The Drinker

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Grumble, grumble. I've been dining out a lot recently, for professional reasons, and therefore thinking about the subject of drinking in restaurants. Few topics are more perfectly guaranteed to cause annoyance. By way of illustration, here is an unpleasant scene from a wine list.

Grumble, grumble. I've been dining out a lot recently, for professional reasons, and therefore thinking about the subject of drinking in restaurants. Few topics are more perfectly guaranteed to cause annoyance. By way of illustration, here is an unpleasant scene from a wine list.

We have ordered two glasses of a basic Bourgogne Rouge at a well-regarded French restaurant in Soho. The glasses are placed on the table, the waiter departs. I take a sniff and the wine seems to be corked. I taste, and still think so. But I'm not 100 per cent sure because some Burgundy can have quite a pungent, "barnyardy" aroma by nature. I tell a waitress, "I think this wine may be corked." She summons a more senior waiter, to whom I say the same thing. He takes the glasses away without speaking, then returns - again without speaking - carrying two glasses of the same wine. It smells no different. We drink the wine.

What's most annoying about this is that I wasn't "making a fuss". I deliberately phrased my comment to indicate that I wasn't sure about the wine. I wanted our waiter to express an opinion so we could discuss it. I am sensible enough to know that the customer is not always right.

The waiter's behaviour suggested three possibilities: 1) he knew the wine was faulty - but I'm sure that's not the case; 2) he didn't care about the state of the wine, but simply wanted to keep a troublesome customer in a state of approximate contentment; or 3) he carried the glasses to the sommelier, who either approved them or said I was right. And then another two glasses were poured, I assume. Except I didn't see them poured.

The dubious Burgundy is emblematic of a basic problem in restaurant wine lists: communication and trust. The restaurant in question communicated nothing to me about something I'd ordered, and as a result, I couldn't trust their motives. Were they saying I was right, or were they saying I was a moron? I'll never know. This is far worse than being told I'm wrong by a sommelier who knows his business.

It's not all grumbles. One of the pleasures of restaurant-going is the chance to drink new wines, and my binge has led me to two worth seeking out. One is Anselmi Soave. Anselmi has long made one of the best wines from this DOC, and even though it has dropped the Soave DOC from its San Vincenzo 1999, it is still worth looking out for - deeply nutty and complex for £7.99 at Wimbledon Winecellars (tel: 020 8540 9979) and Swig (tel: 020 7431 4412).

The second wine is even better: Jade Mountain La Provençale 1997. Jade Mountain is an unusual Napa producer in that it majors in Rhÿne and Mediterranean varieties rather than the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that dominate the picture in California's plushest acreage. This is mainly Mourvÿdre and Syrah, with a dollop of Grenache, capable of ageing for a good few years more. Reasonably priced to boot - £15, from Morris & Verdin (tel: 020 7357 8866).

And finally, two wines from Bergerac: Château La Gloire de Mon Pÿre, Cÿtes de Bergerac (pictured; £8.95, Lea & Sandeman, tel: 020 7244 0522) is a big, rich, very modern version, made mostly from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And, if it's a complete surprise you're after, reach for Comtesse Catherine 1998, Bergerac Blanc (£3.99, Unwins). This is a classic Bordelais Sémillon/ Sauvignon Blanc blend, but with lovely, fresh, floral aromas. Tangy, a little spicy, and a wonderful apéritif, but not served in restaurants as far as I'm aware.

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