In my post yesterday for the Houston Press, I recounted the last time I was served a bottle of wine that was technically correct but nonetheless off:
- I was in Siena, Italy, the last time this happened to me (about a year ago). My colleague Francesco — the president of the Italian wine shop association — and I ordered a bottle by one of my all-time favorite producers of Chianti Classic, an icon in the field, Castell’in Villa.
The vintage was 1995, a great one for the appellation. As we ate our delicious tagliatelle ai funghi porcini, we realized that the wine had simply lost its life. It was good. It just wasn’t what it could have been (and he and I had tasted it many times before). Something about it was just off.
When the restaurateur noticed that we had left three quarters of the bottle on the table, he immediately offered to open something else for us. We thanked him but declined. One glass of wine was enough that evening, however mediocre.
Francesco bought dinner that night and while I didn’t see the bill, I’m sure that the proprietor didn’t include the cost of the bottle of wine. Next time I’m in Siena, I wouldn’t be surprised if Francesco and I go back to the same place. He eats there at least once a week.
In my view, this is a great parable about restaurant-going. The economics of fine dining are as much about relationships and human interaction as they are about good food, wine, and service. A bad bottle of 1995 Castell’in Villa? Lupus in fabula…
The Francesco in question was my good friend Francesco Bonfio, owner of the excellent Enoteca Piccolomini in Siena and president of the Italian wine shop association, Vinarius.
He encountered technical difficulties as he attempted to leave a comment on the Houston Press site and so he asked me to post it for him (don’t mind his “formal” tone; it’s part of his schtick):
Thank you for mentioning that occasion. Let me underline one aspect: it is true that the owners of the restaurant know me, and it is true that they did not charge for that bottle. It is also true and I may guarantee to you that they do this all the time because they have this policy with anybody dining at their restaurant. It is also true that this is possible ONLY when the people who dine AND the restaurants owner do know the object of discussion. That bottle was an “unhappy bottle” not a bad bottle and this difference can be found only if both sides know that wine. Consequently it is different if the bottle is sent back just because the customer simply does not like that type of wine. By the way the restaurant was Enoteca I Terzi.
I wanted to share it with you here and I wanted to share the wonderful tagliatelle ai funghi porcini that we were served that night (above). The dinner took place last year in October, the time of year when the porcini are in season.
Thanks, everyone, for all the comments and RTs of the post over on the Twitter. And thanks, again, Francesco for dinner and the wine: even when it’s off, a bottle of Castell’in Villa is always memorable!