By The Glass
Let waiter order food, you order wine
I've recently observed some peculiar happenings in restaurants. Some make sense, some don't. But all of are interesting.
What is the first thing you do when you sit down in a restaurant? Do you look at the food menu or the wine list? I guess that's the easiest way to figure out if you are a fervent wine lover. On the other side of the table, however, the waiter's first question is always, "What would you like to drink?"
When a guest comes into your home, it is only proper to offer a drink, and restaurants should do the same. But in a restaurant, where most people look at the food menu first, not much time is left to match up our wine and food.
Here's a new approach: How about asking the waiter/sommelier to pick our food and let us pick the wine? Like most people I enjoy a particular type of wine best. So I look to see if they have that type, then I can choose whatever is attractive on the menu to go with my wine. Restaurant staffs are usually more familiar with the food than the wine anyway. So pick what you want to drink and see if the staff can come up with a food to match.
Wine and food pairing is still daunting to most diners. We fall back onto what we are most comfortable or familiar with. The natural tendency for most people is to drink what they like with what they like to eat, which I totally support. I see cabernet sauvignon with Ahi Salad Nicoise and chardonnay with Grilled Lamb Chops. As long as you are enjoying your dinner, who cares?
» Is it me, or are there more sandwiches on dinner menus nowadays? They are disguised under pannini or open-faced preparations, but they still look like gourmet burgers, although often with Kobe or Wagyu beef, infused with truffles or even foie gras. Don't get me wrong, I love them. But they come with some pretty high price tags.
» More restaurants are using better stemware! Yippee! It's so hard to enjoy a premium ($50-plus) bottle of wine when you're drinking it out of something clunky that looks like leftover equipment from the old Wisteria. Some of the new pieces are Riedel and some look like Riedel, but they are all a step in the right direction.
» More wine bars: Cassis by Chef Mavro, Formaggio's Bar and Grill in Kailua (opening soon), Amuse in Honolulu Design Center, Brasserie du Vin, Bin 69 on Maui and more to come, I'm sure. It's cool to hang out at these new spots and taste wines from all over the world. But don't think they will be any less expensive than going out to dinner. All those ounces add up, and sometimes I end up spending more, it's so much fun!
» If you are a fan of European wines, you should scan restaurant wine lists to see if they have some "older" vintages from your favorite area. Chances are those wines were bought some time ago when the dollar was stronger and the release prices of the wines were not as high. In other words, good deals!
1999 Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon ($140): The great name still makes a terrific champagne. It has great depth and complexity and will only get better with time.
2006 Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone ($13): The blend of grenache, syrah and carignan is such a thirst-quencher, you'd better stock up.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org