Wine Adventures

About Corkage and Unpleasantness

Sticky subject.  Many fine dining restaurants allow guests to bring their own wines and charge a corkage fee that can range anywhere from $10 (nice) to $100 (ouch).  Some will allow only wines (or vintages) they don’t have on their lists, or limit the number of bottles they allow guests to bring.  Others, however, dig in their heels and do not allow any outside wine.  No way, no how.

That’s a mistake.

My good friend and wine buddy, Miles Grant, recently had a very discouraging experience at Il Mulino in New York, and it didn’t have to happen.  Many patrons of high-end restaurants are wine collectors (like Miles, who has a killer collection) and would like to enjoy special bottles at special dinners.  Second, when restaurant personnel are stubborn and inflexible on the issue they create ill will and bad publicity that can spread far beyond the initial incident…not to mention the potential loss of good customers.

Of course, some restaurants, like Il Mulino have enough business that pissing off a few good customers doesn’t matter to them.  Many wine lovers simply don’t go to restaurants that are not wine friendly.

Miles describes what happened in the letter he wrote to the restaurant owners after his “encounter” with their corkage policy a few weeks ago.

Dear John and the Managers and Owners of Il Mulino,

This email discusses my great disappointment at not being able to open my special bottle of wine which I brought to your restaurant on Monday night October 21.

Before explaining my recent experience, I want to let you know that I’ve been dining at your original Il Mulino for over 20 years.  During that time, although I live in San Diego, CA, I’m sure I’ve dined with you at least 15 maybe 20 times.  I’ve told everyone I know, I was born and raised in Queens, that the food at Il Mulino is the best Italian food in the world, not just NY, not just the U.S. but the world, including Italy. I love your food.  Always have and always will.

I am a very serious wine collector.  I was in NY attending the Wine Experience, a three day wine event at the Marriott Marquis put on by the Wine Spectator (owned by Marvin Shanken).  My wine friends, from all over the country, bring our best wine to NY to share during the festivities.

On Monday, October 21, I dined with my friend Kevin Kinsella and his girlfriend Paten Hughes.  Kevin happens to own a winery in Sonoma County called Kinsella Estates; they make a killer Cab, probably the best Cab made in Sonoma County.  Kevin and Paten live in SoHo and dine out almost every night.

I wanted to do something special for Kevin, so I brought a 2001 Araujo Syrah to dinner.  Araujo only makes Syrah in some vintages and their production is tiny, maybe a few hundred cases of Syrah.  The wine, when aged is incredible.  Drinking the 2001 now is an experience.

We had a 9:30 pm reservation on a Monday night.  The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived. The waiter said we couldn’t open our wine.  I begged.  I offered to pay a $100 corkage fee.  This is a very special bottle that I wanted to share with my very special friends.  The waiter refused saying it was company policy.  Kevin and I said it made no sense because the restaurant will make $100 profit by letting us open our bottle or will make not one penny on booze as we were not going to buy any alcohol in light of your policy.

While I love your food, wine is a very important part of my life.  I always bring wine with me to restaurants.  Not to save money but to drink what I want to drink, which is great wine that is properly aged.  Restaurants rarely have great wine that is also old.  Most bottles in most restaurants are simply too young to really be enjoyed.

So, I ask you, why not change your policy?  Charge a $50 or $75 corkage fee?  Limit the number of bottles?  Don’t allow wine brought in that you have on the wine list?  But, if you don’t change your policy, neither Kevin, nor I, nor any of my wine friends, who feel the same way about this as I do, will ever again dine at any of your restaurants (as good as the food is, there are other great Italian restaurants where we can bring in our wine).  I truly hope you re-consider so that we can continue to enjoy your great food.

Thank you.

P.S. We called the restaurant to try get the names and email addresses of owners and managers of Il Mulino, but the person answering the phone refused to provide this information so we’re sendi
ng this email just to the email addresses mentioned on your website

So it’s up to us wine lovers/collectors/enthusiasts to help restaurants like Il Mulino, Daniel Boulud, and others understand that having some sort of corkage policy, however limited, would gain them more in good will and memorable dining experiences than it would cost them in dollars.

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Secrets of the Wine Whisperer is the story of an innocent couple's descent into the joy, fulfillment (and expense) of the wine world.  Since I'm not in the wine business, we came to the wine world as complete newbies...until someone poured us the Glass That Did It.  In my experience, everyone who gets geeky about wine has a similar epiphany.  Somebody gives you a glass of something, shows you how to swirl and sniff, and -- holey moley! -- you never knew anything could taste like that.

As I write in the book, for us it was a glass of 1993 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  We were instantly transformed.  So Secrets  is part memoir, part musing, and part interesting information on everything to do with wine, its consumption, appreciation, and yes, there's the expense, too.

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Boiling Your Burgundy

Makes it taste better…???

My friend Lee over in Miami, who I’ve known since the 7th grade, got into wine a lot sooner than most of us.  In college he met a woman (Rebecca, now his wife of 40 years) whose father managed a wine and liquor store.  He started buying, and still sits on Grand Cru Burgundies he bought in the 1970s at prices that make me weep.

Anyway, I got the following email message from him the other day.  It’s a new perspective on the care and storage of fine wine.

I'm cleaning out the back of my SUV before I take it to the car wash on Monday. I keep a large insulated folding bag in the back that I use to transport groceries and wine in the warmer months. I'm lifting the bag and it seems heavy. I open it and find a bottle of the 2005 Champy Vosne Romanee. That means it's been in the bottom of the bag almost a month. Probably cooked I'm thinking. I cool it off in the refrigerator and go buy some salmon. I open in and place it in a carafe. That night Rebecca gets home after seven and I end up not drinking the wine at all. The wine is gone anyway and I leave it on the counter until yesterday . I'm making roast chicken so I put the decanter back in the fridge. I figure Rebecca is working a little late and I might as well try this bottle, not being sure about it or her arrival time.

The result was the wine was better than the other two bottles of Champy that I opened previously .  This blew me away. This bottle was cooked and then opened on a Monday and drunk on a Thursday.   So now before I open any Burgundy I'm leaving them in my trunk for at least a month and opening them 4 days before drinking. Go figure.




Meet the Wine Whisperer…your resource for undiscovered wines…bargain bottles…very personal wine ratings and opinions…recipes…wine & food matching, and entertaining reviews.

We travel extensively, visiting winemaker friends in California, France, and Italy.  Many times, we find “secret” wines both here and in Europe.  Some of them are limited production…maybe 250 cases or so a year, sold only to close friends on a mailing list.  Others might be higher production, but still not as well known as they should be.  We’ll be posting links to those producers, so that you can find them and try them yourself.

By the way we don’t sell wine, and have no commercial interest.  Wine is our life…it’s fun, and it has transported us to great places, unique experiences, and wonderful relationships.   We wish the same for you.

Please pour a glass of something you like, get comfortable, and click around a bit.  There are new reviews, hints and recipes posted every week, so stop back often…and click through to some of our friends.

If you have questions, comments, ideas, or suggestions, please contact us at winewhiz@comcast.net  We’d love to hear from you.

As we used to say in Spain, Salud, amor, y dinero.  Y el tiempo para gustarlos. Health, love, and money…and the time to enjoy them.

Sideway...and Beyond

The movie “Sideways,” the surprise sleeper hit movie of 2004, chronicles the misadventures of two old college buddies who spend a week playing golf and drinking wine in the vineyard country west of Santa Barbara.  (I’ve watched it about eleven times.  It’s the ultimate wine geek movie).  Since I had never been there, everything I knew about the area (or thought I knew) was gleaned from what I saw in the film.

Bad idea.  Our trip there in mid-October was something of a revelation—good and not-so-good.  First, I believed, because of the movie, that everybody who made wine out there spent all their time growing, crushing, and bottling Pinot Noir.  Not so.  They grow an amazing variety of wine grapes, including Spanish, Italian, and French types, that I never expected.  That’s the good news.

Punching down the cap at the Margerum winery.

Second, I thought the area was set up pretty much like Napa Valley, with tasting rooms at the wineries, which would be located in the midst of scenic, rolling acres of grapevines.  Again, I supposed erroneously.  The major part of the tasting scene isn’t like that at all.  But all in all, there are still great wines to drink, and stimulating experiences to be had.

With Pali winemaker Aaron Walker.

Start in Solvang, originally a Danish settlement, that looks a bit like the back lot at Disney.  All the buildings on the main and side streets have that northern European, half-timbered look.  Very atmospheric.  The Mirabelle Inn, two blocks off the main street, is a picturesque B&B that reeks of old world charm and history.  However, it was built in 1997.  Nice place.

Beautiful downtown Solvang

As far as wine adventures go, the tasting rooms, rather than being out in the vineyards, are clustered in the closely-spaced villages of Solvang, Lompoc, Buellton, Los Olivos, and some others.  In fact, Los Olivos alone has 21 tasting rooms, all within two blocks of one another.  Charm, sad to say, is a bit lacking.

The area itself is quite picturesque: rolling hills, rows of grapevines undulating in every direction outside of the towns, pygmy donkey ranches, angora goats, even an ostrich farm or two.  But if you’re there for the wine life, it’s a different story.

Lompoc (which, I discovered, is pronounced “Lahm-poke) is part of that different story.  To enjoy the local wine production there, one goes to what is called the “wine ghetto.”  (Yes, they really call it that).  It is a sad collection of strip-center type buildings behind the Home Depot as you first come into town.  There will be two or three tasting rooms, a gun shop, another tasting room, a plumber’s workshop, a few more wine places, you get the idea.  The wines themselves are, on the whole, quite good, and some of the tasting salons beautifully decorated.  But it wasn’t what we expected.

The other thing about the wines is that many of them don’t have national distribution, though some, like Brian Loring’s excellent Pinot Noirs, can be found locally.  Most are either sold exclusively in the tasting rooms or in restaurants in a limited area.  So there are discoveries.

Cousin David tries a very very young barrel sample.

As I mentioned, most of the wines we enjoyed are not available through local stores.  But you can order them directly from the winemakers.  Here are some of my favorites.

Flying Goat Cellars – Norman Yost and his wife make excellent Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in a winery located in (you guessed it ) an industrial park.  Top of my list is the 2007 Rio Vista Vineyard Clone 2A Pinot Noir, with rich red currant and raspberry flavors right up front, complemented by cedar, spice and smoke.  About $40 from www.flyinggoatcellars.com.

Loring – Brian and Kimberly Loring’s tasting room is also set into an unassuming corner of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, but there’s nothing unassuming about his Pinot Noirs.  He makes about 15 of them, mostly from single vineyards, and they’re very much available locally.  His best come from the most famous of the Santa Barbara/Sta. Rita soils, including Rosella’s vinelard,Durrell, Gary’s and Keefer Ranch.  Many of the finest winemakers source grapes from these same areas.  If you find any Loring 2010 Pinot Noirs on the shelf in any wine store, buy them.

Pali Wine Company – As it happens, these wines are available locally, and they’re a bargain.  Great Pinot Noirs at bargain prices are very hard to find, but the Pali Pinot Noir Riviera fits the bill nicely, with aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and cranberry, and a very smooth mouthfeel.  We first met Pali winemaker Aaron Walker at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival last year, and during our visit he was nice enough to taste us through everything he makes.  Also worth looking for are the Pali Pinot Noir Shea and their Highlands Red Wine, which is a blend of Bordeaux-style grapes.  Delicious.  Visit www.paliwineco.com.

Miles gets his barrel sample the hard way.

But, as I said earlier, they grow a wild variety of grapes out there.  More next month.

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