Several years ago my wife and I had the misfortune to go out to dinner with 3 other couples to a fine Montreal restaurant. Even though each couple were paying for their own dinner, we intended to split the wine bill evenly amongst the 4 couples. One of our friends took it upon himself to order the first wine for everyone without consulting any of us and he promptly proceeded to order up an expensive Spanish red Priorata type wine.

This by itself was a very poor choice and we should have stopped the process before he ordered that wine, but most of us were distracted in conversation and failed to notice he was ordering anything. Having ordered the wine our friend got to taste it first. He tasted it and promptly refused the wine, telling the waiter the wine was defective and to fetch another bottle. The poor waiter did just that and arrived with a second bottle which our friend tasted and rejected again. The flustered waiter summoned the manager to bail him out and a debate ensued between our friend and the manager as to whether the wine was defective or not.

So I quickly intervened, I told the manager to pour me a small glass so I could taste the wine, which I did. The wine was fine, although not a good choice, and I instructed the waiter to serve the wine, which he did. I also took charge of ordering the wine for the rest of the evening, and I immediately ordered a second wine much more appropriate for everyone.

So what just happened, and what went wrong?

  • The wine our friend ordered was completely inappropriate for the occasion. Young Spanish Priorata red is very harsh and needs years in the cellar to soften up the tough tannins. This was a young vintage, typical of what you would expect to get from a restaurant wine list. Most people could not drink the wine.
  • The wine was expensive at about $85 per bottle, and for 8 people you would expect no less than 3 or 4 bottles of that to be consumed. It was completely inappropriate for our friend to assume that he should make such an expensive and eccentric selection for the table without consultation.
  • I learned after this event from other friends in attendance that our wine snob who made this selection regularly made sport out of this and regularly refused perfectly good wines in restaurants to fulfill his own ego needs and possibly to get better service. Needless to say I was horrified. This had been a totally embarrassing situation for all in attendance, it was 30 minutes before we got our first wine, and it certainly ruined the experience for the rest of us.
  • The restaurant clearly made mistakes as well. The waiter should have summoned the manager as soon as the first bottle was rejected. And a substitute should have been insisted upon by the staff instead of serving up a second bottle of the same wine.

There are some important lessons to be taken from this experience:

  1. Don’t go to dinner with someone who has such a high ego fulfillment need that they get their kicks by pulling this kind of stunt to get attention, we never went to dinner with that couple again.
  2. You never order such a full blown, in your face and raw red from a young vintage for 8 people at the beginning of a meal, it just does not work. Even if the wine had been properly aged, which it was not, it would not have tasted good to the majority of people drinking it. Five of eight people did not like the wine, two others were being polite by saying it was okay.
  3. Never presume that all dinner participants want to drink the same thing as an aperitif, and even with the main course do not order an obscure wine, go with something neutral that will appeal to everyone.
  4. Have some consideration for the restaurant staff and don’t play this kind of game at their expense. Realize that someone takes the hit for that bad bottle, either the restaurant itself or in some cases even the waiter, so that wine should really be a bad bottle and not just your poor choice.
  5. When going to dinner as a group, don’t let one person hijack the evening by presuming to order wine for the entire group unless he is paying for it himself, or all have previously agreed to let him take charge of the wine. Our misfit would easily have racked up a wine bill over $100 per person had he not been dismissed from his role in selecting the wine. It also ruined the experience for all of us.
  6. Life is too short to let someone ruin those special moments with good friends, good food, and good wine.

Reg