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You never need to pack a wanker – or how I learned to stopped worrying and love sommeliers

Last year there was an incident in a French restaurant involving a notable wine-maker (I’m not allowed to mention his name for legal reasons), who sent back a bottle of wine saying that it was corked. The sommelier disagreed and refused to produce another bottle. Instead he offered the wine to other customers who pronounced it fine. The wine-maker’s table refused to pay and the police were called. But by the time the police arrived all the evidence had gone, drunk by the customers. I imagine that the French have specially trained wine detectives to deal with just such incidents.

I’ve had many terrible experiences with wine in restaurants, though thankfully none that required police involvement. The worst was at a Spanish place in Fitzrovia. I ordered a bottle of their cheapest Rioja. When it arrived I took a sip and it was hot. Not warm but mulled-wine hot. I asked the waitress to bring me an ice bucket — she refused, pointing out to me that it was red wine. I asked to speak to the sommelier. He came over oozing condescension. I repeated my demand for an ice bucket. His response was, ‘But sir, this is a red wine.’ ‘I know and it’s very warm so I want to make it colder.’ ‘But sir, this is red wine, Rioja.’ This circular argument went on for about five minutes until I said, ‘Listen! I don’t care that you think I am mad, just bring me an ice bucket!’ Eventually the ice came and I had to put up with pitying looks from the staff for the rest of the evening. I never went back.

No transaction has such potential for unpleasantness as ordering wine in a restaurant. To read the rest of this article in Spectator Life click here

By Henry

I worked in the wine trade and publishing before becoming a freelance writer and broadcaster. My work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. I now works as features editor on the Master of Malt blog. Ihave been on BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 and Monocle Radio, and a judge for the BBC Radio 4’s Food & Farming Awards and for the Fortnum & Mason food and drink awards 2018. My book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass won Fortnum & Mason debut drink book 2017. My second, The Home Bar, was published in October 2018.

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