The Delicate Art of Bringing Wine to a Restaurant
Off The Vine
John Noakes & Chef David Repp
Bringing your own wine to a restaurant has become increasingly common as the food revolution marches on and consumers get more persnickety about what they drink. Once considered an unorthodox practice, toting your own wine to a restaurant is common in most states, accept, however, in Texas where it is illegal to bring your own wine to a restaurant with a full-liquor license.
Well folks, be thankful we’re not longhorns because bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant is a treat. However, there’s certain etiquette involved in the process, so I’m here to discuss the do’s and don’ts of being successful without offending the sommelier or owner.
First, when I’m considering bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant that is known for its fabulous wine list, I ask to speak to the sommelier or manager when I call to make reservations. This helps me get a feel for whether they’d be upset or offended about bringing a bottle.
Some restaurants actually discourage patrons bringing in wine. In these cases, they will impose a rather high corking fee—the price they will charge to open the bottle and pour it in a glass. This fee can range anywhere from $5-$50 a bottle. A high corking fee would likely be over $30. Sounds crazy but it keeps people from bringing in jugs of wine, and if the fee is high enough it is meant to discourage.
One of the more embarrassing rookie mistakes is to bring a bottle that is already on the wine list. Lord only knows what will happen to your food in the kitchen. Most fine dining establishments post their wine lists on their websites. So check out the website before going and spy the wine list to avoid bringing a double.
Next, don’t skimp on the price and quality of wine—you will likely embarrass yourself. Your special bottle should hopefully cost more than $40. Go big or go home when bringing a bottle. Do not bring, for instance, a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay when you are paying a $25 corkage fee. No more explaining necessary.
So once you get the necessary approval, you’ve got your car all washed and waxed and your honey is riding shotgun and you are driving to the restaurant feeling good…I know. You’re on the precipice of looking like a wine God to your significant other because of your recently gained knowledge with regard to bringing your own bottle. Everyone can thank me later. Things are looking good as you walk in the restaurant; you’re in too deep to mess things up and come off looking like a wine neophyte so the next couple of steps are crucial.
When you greet the host/hostess and give them your name you also want to show them your bottle. When you sit down and meet your server you will let them know if you need the wine to be decanted. It is also at this moment where you will ask to have the sommelier or manager pay a visit to the table for a taste. That’s right. You’re going to have to offer up a small taste of your precious wine to the powers that be at the restaurant, it’s what we call a pro-move. It is this which will separate you from 95 percent of the people that bring their own bottle. It shows the sommelier that you know what you’re doing and that you’re a wine-nut just like him/her and puts you in their good graces. Most of the time, that simple move will either wipe out the corkage fee, or get you an after-dinner drink on the house. One more thing, friends, don’t forget to palm $10-$20 to the sommelier or manager who assisted you. This move will surely make your next meal even more memorable and of course make you look like a professional.
We’re all in for a treat this week, as my friend Chef/Owner Renato Donzelli of Basso Café in Norwalk at 124 New Canaan Ave. (in front of A&S Fine Foods) is providing a phenomenal recipe for us to enjoy. Basso Café is a “BYO” (bring your own) restaurant which charges a very low corkage fee for wine, so feel free to bring a couple of bottles. I usually bring a white and a red to cover all of my food choices. Outstanding food served in a mellow beautiful setting. For reservations call 203-354-6566, or visit www.bassobistrocafe.com.
Exile On Spring Street…Swingin’ from the Vine-
I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a new column, but now Chef Dave Repp and I are back, refreshed and ready to tackle the summer season of barbeques, wine, beer, and libation with our usual reckless abandonment for our liver counts and cholesterol levels.
This summer Chef Repp, along with some special guest chefs and great home-cooks, will be sharing their recipes for the “Off The Vine Barbecue Series,” which will include everything from dry-rubs and marinades to cold salads and beyond all paired with exciting summer alcohol. Look for the first column this May.
Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon, Scallions & Feta cheese
3 plum tomatoes (washed and cut in half lengthwise) ½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil 4 sprigs oregano washed and dried 2 sprigs rosemary washed and dried 3 cloves garlic peeled and mashed 1 clove garlic peeled and sliced 6 jumbo sea scallops ½ cup white wine 1 cup chicken stock juice of 1 lemon 1/8 cup scallions, green part only, cut on the bias ½ tsp dijon mustard 1 tbsp parsley, leaves only, chopped, plus additional sprigs for garnish 1 tbsp dill, leaves only, chopped ¾ cup feta cheese crumbled Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
3 plum tomatoes (washed and cut in half lengthwise)
½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs oregano washed and dried
2 sprigs rosemary washed and dried
3 cloves garlic peeled and mashed
1 clove garlic peeled and sliced
6 jumbo sea scallops
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
1/8 cup scallions, green part only, cut on the bias
½ tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp parsley, leaves only, chopped, plus additional sprigs for garnish
1 tbsp dill, leaves only, chopped
¾ cup feta cheese crumbled
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tomatoes and 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a non-reactive bowl. Gently toss the tomatoes to coat evenly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the tomatoes to the baking sheet, placing the tomatoes cut side up (make sure they do not touch each other) and reserve the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake for 3 – 3 1/2 hours or until tomatoes are dried. Transfer tomatoes, placing them cut side up, to a shallow dish or baking dish. Arrange the oregano and rosemary sprigs over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the mashed garlic, drizzle with reserved olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow to marinate for 3 – 3 1/2 hours at room temperature. Place a medium size sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and bring to heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper and place in sauté pan. Sear the top side until golden brown, about two minutes. Turn the scallops, lower the heat to medium, and cook the bottom side for another 3 – 3 1/2 minutes or until the scallops are slightly firm to touch. Transfer the scallops to a dish and reserve. Discard the oil. Return pan to heat, add one tablespoon of oil. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add wine to deglaze the pan and continue cooking until reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about five minutes or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Add lemon juice, fold in scallions and mustard, remove from heat. Fold in the parsley and dill. Gently stir the sauce to combine. To serve, place one oven-dried tomato on each of six serving plates. Top with one scallop, seared side up, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with feta cheese. Garnish with parsley if desired