nothing I hate more than the old bait and switch.
Swindlers have used the technique for hundreds of years.
Wine retailers, primarily restaurants and shops, use it also.
Since I had several occurrences recently, I felt the urge to write and
warn the newer wino’s about the dangers lurking in the real world.
#1 – Restaurant lists the John Doe 1997 Napa Cabernet Reserve on its menu for
$65. You order it and the
waiter/waitress delivers a 1998 John Doe Napa Reserve.
In my earlier wino days, I would express some mild disappointment that
the 1997 was what I ordered and usually the waiter would say “this is all we
have”. I would accept the bottle and pay the price.
Lately, I refuse it. The
only way to refuse it, is to read the label BEFORE the waiter opens the bottle.
I witnessed three
interesting variations of this scenario in the last two months.
The first time,
I was at a reputable establishment when the waiter brought out a 1998 instead of
the 1997. I said that I had ordered
a 1997. The waiter brought the
beverage manager out and the beverage manager said that the restaurant had run
out of the 1997 and 1998 was all that they could obtain.
I thanked him and declined to order any wine at all.
I would have kept the 1998 if the manager suggested a lesser price, but
he did not.
The next time,
I was at a different reputable establishment when the same thing happened with a
1997 Cabernet. I pointed out to the waitress that I had ordered a 1997 and
that she had brought me a 1998. Again,
she brought the beverage manager to my table.
This time, the beverage manager looked me in the eye and said, “sir, I
don’t have any more 1997 and you were right to refuse the 1998, it’s not as
good and it shouldn’t be priced the same as the 1997.”
Well, I didn’t like the result (no 1997), but I appreciated the
manager’s honesty and I ended up ordering a 1997 Merlot.
The third time,
I was at the venerable Park and Orchard (Wine Spectator Grand Award Winner and a
restaurant listed on www.winostuff.com’s
review list). This time, the
waitress came back to me and said “we just sold out of that wine, you’ll
have to order another”. Given the
extensive list carried by the Park and Orchard and their high ranking in Wine
Spectator, I was shocked. I ordered another outstanding wine and asked the waitress if
it was possible to get a tour of their cellar.
She said that the owner was on the premises and she would check.
Sure enough, he was willing to give us a tour.
While I was downstairs, I asked him why he had sold out of the particular
1997 Cabernet Reserve that I had ordered. His
response: “I haven’t sold out.
We only get a certain number of cases in our allocation of that wine.
If I stocked all of it on the premises, I could sell it out in less than
a week with all of the New York expense account dinners consumed here. Instead, I maintain a few bottles at a time here and when the
supply is exhausted, I replenish it the next day, thus keeping more wine for
more visitors.” I didn’t like
this answer at first, but knowing some of the California winery allocation
issues, I believe it’s a better answer for everyone.
Story #2 – You’re in a wine shop and see that the column of Whitehall Lane
Merlot has a “Rated 94 by Wine Spectator” sticker on it.
Without consulting with any of the staff, you grab that bottle and bring
it home. Only after consulting with
Wino Bob or another wino friend, you find out that the 1998 Whitehall Lane
received an 87 rating; the 1997 was the 94 rated wine.
In the case of
the retail outlet, most of those establishments stock their wines to move and/or
be moved. There may have been no
skullduggery involved. Instead, one
of the stock boys may have seen that the Whitehall Lane Merlot column in the
rack was empty, grabbed a case and restocked the column with 1998. Of course, the pricing should reflect the 1998 price, but the
sticker on the column generally isn’t replaced by the stock boy.
Unfortunately, what this means is that you should generally consult the
store’s wine expert before buying a wine because of its rating.
If the wine expert tells you that the 1998 Merlot is rated a 94 and you
find out it isn’t, don’t go back.
devious “gotcha” device that I see in retail establishments is the sticker
that says “rated 89 by Wine Press”. Those
of us in the know aren’t even sure who Wine Press is.
I believe that these generic stickers are provided by the wine
distributor and are designed to move a particular wine.
I don’t see these stickers in the higher class establishments and
recommend moving your business elsewhere if you see them in the shop that you
Be also careful
when you see pre-printed stickers saying “rated 97 by Parker”.
To the best of my knowledge, Robert Parker does not accept advertising
money, nor does he promote wines through stickers with his name on them.
I have seen handwritten tags from the store’s wine expert with the
notation, “rated 97 by The Wine Advocate”.
The chance is high that these stickers are more accurate since the wine
expert would have to be a Parker subscriber to verify the rating on that
particular wine from “The Wine Advocate”.
ratings is difficult. For those of you who frequent establishments while on an
expense account, I can recommend the Palm Pilot Wine Score software which will
give you an average rating for that particular wine if you’re ordering one
that you’re unfamiliar with and the restaurant does not have a sommelier.
For those of you who journey to a wine shop to purchase wine, I recommend
getting to know the store’s wine expert and building a trusting relationship.
You’ll receive invitations to tastings which will be a fun way to learn
which wines you like and which wines you want to purchase based on your taste.
It may cost you less in the long run too.
Lastly, you can subscribe to the Wine Spectator and/or The Wine Advocate.
When you take your copy to the store, be prepared to be disappointed with
the fact that few 90+ ratings survive more than a few days in the retail
establishments. To get around that,
you’re going to have to take a chance and buy wines from quality vineyards
before the ratings are issued. Once
in a while, you’ll hit a home run. Good
July 7, 2001