Restaurant Wine: No More Bottles

$70 worth of buyer's remorse
There's a $70 bottle of syrah sitting on the kitchen counter that you wouldn't have paid $20 for. It wasn't something a dinner guest brought, and it wasn't a silent auction prize from the PTO fundraiser.

I wish. 

Anniversary dinner out at a swank, hip ritrovo nearby and I figured a splurge on the wine would do the evening right. No stranger to Santa Barbara County Rhone varieties, I figured I was in familiar, safe territory ordering this bottle. But mistakes do happen. The wine was absent any overt flaws, but remained flat, unyielding, and obtuse.  Overall, uninspiring. 

Was it a challenging vintage? Was it properly stored? Did it need four hours to deliver the goods?  These are the excuses I've made five of the last five times I've ordered bottles at restaurants - and which underscore the risks of putting too many eggs in one basket.

Halfway through our first glass we cut bait and ordered what turned out to be smashing glass of Sonoma Coast pinot noir from a very highly-regarded producer.  It was everything the syrah wasn't.  And at $13 a glass for the pinot, I felt like a chump for having spent seventy bones on the bottle we were bringing home in a brown paper bag.

By the glass programs (BTG) have improved dramatically in recent years. Gone are the days of one house red and one house white, either of which might have been poured from a jug or box.  Today, diners can enjoy a wide range of quality choices without having to commit to an entire bottle.  Even more hospitable, many restaurants/bars are more than happy to provide samples of any wine they're pouring by the glass. This significantly reduces the risk of even ordering the wrong glass, let alone a mediocre bottle.

So, while fine dining establishments continue to differentiate themselves for their lengthy (and expensive) wine lists, I've come to look at bottles as a negative punctuation mark on dining out.  But there's no bitterness here, just cause for celebrating low risk options.  Looking ahead, the depth and imagination of a restaurant's BTG program will play a far greater role in determining my choice for where to spend dining out dollars.