Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"House" Wine

I got to thinking about "house wine" today.

It happens all the time that a customer will ask for a glass of "house Merlot" or "the house white" or the "house" something. And we have to gently tell the customer that we have no house wines. We've never had house wines because we have always had an extensive by-the-glass wine list that at any given time comprises 70 to 80 wines.

I take that back. Some years ago, we had a One Block West Cuvée local Chardonnay, but we let that program lapse simply because of too much stylistic variation between vintages and because the Commonwealth of Virginia forbade us for a long while from buying directly from the wine growers. The point of this program was not to have a house white, but to showcase what the local producer was doing. Too bad for both of us that it didn't work out.

Back to the dining room. I'd like to think that most customers asking for a house wine are really thinking that because we care a lot about wine that we will naturally pick tasty, inexpensive wines for house wines. But that's not the feeling I get when I overhear most customers asking for a house wine.

It seems to me that most people are saying, "Bring me a glass of whatever is cheapest; I don't care whether it goes with my meal or not." The corollary would be to ask your server to bring the cheapest dish on the menu to you, that you don't care what it is or how it is prepared. "Could I have the house meat please?"

I know that there are customers who order house wine simply to avoid the "trouble" of looking through the wine list and making a decision. And I certainly understand that there are times when each of us is just too tired to want to make another decision after a hard day. If this is the case, just order the wine that I have paired with your dish of choice on the menu or ask your server or me to select a wine for you.

So, tired of making decisions I understand. But, what I don't understand is why these same people will sift through the menu and ask questions about the food, its preparation, and its provenance, but would then just ask for any old wine to drink.

I guess it's the idea that wine is not worthy of the same consideration as food that bothers me a little. We put a lot of effort into our food and into building our wine list to complement that food and we'd like to think that customers put a little effort into choosing wine to go with it.

I'm not knocking house wines or those restaurants that serve them or those customers that order them. I have to confess that in France, I have ordered "un pichet de rouge" on many occasions. And I don't think that "house wine" is a dirty word or anything like that. I am just posting this so that everyone knows why we don't have house wine.

In building my wine list, I've put my effort into building an outstanding by-the-glass list so that everyone at the table can get a wine that pairs well with each course. And house wine just flies in the face of this effort.

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