Monday, December 10, 2007

Learning Curve

Being a young wine steward at a 4 star hotel makes me work for my money. I am learning very quickly and have come a long way over the last 6 months in this post but still have a way to go. Right now I would say I am working on "smoothing out the edges" of my wine service. Normally, it is very good: the foil comes off with ease, the cork screw worm enters perfect, the cork comes out with no pop, and the wine is poured in the right order without a drip and I have a good handle on all the wines on my list. Then occasionally there is a pop or a drip. But two nights ago there was a bit more.

We had a party of 26 people joining us for their company holiday party. Looking to drink some great wine I had already pulled a number of bottles for them and they said they would be drinking a lot more. They were not lying - and only the good stuff.

10 bottles of wine and 26 entrees later dessert was on it's way and the parties hostess called me over asking for champagne recommendations. Turns out that she would like 3 of our finest champagnes. Done and done. I went about champagne service for the head of the company first, 1995 Tattinger Comtes Blanc. Great service not even a hiss from under the cork. Then 1998 Tattinger Comtes Blanc no hiss here either just a loud pop followed by a steady stream of champagne. My forearm was drenched and probably about 1/5 of the bottle was now on the floor. I can't explain how it feels to be standing in front of a group of people being covered in their bubbles and I don't think I need to I am sure that you can imagine.

I didn't get anybody wet and after they stopped cheering I began pouring after a quick joke trying to move forward. Credit to my staff they immediately came over and cleaned up the spill nice to have some support when going through such an ordeal.
This is what I call "smoothing out the edges". Most of the time my service is great but most of the time is not what I need. The only reason that the bottle popped as it did was because I took my hand of the cork for a second while re-adjusting my hand. Important lesson learned, never, never, never, never take your hand off of a champ cork after you begin untwisting the cage. Never!!!

I find that I am lucky to work in a place where I am surrounded by beautiful wines and people who want to buy them and trust me to pick one out for them. Although, the other night was embarrassing it did remind me that I am there learning right now and that that is a unique and wonderful situation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My New Wine List se Arrive'

Finally, after months of work the new and improved restaurant wine list is out. Today is the first day that it will be properly bound in the restaurant and updated on our web page - Feels good to have it wrapped up so that I can move on to my next wine project. This revision is what I call phase 2 - a light revision in order to make the list more interesting but is still not where I want it to be. My plan of attack is listed below -

Phase 1 - Begin bi-monthly wine training - Done
Phase 2 - Introduce improved wine list - Done
Phase 3 - Create detailed wine training manual - Going to print next week
Phase 4 - Re-design current wine list - Begun
Phase 5 - Substantially increase the wine list making it something unique and thorough

This new wine list is a much need step up which is why I didn't wait to do a complete re-build as in phase 5. Phase 5 will begin once our new wine room is finished being built. I am not sure of the time line of that because there are permits and designers involved, I never put a time line on permits. But as I said this is a great step.

The greatest change was the addition of the 8 for 28 section. This section featured at the beginning of the list offers 8 different bottles, 4 red & 4 white, for 28 dollars a piece. My idea was to allow people to purchase a bottle of wine without laboring over the idea of spending 40 - 60 dollars a bottle. For many people that is half the cost of their meal and they may not be willing to make the purchase. This way everyone can afford to buy a bottle of wine. Something that I hope will help foster an atmosphere of wine. If I can get a bottle on every table, no matter the price, then over time we will sell more wine both 28 dollar bottles and much more. Also I want to mention that these are good wines. I never promise that they will blow you away but they are the best in the category, are priced well, and enjoyable.

I have doubled the amount of dessert wines that we offer, and most importantly increased the diversity of the list. Instead of being all Napa I have begun to introduce OR, WA, Australia for whites, Spain, and different styles of varietals as well.

One wine that I am very happy with is our Sharecroppers Pinot Noir from Owen Roe in Oregon. We used to have Byron Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, CA. When working the floor and someone would ask me for a bottle of the Byron I would politely say, "No", and lead them in another direction. Now when people ask me for a higher end Pinot I will lead them sometimes to a less expensive Pinot, the Sharecroppers, because it is that good. I have been hand selling it for a couple of weeks and we have already sold over a case. A great find.

I do apologize however because I believe the vineyard is sold out and you will be hard pressed to find it in a liquor store. But good luck, it is well worth it.

The greatest hole in the list is french wine. I do realize this and it is my starting point for phase 5. On the next edition of french listings will be about 8 time larger, I can't wait.

Please do look over my list and e-mail me with any questions and share your discoveries. I will give them a try myself and maybe include them on the next edition.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Can't we all just get along

At the restaurant this time of year dinner is really hit or miss for us. Some nights we will have large holiday parties that require all hands on deck while other nights I like to close early. However, instead of loathing those nights I take them as a time to do a little extra cleaning and also spend extra time with tables doing wine service. Last night was one of those nights.

One of my tables , a husband and wife with two kids, ordered a bottle of Cakebread chardonnay right when they sat down . As I was pouring the CB we began talking and I probably spent 8 minutes table side chatting, just how I like to spend these nights. When I returned they wanted a bottle of Silver Oak. Knowing what was coming for entrees, a prime rib and salmon in a orange glaze, I didn't think that Silver Oak would be the best match. Also, I don't like to sell multiple bottles of big name juice to one table. So, I mentioned a Spanish Cab, Syrah, Petite Verdot blend that I had recently picked up. They loved it, the meal ended with a handshake, and everyone lived happily ever after. The exact type of table you love to have on a slow night, amicable and they love wine and food.

The next table was educational but didn't work out as well. They were well dressed, international, "people of society", ready to have a great meal and enjoy the wine they had brought for the evening. When I see people bring their own wine into the restaurant I immediately walk up to the table to make the uncomfortable announcement, "I am sorry I would like to open this bottle for you but it is illegal in Colorado for customers to bring their own wine into a restaurant". Normally this is met with disappointment, we all move on, and I try to go out of my way to find them a well priced bottle that can match whatever bottle they brought. Not this time suddenly it was, "We will pay, charge us what you must, I can't believe this".
"Not my fault", I said. But to them it was and it carried over through the entire meal. I really would have felt bad if they weren't so rude to me.

The interaction did make me think about Colorado wine laws: you can take wine out of the restaurant if you don't finish it (one 750ml per person) but you can't bring in your own. Why? Law says you can leave with what I would consider an open container, although if the cork is pushed down the law says that is a closed container, but you cannot enter with a truly closed container of wine. Really doesn't make much sense. Also from my point of view I would love a corkage fee. I don't have to order or store that bottle so no cost to me but I still make money off of it.

Believe me I would if I could.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

You take the good you take the bad

Sat down last night with two bottles of Cab Sav, one from France - Duhart-Milon Lafite Gran Classe 2004, and one from Napa Karl Lawrence 2004.

I have been looking forward to trying the Duhart for some time, waiting till the moment was just right. Last night after what has been a number of long days at work I thought a reward was needed and broke it open. The nose slowly woke up with notes of chocolate, dark cherry, spice but when I went in for my first sip I was very disappointed. There was a total lack of flavor and weight as well. The tannins were there but no real structure just a watery drink. I am not going to say that I am not a fan of this wine because I have to believe that there was something wrong with this particular bottle. I have a number of customers who buy this wine again and again loving it each time. It also comes from a trusted producer in a trusted area. It definitely wasn't corked or oxidized but something was off. Any thoughts??

To make up for this loss we opened up a bottle of Karl Lawrence 2004 Mike Trujillos side project from Sequoia Grove. I picked this wine up a couple of months ago when I visited with him. A great representation of Napa cab. Strong velvety tannins that work their way across your mouth while expressing dark fruit and spice. Really a beautiful wine from what seems to be a great vintage.

Even though the Duhart was "off" it was a good experience to drink these two side by side. The nose on both had similarities and differences. You could tell right off that they were both cab but then after that they highlighted two different kinds of cab. One, the Duhart, was more reserved with relaxed fruit, deep chocolate, and some earth characteristics. While the Karl Lawrence was more up front and powerful really throwing fruit right out of the glass.

I wonder if that difference is based more in soil and geography or wine making style?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Creating Thanksgiving

Finally had the chance to sit down and enjoy a meal with friends Saturday night. Wasn't planning of really cooking dinner but things came together just right.

Camren and I cooked our first stew of the season in my favorite fashion, just throwing whatever is around in a pot together. We had a pound of dried mushrooms, kale, bacon, and spices. Slowly cooked the mushrooms and kale in a pot with water and salt for 1 1/2 hours. Cooked the bacon separately in butter, nice and crisp, then broke it up into the stew. Added flour to the bacon fat then added that to the stew giving it great texture. Dumped in all over rice and...Oh Boy - good stuff. Had fresh cornbread and yams on the side. Followed up with fresh baked apples, caramel and vanilla icecream topped with grand marnier.

Started the meal off with hot totties then opened a bottle of Ransom 2005 Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. Took a while for the wine to open up, if I had known I would have decanted it for about an hour. Once it did open up though it showed bright rasberry fruit and spice with a very light body. Went OK with the stew, would have been better if it had some of that classic french barnyard stomp going on.

I definitely appreciated sitting around a table with my friends. Funny thing about working on a Holiday is that you don't feel like the actually Holiday is a Holiday. The feeling comes back once the house warms, fills with people and there is the smell of food in the air.

Makes you realize that maybe some of the people running around on Thanksgiving day trying to make everything perfect may have missed the actual holiday.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holiday Treat

To celebrate making it through Thanksgiving me and the other managers shared a bottle of the Kosta Browne 2005 Koplen Vineyard PN. This bottle is one of the best I have every had. I am not normally a great fan of CA pinot noir, although I don't usually drink the really good stuff either. But this one really stood out.
To begin with I would have been happy just getting a sniff of this wine. The nose is so expressive: mixed dark berries and cherries that are so lively in the glass. You can tell it is young, fruit packed wine right away. But then on the palate the wine takes on a complexity that really focuses all of the fruit. And it is so velvety. Just coasting of your palate to a beautiful long finish. And at 15.3% alcohol you don't even notice.
It is a wine like this one that stays on my mind for a week. It is not only the good juice but also the story behind it. The winery was brought together by two sommelier restaurant workers saving up their tips who first started making wine very simply and in small amounts. Then they finally went all in and after what I would imagine to be a lot of hard work here it is. Only after 10 years of making wine they are being praised in every publication I have found, and it is not BS.
Makes you dream. If they can do what they did with no previous wine making experience....

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Beginning

Just finished up the first Holiday of the season at the restaurant and released my first wine list so I figured it would be a good time to write my first blog entry with plenty to talk about.

To start off I am relieved to say that after working 14 hours yesterday this Holiday was the best we have ever had. This year we limited seating, increased the amount of staff we had on and I would say improved the food quality. From what people said after asking for me or flaging me over to their tables we did a great job. Many said that our holiday buffets will now be a family tradition. After working a sold out brunch we rolled over quickly to a sold out dinner.

I have never seen the space look better with our X-Mas tree up giving great lighting and all the big tops in place it seemed cozy. Gave me the idea to buy more tables as well. Never realized that we had so much open space, what I see now as too much. As I have been told people like being in a restaurant "assholes to elbows". Dinner was busy and was the first night with my new wine list out. I received it late and with many corrections still needed, so instead of putting it in our wine book I paper clipped the pages together. The only people that thought it odd were my co-workers and I was glad just to get it our there. If you are giving people a new list with more options and in some cases cheaper juice what do they care, 4-star or not.

We moved a lot of wine in places that I wanted to. The Sharecroppers PN from OR. sold well - 4 bottles (2 more tonight) and my 8 bottles for 28 dollars took off. Glad to see because that was the main change that I made. I want everyone to have a bottle on their table and not have to labor over getting a bottle or not. 28 bucks for an average bottle of wine, why not?

Also tasted an amazing wine to celebrate which I will write about tomorrow. And will be posting my wine list on here for your viewing pleasure, once I get the corrections completed, please let me know your thoughts.