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TDG: Wine Camp: The Predator Sommelier


Fat Guy
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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the dining room . . .

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened the bill. There was just a note saying "With our compliments," signed by Ducasse and his sommelier. The entire thing was free.

I hate you.

I really love the behind-the-scenes, front-of-the-house-strategy info.

It would be relatively easy for me -- a youngin' -- to turn down an expensive bottle because no one expects much from me...The downside, though, is the I- know-you-won't-order-shit stare I get from managers and waiters -- in fact sommeliers don't step within twenty feet of my table.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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I went to Ducasse New York with Christian Delouvrier once. He comped Delouvrier's half of the bill. :laugh::shock:

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It would be relatively easy for me -- a youngin' -- to turn down an expensive bottle

This is more in a business dinner type of environment. Where the host is out to pamper clients. The host does not want the guest to feel they are not 'worth' the money so the bottle gets ordered. Of course at a table of friends it is much easier to say no.

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Great article, Craig. I recently went through this entire ordeal at our neighborhood Ruth's Chris, where every singly one of those strategies was utilized to the max. Because I was entertaining clients -- strike that, we were celebrating a major closing -- I was helpless. What was worse was the upselling of the food rather than the wine! Anyhow, it was a big client and a very worthwhile investment.

Oh, and you do indeed suck.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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"

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened the bill. There was just a note saying "With our compliments," signed by Ducasse and his sommelier. The entire thing was free. "

A beautiful and professional gesture on Mr. Ducasse's behalf.

I dined in his bistro in Paris [ located near his restaurant ] 2 years ago and it was a total shame.

Back in 1999, I spent 3 days in the Cote D'or enjoying the late Bernard Loiseau masterpieces [ still is a great food, by the way ] and was ready to pay the bill including 2 nights in his top of the line hotel. 4 of his books were waiting for me signed instead of the bill [ would have equaled my 2 week vaction in the French villages ].

What are friends for...

I know it may sound bad, but many times I mention the price of wine to worried or unsure faces, whenever I reccomend a special wine.

Most of the answers are a quick agreement.

Andre Suidan

I was taught to finish what I order.

Life taught me to order what I enjoy.

The art of living taught me to take my time and enjoy.

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20 years ago, in 1983, I got my first job where my title was actually sommelier. Before that, it had been maitre d' or captain. I had the opportunity to work with one of the old time guys in Washington, DC. This guy was the consummate predator sommelier and I still thank him for teaching me all the things one should never do to a customer. Some random predator stories:

This particular fellow would walk to the table with the winelist, but he would never let it go. After a few words he would announce that he had the perfect wine for you. Needless to say, it was always terribly expensive. Since this restaurant was in a convention hotel, there were always many large parties dining with us. My man would identify the host, chat breifly, then come back with 6 bottles of wine and proceed to pull all the corks before anyone could stop him. The restaurant used those horrible Libbey tulip glasses. He would fill everyone's glass, then depart. This was the signal for the waiter to come over and empty every bottle. Glasses filled right to the rim. Shameless. My job was to replace the fellow 2 nights a week. The waiters didn't care for me because I couldn't bring myself to act this way. Another ruse: customer would ask for a glass of wine. "We don't serve wine by the glass. Have a half bottle, that's a glass". He would dump a full half bottle in the tulip glass. Same with Champagne. More recently, a friend told me that on Bush's inauguration night a Texan came into his restuarant with 2 blonde babes on his arms. "Get me the best damned bottle of pinot noir you have". The waiter returns with a bottle of Romanee Conti and pulls the cork. Needless to say when the check came, the guy happened to notice the $4,000 bottle of wine. Neither he nor my friend were amused. That waiter doesn't work there anymore.

For myself, I firmly believe that the guy who wants to spend a load of money will let me know it clearly. Even though I work on commission, I am much more concerned that the customer gets the best bottle of wine within the budget he has established with me. Luckily for me, there are still plenty of high-rollers out there who visit our restaurant. I learned long ago that for every bottle of house wine I serve, there is a bottle of Chateau Latour to balance it. My restaurant will sell 2 million dollars worth of wine this year. This is the result of my work: having a balanced and varied wine program and winelist that appeals to customers at every price level.

Mark

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great piece, craig.  and i also appreciate when people use the phrase "champing at the bit". 

one question:  why short pour people who are drinking quickly?

Tommy,

The technique is to overpour the people who aren't drinking and short pour the quick drinkers in order to sell another bottle quickly. What I do is pour everyone a smaller than normal pour first, then identify who drinks quickly and re-fill them. I can serve a table of 8 from one bottle and still have wine left over. Killing the bottle on the first round is considered poor form.

Mark

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I've heard about restaurants in Budapest that prey on tourists by presenting a bill for $3,000 or $4,000 for a couple of bottles of champagne and then producing a bevy of heavies who scare them into forking over their credit card. Sounds like they could take some lessons from the new world.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Listen kids- you pay to play. If you want the minimum mark up, start your own formidable cellar, knead the bread yourselves, break four egg yolks into a well of flour..... You can have ethereal unreal only read about in books, encyclopediac experiences. But usually it will cost you. Getting comped is a beautiful wonderful thing- I see it less and less as restaurants get newer and newer. Sommeliers & Car salespeople, as well as the ladies (and gentlemen) in Nordstrom's lingerie & shoe Departments all basically have the same job. If you are on commision (and many of us are) it is to your advantage to sell as much as possible. It is all commerce. Selling DRC to a man who wants the best PN is foolish: the best wine sales people figure out what it is that people truly want whether it is Lambrusco or Krug, KJ or Peter Michael. If you choose to dine with Ducasse, give your credit card a valium and enjoy the ride!

over it

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The technique is to overpour the people who aren't drinking and short pour the quick drinkers in order to sell another bottle quickly. What I do is pour everyone a smaller than normal pour first, then identify who drinks quickly and re-fill them. I can serve a table of 8 from one bottle and still have wine left over. Killing the bottle on the first round is considered poor form.

i must be thicker than i thought. what does "short pour" mean? i assume that means "give them a little". :blink::wacko: and if that's the case, i still don't see how that gets the to drink quicker, which would seem to be the goal if you want to move another bottle.

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Mark - thanks for the stories from the front lines.

Tommy - when they open the bottle they pour evenly, but when they return they pour more wine into the slow drinkers glasses and then short pour the fast drinker and empty the bottle. The starting point for ordering a second bottle is the first empty glass not later ones. Also if at this point you change wines it is new glasses all around. This means a lot of wine can be left sitting in glasses unconsumed. They don't care if you drink it - only if you buy it.

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Sommelier :

Magnificently up-market name for a wine waiter. By tradition he should have a fancy costume, a big silver chain around his neck, a tasting cup, a decorated apron and know more about wine than even the critic of The Times. If he is splendid enough he could be worth even 30 per cent on the wine prices.

http://www.nicks.com.au/winehumour/page21.html

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I had the pleasure of working with Joe Spellman reviewing wines in Chicago, before I went over to the dark side of the law. He's a class act, all the way, and I'm glad to hear he hasn't changed in the last 10 years. I thought I had exposed myself to a predatory sommelier at lunch at Taillevent this past March. I concluded that a red burgundy was the best choice, but put myself in his hands, as my experience with the region is unfortunately shallow, with only the plaintive suggestion under my breath that it not be too pricey. He brought a excellent '97 (cannot recall the village), and I braced myself for the check, hoping it didn't pass too far into the 3 figures. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was under 50E! Among other things, it was that kind of service that made the meal.

Geoff

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More recently, a friend told me that on Bush's inauguration night a Texan came into his restuarant with 2 blonde babes on his arms. "Get me the best damned bottle of pinot noir you have". The waiter returns with a bottle of Romanee Conti and pulls the cork. Needless to say when the check came, the guy happened to notice the $4,000 bottle of wine. Neither he nor my friend were amused. That waiter doesn't work there anymore.

I can see why most of these stories are a bit off, but this guy seemed to deserve everything he got.

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The technique is to overpour the people who aren't drinking and short pour the quick drinkers in order to sell another bottle quickly. What I do is pour everyone a smaller than normal pour first, then identify who drinks quickly and re-fill them. I can serve a table of 8 from one bottle and still have wine left over. Killing the bottle on the first round is considered poor form.

i must be thicker than i thought. what does "short pour" mean? i assume that means "give them a little". :blink::wacko: and if that's the case, i still don't see how that gets the to drink quicker, which would seem to be the goal if you want to move another bottle.

I've been the victim of this more than once, although far more often when my father was alive and paying the bill. At a family dinner, one of the members who didn't drink, but who would not remember to tell the waiter, would have a full glass by the end of the course (at each pass of the table, the waiter added a bit more to the glass) while I would have an empty glass quite early. My father was not a big wine drinker and hardly noticed. The casual observer might just think I was drinking more, but in fact, I got less. Both my wife and I tried to educate the rest of the family, but mostly we went thirsty, because my father thought one bottle was enough. The restaurant wouldn't make any more money, but wine was wasted.

The worst case scenario I can remember was at a little neighborhood restaurant to which I've never returned. We had a large table, but not that large--maybe six people. The waiter opened the wine and proceeded to fill each large glass in turn. I was not amused, but waited for the punchline. Sure enough he ran out while pouring glass number five and had the balls to announce "you're out of wine, would you like another bottle." We would clearly have had two or three bottles that evening, but we said "no" and proceeded to fill the last glass from the first four.

On the other hand, at really good restaurants, I have seen a waiter or sommelier manage to serve two couples and still have more well more than half the bottle left. Hell, I've seen that with a half bottle in a really good restaurant. As for pricing, I've been oversold and I've been undersold. By the latter I mean to say I would have been willing to spend much more than the price of the wine that was recommended. I've also been lucky to have friends in good places and have made friends with people who take care of me. Thus I'm often in a position of being protected rather than fleeced. I have also been known to get the infrequent comp. The business of letting the sommelier take care of you and pick the wines is a tricky one. I need to trust the house very much, but then I don't dine where I'm going to be embarrassed by looking cheap. That is, I dine with friends and family who already know I'm cheap. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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VGS on a label?

Does it really mean "Very Good Shit"? Every single person I've asked (elsefora) has answered that way.

1. From where did this bottle come?

2. I hope so.

VGS is the reserve designation that Jean-Noel gives to Chateau Potelle's best chardonnays, cabernets and zinfandels. If you ask him to his face, he tells you that's what it means. The first such designation came from Deloach Vineyards. Their OFS was supposed to mean "Out-f*cking-Standing".

Mark

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VGS on a label?

Does it really mean "Very Good Shit"? Every single person I've asked (elsefora) has answered that way.

1. From where did this bottle come?

2. I hope so.

VGS is the reserve designation that Jean-Noel gives to Chateau Potelle's best chardonnays, cabernets and zinfandels. If you ask him to his face, he tells you that's what it means. The first such designation came from Deloach Vineyards. Their OFS was supposed to mean "Out-f*cking-Standing".

I remember that now. I had the Potelle VGS some years ago. Indeed that was the reference and the wine was not bad - but VGS might be pushing it a bit far.

The Deloach story is also true - but they will deny it like crazy because of potential problems with the BATF.

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1. From where did this bottle come?

2. I hope so.

A woman at Readerville had posted, months ago:

We were at a winery yesterday with some wines that were labelled VGS. "What's the VGS stand for?" Very good shit.

And everyone I asked said the same thing, but I don't know the bottle or winery.

Thanks for the help, all.

Does anyone in San Francisco know where to buy Gruner Veltliner wines?

Edited by tanabutler (log)
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