Having worked in restaurants all over the world for the last 43 years, I would say the most common complaint restaurants receive is about the way in which wine is served. For that reason, I think it’s important for upcoming Indonesian Sommeliers and restaurant managers to be aware of these common issues and know how to deal with them.
Of course the biggest part of the wine order is the one taking the order itself; does the waiter know which wines are out of stock? If asked for recommendations, does the waiter ask what bottle the guest has previously enjoyed? These are all signs of a good wine server. Adding to that, it’s important that the waiter proposes wines with varying prices. He/she shouldn’t only suggest the expensive bottles – just because the guest orders expensive food doesn’t necessarily mean they want an expensive wine. Also, to avoid disappointment, the waiter should inform the guest if a particular wine only has one bottle left in stock.
Another common issue found in the world of wine! The first thing one should note is the setting of the wine fridge, is set to the right temperature? You will find that some sommeliers double-check their wine by placing a thermostat into the wine glass, a truly unprofessional mistake – don’t accept this! When the bottle is brought with a wine cooler, remember that it should be filled with enough ice and water to cover 80% of the bottle; then the ice levels should be checked at least every second glass. Even when the wine is poured, holding a cold bottle with a warm hand for too long can affect the temperature, especially at the bottleneck.
Now, the glass itself is important too. If it has just come out the wash or has been drying in the sun it will warm the wine once its poured, or even holding the glass at the top when pouring will do the same. Make sure the glass is held at the rim and is poured only when the guest is seated and not away from the table.
Knowing when to pour wine is another challenge many wine servers face. Serving white wine in the tropical Bali heat is very sensitive; timing is really crucial. Some rules should be remembered:
• Once food is served, pouring or refilling is necessary. Everyone should be offered a refill when the glass is nearly empty and after starters have been cleared.
• Even if a customer still has a cocktail or glass of white, they should be offered a wine with their starter or a wine to accompany their main course.
• Not having enough wine for the table. If a bottle doesn’t have enough wine for the amount of guests, some will be left without a drink- the waiter must judge the amount of wine each person gets.
This is yet another skill that wine servers these days have trouble with. Firstly, at least offering to decant a wine is crucial – not doing so may make some diners unhappy. However, this should only be done with certain wines; some old wines shouldn’t be decanted as they may lose their intensity. Again, timing and situations are important: if the food has been served for a large group, decanting may take too long and thus the food and wine cannot be enjoyed together. Of course, the most common problem is a server not being able to decanter the wine, often serving the sediment into a diner’s glass.
Very often the truth is that the waiter does not know how a corked wine or spoiled wine tastes and smells. A corked\spoiled wine should always be replaced or the waiter should suggest a different wine, especially if past experiences have shown that this particular wine has had problems before.
Big problems occur when the spoiled or corked wine is very expensive. Normally the restaurant has a contract with the wine suppliers that any spoiled or corked wines will be replaced (as long as 90% of the wine is still in the bottle). If there is no such contract then the waiter should tell the guest beforehand. Some guests will react badly to being told they must still pay the cost price if the wine is corked but unfortunately, these are the rules!
I am sure that there are many more unpleasant and downright annoying situations in the world of wine serving that people have experienced. In any case, hopefully this article has highlighted some of the most common complaints and issues regarding wine service and you are now able to identify these yourself at a restaurant! Of course it is my hope that wine service in Bali can improve and be more disciplined in the future.