A Tale of Scary Wine Service
By Alexis Beltrami
Whether you order wine at restaurants or serve it to customers, this
should send chills up your spine…
I stayed recently at a celebrated, old mountain resort about 90 miles
north of New York City. The hotel, an enormous Victorian-Edwardian pile,
was established in 1869 and is still run by descendants of the original
family. Its restaurant asks to be taken seriously: jackets are required
in the dining room, despite the rustic setting, and the short, basic
wine list is supplemented by a "reserve list" with a few big-ticket
items such as Opus One. Here is the tale of one ill-fated dinner.
When my wife and I indicated to our waiter that we would be having
wine, another waiter (or perhaps sommelier-he didn't introduce himself)
was summoned to our table. As we often do, we each ordered a glass to
go with our first course-Beaujolais for her, Sauvignon Blanc for me-with
the intention of ordering a different set for our entrées. A few minutes
later the second waiter returned bearing our two glasses and set them
down on the table. Before he could walk away, I took a sniff of my Sauvignon:
"Excuse me," I said, "this wine is corked." A blank look. I elaborated:
"The wine has been tainted by a bad cork. You'll need to open a new
"But we just opened that bottle, sir," he remonstrated-not impolitely,
Very calmly, I explained that it wasn't a matter of the wine being
open too long, but that the entire bottle was ruined. He said he would
show it to someone and disappeared. A few minutes later, he brought
out another glass, which I nosed: all citrus and herbs, as it should
"You're right, I could really tell the difference," he offered, seeming
pleased at having learned something. I was glad I could be of help.
When our entrée arrived, our waiter attempted a quick retreat, ignoring
our empty glasses, but I called him back and said we'd like to order
two more glasses. He signaled ok and walked off, to our puzzlement,
returning a few minutes later with two full glasses of wine-the same
ones as our first round.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I meant that we wished to order two new wines."
Looking like our judge and executioner, he brought the list and silently
held it in front of me. I ordered a Pinot Noir for my wife and a Cabernet,
one of several offered by the glass.
"Which one is that, sir? Can you point to it?"
"Sure," I said, "It's this one, here."
"Number 441, sir?"
"Er, yes…number 441."
A few minutes later we saw him approaching, bearing two glasses of
red wine, one of which had a colorful straw in it. Just before he reached
us, he pulled the straw out of the glass and quickly tucked it away,
then set down that glass in front of me, announcing "Here's your 441,
And you know what? That was the best damn 441 I've ever tasted.