the city.  Having recently heard of an Eastern European bar I am certain that focusing on specific regions is the way for the new entry’s into the food/beverage business to go.

The event last night was intended to promote the release of one of the first (according to them) 2008’s to be released. Pretty amazing when you think that here in the Northern hemisphere the vines barely possess any semblance of fruit yet. But alas the Southern Hemisphere harvest is generally February/March time with white varietals destined for crisp wines harvested first. (more…)

Vindicated! Pouring wine at bar/restaurant

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Friends, business partners and dates have seen me make a case out of it. While dining out, or simply sharing a bottle of wine at a food/beverage establishment, a waiter will often come over to “top off” the glasses. When I am fast enough, I will (as politely as possible) thank them and tell them “not to worry about it”, my nice way of saying don’t you dare pour another drop of the wine I just purchased into that glass. I am fully capable of pouring my own wine thank you very much.

This may sound passively aggressive, or even just plain aggressive, to some of you, but it is something I feel very strongly about (among many other things when it comes to wine service). (more…)

Wine bar outing

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

A quickie post for tonight (or this morning as the case may be).

Went out to a wine bar tonight.  It is one I used to frequent but haven’t been to for a little while.  On a cold Monday night – THEY WERE PACKED.  Unbelievable!!!

I had an Australian Shiraz (too extracted & “sweet”) and a Sancere (nice & crisp) while my date had a Tempranillo (better than my Shiraz) and a Vespiolo (Italian white – first time I heard of it and while it wasn’t my speed the date enjoyed it).

Now it is not as if this wine bar is doing it all RIGHT.  In my very humble opinion they are not.   The stemware, which I think was once of a higher quality, seems to have been downgraded (breakage does add up).  The wine list, at least that done by the glass, although claimed to be frequently revised, seemed stale.  And finally, having not yet made my first billion and as such seeking an under $50 bottle – I struggled as they were far and few between.

All that said, the WARMTH (both literally & figuratively) was easily visible and very apparent.  The owners (a cute couple) mingle freely with their customer friends.   The service seems to always be done with a smile and the servers patience seems to be endless (not that I INTENTIONALLY test peoples patience – I just know I am a pain in the ass at wine bars).

All in all, for a stickler like me, this place is far from perfect.  That said, the lesson to be learned here is that perfection is a relative term and this place is consistently packed, patrons consistently have positive things to say, and the overall mood is generally a very positive one.  Kudos to the owners!

Happy wine Bar Hopping!


NY Wine Expo – at NYC convention center

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

This afternoon was the “trade” portion of the NY Wine Expo at the Jacob Javits center. There was A LOT of wine on hand, some “nosh” and even some beer purveyors.

I enjoyed the tasting very much as I was able to both try wines from several different regions as well as speak with winemakers from all around the world.  But I must admit that I was disappointed with one aspect. Upon entering, I was not given a tasting booklet. Typically, when large tastings take place, especially when there are as many as 100 (or more) wines, people are not going to remember everything they tasted off the top of their heads. As such, many of the events hand out books to all attendees to both direct them to the various booths as well as to provide them with some space (1-3 empty lines) to write about wines tasted. This book may contain everything from Winery information down to the wines technical data. But at a minimum it provides a few lines for the taster to take some notes and refer back to later.

Not having a tasting booklet or any organized notebook to take notes in, I sadly will not remember most of the wines that stood out. I did take brochures or business cards from some, but I still will not remember WHY I felt the need to take info from those booths – maybe the pourer was cute – as was the case at 2 booths… 😉

This being the 1st annual NY Wine Expo, they were astute enough to solicit feedback, and I filled out a questionnaire and mentioned the merits of a tasting booklet for future events.

There are many more tastings taking place throughout NYC this week. I hope & expect that they will hand out tasting books/sheets at the others and as such I hope to have more specific feedback to provide you all with.

Until then, happy wine tasting…


Wine Bar – do wine glasses (AKA stemware) matter?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

I went to a wine bar last night and there were a few things that disturbed me about this place.  The first, which I don’t want to get too deeply into is how they handled a “taste”.  Before purchasing a bottle I like to taste what I am considering buying.  While this is (sadly) not possible at retail outlets this IS usually something granted at wine bars – at least when the location has an open bottle of the stuff.  Well the place I was at last night keeps all their wines in Cruvenee or Enomatic mechanisms – devices that store & serve the wine and keep open bottles fresh.  As such, they have an open bottle of everything on the menu.  Great right?  Problem is that they insisted on charging me the “tasting fee” to try the wine that I intended to purchase.  Bad business.

But what I really want to discuss about this wine bar was their choice of glass.  They use small, thick wine glasses with their logo on the side.

I realize that as I have immersed myself in this industry I have become quite particular.   Part of this “snobbery” or “high expectation” comes as a result of time spent in Napa (and surrounding California wine country) where they do it… “right” (I use quotes as I know this is a relative term).   All wine is served in nice big thin glasses – of all qualities – but at least they try.  And yes, many do have their logo on the glasses used.  Something I think is OK at wineries but tacky in a wine bar.
So, my question to you is – is this particularity or dare I say “snobbery” something that is unique to me?  Do you think that more CASUAL wine drinkers would notice things such as quality of stemware??  (or as the case may be non-breakable glasses and how while they are good for the dishwasher they are NOT good for wine tasting?????)

I welcome your thoughts as always…



Better Wine Bar experiences

Friday, February 29th, 2008

This past Wednesday I visited two wine bars.  One was with a young woman after work and the other was with yet another young woman somewhat later in the evening.

The first wine bar was a South African wine bar which I have previously mentioned.  I was greeted warmly by two people that worked there.  I have been to the place twice before but I was greeted as if I was a regular.

When my companion arrived she indicated that she preferred white wine as red wine tends to have an effect similar to caffeine.  I was fine with that as a nice South African Chenin Blanc seemed like a nice wine to start the evening with.  The server allowed us to try two kinds and we chose one which was nice Quaffer (simple, easy to drink wine).

The only negative comment I have about my experience there was that the server, thinking he was doing his job, kept coming over and pouring the wine from the bottle into our glasses.  NOT A BIG DEAL of course but I MUCH prefer to do my own pouring.  This in my mind better allows me to see the evolving of the wine in the glass (where relevant – which here with the Chenin it was not) and also allows me to maintain a level in my glass that I am comfortable with – something that is important to someonewho likes to swirl their wine as much as I do.

The next wine bar is a place in my neighborhood that we were informed opened 7 weeks ago.  The place has an East side location that I have been to in the past.  This location was very impressive.  Quite large – not necessarily the best thing for a wine bar as the small, intimate setting seems to be the format that has proven to be most successful.  It was dimly lit and had a warm feeling.  I was most impressed by a storage room enclosed by see-through glass doors that kept the wines temperature & humidity controlled.  Something I might want to include if I were ever to open a wine bar (hypothetically speaking of course ;)).

But the best part about this wine bar was the service.  We were offered multiple tastes before ordering.  There was no pressure whatsoever.  And when the server could not answer a question she simply said that she better ask someone who could properly address the question – no BULLSHIT.  Which I very much appreciated.  BUT, it did not end there.  We finally decided on a California Syrah.  It was brought over, presented…and WAS OFF.  I think it may have been corked, but definitely off.  The server was extremely apologetic (which was not necessary) and was quick to offer to get us a different bottle.  the other California Syrah option was brought out and proved to be a very fine wine.  BUT, it did not end there.  Apparently embarrassed by how long it took for us to get a satisfactory wine (I process that while long I actually enjoyed) the server offered to get us a plate of food on the house.  My date had not yet eaten so we ordered a tuna tartare which actually went quite well with the Syrah (even though one might think that a tannic Syrah & salty raw fish might clash).

In all I had a lovely evening and I was very pleased with the warm service and decor in both locations.  Something to aspire to…

Happy wine bar hopping!


Another rude sommelier

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I went out with a young lady to a wine bar last night.  I have been to this place once before and my experience was quite good.  Despite this bar’s attempt to be “hip” and serve their wines in stemless glasses, my request for proper stemware has been granted on both visits to the location.

But that is NOT what stood out most about last night.  Upon our arrival we were seated by a very warm and friendly young woman.  I asked my date what type of wines she was interested in, and she responded “sweet” (shocker!).  I chose to interpret sweet as “fruity” and explained as much to our server.  She suggested Pinot.  I told her that new world Pinot is generally too “artificially sweet” tasting to me.  And she offered to bring some taste’s of old world Pinot’s.  We happily accepted.  She brought an Italian Pinot and a French Bourgogne.  My date liked the bourgogne (which was quite fruity) while I preferred the Italian Pinot which I found to be more elegant & earthy.

But since we were considering a bottle, we remained undecided.  At which point IT happened.  The sommelier came over.  My last time at this bar I was helped out by a very sweet and un-intimidating female sommelier.   Last night was another story altogether.  The sommelier did not smile once.  He was pushy (or at least it felt that way), cold and suggested we “try” a unique Italian varietal which he believed fit the description of what we were looking for.  I apparently misunderstood his use of the word “try” and thougt he was offering us another taste.  Instead he came over with a new bottle which he presented.  I stopped him before he opened it (thankfully) and told him that I must have misunderstood – I thought he was going to allow us to TRY it before choosing it.  Again, icy cold – NO.  At which point I told him that we would like to taste our wine before ordering a bottle.  He reluctantly brought over a Sangiovese for us to try.  While I was not thrilled with his demeaner, the wine pleased both my date and I and we ordered a bottle.

But boy did we have plenty to talk about.  I was MAD.  Mad that guys like this are keeping genuinely interested people from feeling more comfortable about wine.  It is guys like this who perpetuate the intimidation of the industry and have people instead choosing spirits or beer over wine – fearing that their lack of knowledge combined with people like that are going to make them feel stupid.

OK, deep breath Wine Tasting Guy.  He is not worth getting so worked up about.  But it is just really frustrating.  Not to mention that it is simply bad business.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  I did end up expressing my frustration to the owner so I suppose we will see what happens.

But the point I am making is that while there is A LOT to know & learn about wine, it should be fun, not intimidating,  exciting, not overwhelming and the experts should be warm and graceful not cold and pretentious.

On this snowy NY friday I wish you all a WARM & TASTY weekend!


wine bar BARTENDER – what is he/she there for?

Friday, February 15th, 2008

I went out to a relatively new wine bar last night with a few friends on the Upper West Side (of Manhattan).  Nothing special about the place.  Just a nondescript & conveniently located wine bar for the 3 of us to get together and have a glass of wine.

While 2 of the 3 of us “knew” wine (whatever that means) we were a little put off by the unfriendly nature of the older gentleman (in his 50’s) behind the bar.  No warm smile.  No offer for help.  We ordered some food – the least the bartender could have done was offer to help us find a wine that would pair well with the food that was ordered.  Nothing.  Just a cold, bordering on grumpy demeanor.

I bring this up as I believe the bartender/server is the representative of the place.  Almost like a PR person.  Forget about the well know fact that they work for tips – a detail one would think would lead to a warm (even if fake) demeanor.  But the person needs to both promote the location and HELP the customer.  Offer some friendly suggestions or pairing options.  Make the person feel comfortable.  Go nuts, start up a friendly conversation…

Wine bars have really proliferated all over Manhattan, and that is a fabulous thing.  Soon to be gone are the days of asking for wine in a bar and being offered “red or white”.  But what good are these wine bars if the people doing the “serving” within this service industry are cold & useless servers??

Sorry if this was a downer post.  The truth is that I have been to wine bars where the servers are full of energy, information & warmth.  Last nights experience was more of an exception than a rule.  But one I thought important enough to post about.

Happy Valentine Weekend.  Hope you enjoy it with a loved one…or at least a nice bottle of something you love!


Glass of RED or WHITE??

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

A quick post from L.A…

I met up with some friends last night in between all the family time and we went to a bar on Sunset Blvd.  I had asked the crew about a possible wine bar, but apparently there are not (yet) many wine bars in L.A.

Anyway, at the bar I noticed a girl ordered a glass of red wine.  I asked her if she cared what she was getting.  It could be Cabernet, Merlot…who knows…could even be a cheap blend of red plonk.  Did not seem to bother her.

Can it be that a city like LA, with its “culture”, proximity to wine country, etc., can still be so far behind other major metropolitan areas in its growing wine appreciation (or apparent lack thereof)???

Granted this bar was somewhat of a “jeans & t-shirt” kind of place.  But still – it was shocking to me.  But maybe she, or the place, was an exception.  For just a year ago I was in town for a wedding at a place across the street on Sunset that seemed to have a very fine wine list with discerning customers…

Know what kind of wine you like, order with pride, and trust YOUR palate!

Happy wine-ing…