Restaurant whine 

Whatever happened to wining and dining?

In days of old, an arrogant putz with a shallow metal cup called a "tastevin" dangling around his neck tested your wine to assure quality. Although this stodgy dude could be a pain, the practice was useful since many people don't know -- or are too embarrassed to say -- when wine has turned south. But unfortunately, the days of educated help have disappeared along with the outdated tastevin, and we're left to fend for ourselves. Now we have two camps: servers who slather you in attitude or frustrate you with ignorance. Do we need fancy, Euro-formal wine service? No. But is it really too much to ask restaurants to provide the basics to their staff? Here's my rant.

True story No. 1: "What sort of wines do you have?" Bartender's response (deep redneck accent): "We got both kinds, red and white."

True story No. 2: "We're featuring a wonderful Merlot this evening (pronounced mur-LOT). It's only $8 per glass."

Training. Would you pay anyone $8 for five ounces of something they cannot even pronounce? I find it refreshing to speak to a confident, knowledgeable server who is intimate with the food and wines on the list. That server might even suggest something I wouldn't have considered before. The anticipation of a delicious wine purchase makes me happier. Everyone wins.

Stocking wine. Wine is a living, breathing, finicky foodstuff. It can spoil with too much air, heat or cold. Yet some restaurants keep white wines in the beer cooler, chilled at less than 40 degrees. Whites all taste the same at cold temperatures -- like tasteless, acidic or oaky crap. Then there's the opposite -- reds kept on top of the cooler, where the refrigerator's heat vent blows not so lovingly on the bottles. After stewing awhile in warmth, reds take on a hot, astringent taste, with virtually no fruit to be found. Neither situation makes for happy wines or consumers, especially when those wines are purchased by the glass.

Serving wine. Wine is meant to be swirled to release more aroma from the juice. If the glass is filled to the rim, there's no swirling room. Give it some space, will ya? And don't keep filling the glass to the rim just to boost the check amount. Damn, that irks me. I'll order more wine if I feel like it, not if the bottle is empty.

Although we have a ways to go, there are thankfully a handful of restaurants in your neighborhood paying close attention to wine service. Reward them with your business, and please, encourage others to clue in.

Aria, 490 E. Paces Ferry Road. 404-233-7673. Lots of big, sexy New World reds that match the slow-cooked, New American cuisine.

Sotto Sotto, 313 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-6678. An education in Italian wines, including an astute selection by the glass.

Watershed, 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-378-4900. The owners take pride in their wine knowledge: If you like what you drink, you can join their wine club or, in some cases, buy the bottle from their retail selection.

One Midtown Kitchen, 559 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111. A place to catch a buzz in the middle of the buzz: enormous selection by the glass in multiple pricing tiers, including a bottomless glass option.

3290 Northside Parkway, 404-233-3500. Astoundingly comprehensive wine list, served by committed professionals whose enthusiasm derails any pretentiousness or intimidation around the experience.

Recommended Wines

Hanna 2003 Sauvignon Blanc, Slusser Road Vineyards, Russian River. . $17. Like a wine Popsicle, yet crisper. Clean, tart grapefruit, sweet white peach and a finish that leaves you begging for more. Great stuff.

Pepi 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, California. . $10. For this kind of money, the quality is a bargain. Graceful with blackberry, toffee and red currants, with a touch of licorice and vanilla on the back-end of the sip.

Montes 2002 Chardonnay Reserve, Curico Valley, Chile. . $8. Smooth as a lake at dawn, but tastes better. Pleasing pear and apple whet your tongue, and creamy vanilla and flint massage it. Outstanding value.

corkscrew@creativeloafing.com

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