Restaurant Whine: Whatever happened to wining and dining?

In days of old, an arrogant putz with a shallow metal cup called a “tastevin” dangling around his neck tested your wine to assure quality. Although this stodgy dude could be a pain, the practice was useful since many people don’t know — or are too embarrassed to say — when wine has turned south. But, unfortunately, the days of educated help have disappeared along with the outdated tastevin, and we’re left to fend for ourselves. Now we have two camps: servers who slather you in attitude or frustrate you with ignorance. Do we need fancy, Euro-formal wine service? No. But is it really too much to ask restaurants to provide the basics to their staff? Here’s my rant.True story #1: “What sort of wines do you have?” Bartender’s response (deep redneck accent): “We got both kinds, red and white.”

True story #2: “We’re featuring a wonderful merlot this evening (pronounced mur LOT). It’s only $8 per glass.”

Training. Would you pay anyone $8 for five ounces of something they cannot even pronounce? I find it refreshing to speak to a confident, knowledgeable server who is intimate with the food and wines on the list. That server might even suggest something I wouldn’t have considered before. The anticipation of a delicious wine purchase makes me happier. Everyone wins.

Stocking wine. Wine is a living, breathing, finicky foodstuff. It can spoil with too much air, heat or cold. Yet some restaurants keep white wines in the beer cooler, chilled at less than 40 degrees. Whites all taste the same at very cold temperatures — like tasteless, acidic or oaky crap. Then there’s the opposite — reds kept on top of the cooler, where the refrigerator’s heat vent blows not-so-lovingly on the bottles. After stewing awhile in warmth, reds take on a hot, astringent taste, with virtually no fruit to be found. Neither situation makes for happy wines or consumers, especially when those wines are purchased by the glass.

Serving wine. Wine is meant to be swirled to release more aroma from the juice. If the glass is filled to the rim, there’s no swirling room. Give it some space, will ya? And don’t keep filling the glass to the rim just to boost the check amount. Damn, that irks me. I’ll order more wine if I feel like it, not if the bottle is empty.

Although we have a ways to go, there are thankfully a handful of restaurants in your neighborhood paying close attention to wine service. Reward them with your business, and please, encourage others to clue in.

Bern’s Steakhouse 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa (813-251-2421).

SideBern’s 1002 S. Howard Ave., Tampa (813-258-2233).

Wine Exchange 1611 Swann Ave., Tampa (813-254-9463).

Fleming’s Steakhouse 43222 Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa (813-874-9463).

Café Ponte 13505 Icot Blvd., Suite 124, Clearwater (727-538-5768).

Island Way Grill 20 Island Way, Clearwater (727-461-6617).

Salt Rock Grill 19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores (727-593-7625).

Michael’s on East1212 East Ave., Sarasota (941-366-0007).

Fred’s Restaurant 1917 Osprey Ave., Sarasota (941-364-5811).

Fleming’s Steakhouse 2001 Siesta Drive, Sarasota (941-358-9463).

SHARING IS CARING

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