Intermediate to Intermediate-Advanced Wines: An Introductory Course to Bottle Service

I’ve been working at the same restaurant for maybe six months or so. I’ve written about wine before, how I didn’t know anything about wine, and then about how I had to pretend like I knew a lot about wine to get my current gig. But I’m experienced now. Everything’s different. I’ve soaked up so much wine knowledge.

Well, that’s not really true. I’ve soaked up some knowledge. A little bit. And it hasn’t really been a soaking, like a sponge. It’s more like if you imagine me to be a piece of wood, and if you kept that piece of wood submerged in a barrel of wine for six months, you’d take it out, and it definitely wouldn’t be soaked with wine, but there’d be a stain, at least the wine made some impact on the wood.

And that’s what I’m like. I’m stained with wine knowledge. But only slightly. I’ve said this before, but most people who want a glass of wine don’t really care about what wine they’re drinking. “Give me a glass of red,” or “I’ll have some Pinot,” whatever that means. But every once in a while I’ll have some customers that sit down and really start mulling over our wine list. When this happens it’s my cue to stand up a little straighter and do my best to pretend like I know what I’m talking about.

At this point, you should know that if you’re sitting at one of my tables and looking past the wines that we sell by the glass, you already know more about wine than I do. In fact, asking me a question is only going to prompt me to make something up, to sound convincing, and so I’ll be doing you a disservice, doing the wine a disservice, because I’ll say whatever garbage I concoct with the utmost confidence.

Worst-case scenario, I’ll get called out on my mistake, which is easy enough to correct. I just start using my really contrite voice, contrite but equally confident, “I’m so sorry sir/ma’am. I don’t know why I said that. I apologize for my mistake.” Best-case scenario, look, I like wine and everything, but seriously, who is going to go to a restaurant, order a bottle of wine, and then call out the waiter for not knowing what he’s talking about?

One time I had this couple ordering by the bottle. I always get nervous because somebody might order the wine based on the location, like “We’ll take a bottle of the Russian River Valley,” and I’ll try to lean down and squint to where the customer is looking, without appearing too obvious, and I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat that?” and then after they repeat it I’ll say, “Excellent choice,” before running to the kitchen with my own menu, hoping that I can piece together what they were trying to get at.

Anyway, at this table ordering the bottles, the guy kept asking me way too many questions. “What vintage is this Cabernet?” and I seriously had no clue. But I didn’t want to be like, “Let me check that out for you sir,” because then he would have lost all confidence in my knowledge of wines. Which, to be fair, if he had any confidence in my wine knowledge, it was totally unwarranted, and as a paying customer, he should have access to whatever information he wants to know.

“2008,” I told him, totally pulling a random number out of my ass. Come on. The guy’s sitting there with a menu of our wines. Don’t you have an iPhone? Just do a quick two-minute Google search and you can probably find volumes written about whatever bottles we have. It’s like when a tourist asks me for directions to some landmark in the city, I just want to be like, “Don’t you have a phone? Just look it up. What do you think I’m out visiting the Statue of Liberty every weekend?”

I have a firm policy against writing the phrase, “But I digress,” but that’s exactly how I would have started this paragraph if that firm policy weren’t in place. The guy wound up ordering that 2008 bottle of wine. Shit. I hoped he didn’t order that bottle specifically because of the year. I went to the wine closet, found the bottle he was looking for. 2009. Huh. That’s pretty close actually, not bad for just making up a random number. I brought the bottle to the table, showed it off. Should I have said something? About that whole 2008/2009 thing? Maybe. But I didn’t. Not right away anyway. I opened it for him, he didn’t object. About halfway through the meal I went over to see how everything was going and I said, “Huh, I thought that was a 2008. We must have received a new vintage.” The guy nodded. He probably knew I was full of shit.

I’ll conclude with another random wine anecdote. If I’m doing bottle service, I always pour only the first glass, and then I leave my customers alone. A lot of the other waiters and waitresses will be constantly refilling their guests’ glasses, almost after every sip. If I’m ever called out on this I just say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t want you to feel rushed.” But really I just hate pouring the wine, because there’s always that little drip down the side of the bottle, and a lot of the time I forget to carry around an extra linen, and so, what, I’m going to just let it get on the table? Maybe stain their clothes? No, just have at it, because I’m not coming back. Cheers.