At dinner last week a young server was having trouble pulling the cork from a bottle she had just brought to our table. She was using a traditional wine “key,” and holding the bottle in one hand while trying to manage the key in the other. My wife suggested she set the bottle on the table, but the server said she wasn’t allowed to.
She apologized and explained that this was her first night on the job without shadowing an experienced server and that this was only the second bottle she had been asked to serve so far this evening. I have never been told why a server should not open a bottle while it’s sitting on the table, but I suspect it has a lot to do with stressing the table setting or coming between guests or possibly by crumbling cork or dripping wine on the table cloth. Or maybe it falls into the category of what one of France’s most famous sommeliers told me about not disturbing the “psychology of the table.” One shouldn’t interrupt if the conversation is tense or the beau is about to propose or if a business deal is about to be consummated, and so on.
In any case, we should never forget that professional wine service, while generally pleasurable and rewarding, is never easy or simple. There are long-held principles of serving wine that a caring server will honor and which will make the wine experience all the more meaningful for both diner and server. I won’t go into many of them here other than to point out the very most basic considerations — make sure the glass is clean and is really clear glass with a stem. Know when and how to decant. Make sure you know who among the diners is responsible for selecting the wine.
I recognize that most restaurants don’t have sommeliers or even designated wine servers, so it is incumbent on management to assure that the basic requirements and courtesies of wine service are known to the staff, and I assure you that watching a pleased customer accept and enjoy a wine is the greatest pleasure of wine service.
Oh, and did I mention the time spent in the cellars and storage areas stacking cases and organizing them for efficient use? There is much to know and do in the service of wine.
If you’re not a customer at Trader Joe’s, you may not know about Two Buck Chuck. It’s actually Three Buck Chuck these days but the original nickname seems to have stuck. Trader Joe’s is a supermarket chain that began in California back in the ‘60s and has slowly made it’s way across the U.S. There are two stores in Indianapolis and I know Bloomingtonians who stop in whenever they are near the 86th St or Castleton stores.
Three Buck Chuck (TBC) refers to wine that is only available for purchase at Trader Joe’s under the label Charles Shaw, hence the nickname “Chuck.” The first bottles were sold in 2002, according to Trader Joe’s website, and were priced at $1.99, hence the reference to “Two Buck.” With inflation, the price has risen to $2.99 a bottle, still surprisingly low. So where did TBC originate, why is the price so low, and is it considered drinkable?
Blake Gray, writing in The Gray Report, debunks the mystery behind this inexpensive wine. Often thought to be part of a nasty divorce, Gray tells us Shaw actually went bankrupt trying to make Beaujolais-type wine in California. Fred Franzia of Bronco Wines purchased the brand at auction. If anyone knows how to make and distribute inexpensive wine, it’s Franzia. Think boxed wine. Franzia’s 5 liter boxes average around $16. You would need to purchase 6.66 (750 ml) bottles of wine to equal 5 liters. That’s $20 in TBC terms. Some argue TBC is not that cheap. But for a bottle of wine, it truly is. And here’s why.
Gray states every “facet of Charles Shaw is as cheap as possible.” There’s nothing spent for advertising or sales because they only use one vendor, Trader Joe’s. They grow some of their own grapes, buy from other vineyards that are overextended in product, and use cheap bottles and labels.
Annie Black of Paste Magazine conducted her own taste test and says that out of the seven varietals, there are four drinkable TBC’s – the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Pinot Grigio. In her own disclaimer, she says her friends disagreed. As always, you should be your own judge.
And as an interesting sidebar, since 1979, Trader Joe’s has been owned by a German family trust fund established by Theo Albrecht. His brother Karl owns the U.S. grocery, Aldi. Does this make Trader Joe’s and Aldi cousins?
A few days ago, I would have given a dollar-cost for the 20-Euro admission price to La Cite du Vin which opened earlier this month in Bordeaux. With the U.K. exit from the EU, monetary exchange rates have gone into such flux, let it be that admission to this extravagant show case of wine history and culture is 20 Euros.
I wasn’t there for the opening, but every report indicates the place is a great success. In some ways, I feel as if I’ve been there. During the ten years of its creation, I have passed the construction site several times, a couple years ago annoyed at the road deviations it caused.
Wine and food museums have never enjoyed a long life, but this one seems destined to last. There is a successful precedent in Romaneche-Thorins where Georges Duboeuf used Disney teams to create his Hameau du Beaujolias, still going very strong after a couple of decades. In fact, I noticed a year ago that it has expanded tastefully and considerably.
The Bordeaux project is much more ambitious. Even the shape of its building defies the most traditional of classic architecture. It resembles a stemmed glass on a pedestal with wine swirling to its upper lip, seven stories above ground, a formidable presence on the edge of the Garonne where not long ago a line of tired and dilapidated warehouses reminded of the early days of wine shipping.
La Cite offers visitors virtual and interactive tours of wine culture and history around the world and throughout time, with special activities aimed at children. We Americans can take pride in the Jefferson Auditorium (for screenings, presentations, and concerts) funded largely by the efforts of New York philanthropist Robert Wilmers, himself owner of a Bordeaux wine chateau.
Now that it’s open, I’ve been assured that it’s a great place to eat, taste, drink, and buy wine from just about everywhere. Sante.
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