Restaurant wine service that will drive you to drink

Sparkling wines and champagne are not not what they used to be.
Sparkling wines and champagne are not not what they used to be. Photo: Shutterstock

There's a guerilla war being waged against wine lovers in Australia and it's by the strangest of bedfellows. Yes, it seems an unholy alliance has formed between some restaurants' wine teams and the temperance movement.

Sound crazy? Think about the last time you visited a restaurant or cafe. After being seated, how long did it take for your first drink to arrive? In the golden age of restaurants (i.e. the pre-UberEats era), it was standard practice to serve the first drink within three minutes of the customer's arrival. Yet increasingly, 15 to 20 minutes can be the norm, even in the most on-trend venues. And of course, while waiting, water – expensive, bottled – is pressed into service.

When your wine does arrive, it may come with unexpected baggage. Wines by the glass are often not in peak condition, having been left over from previous services. And/or they're served at the wrong temperature: almost invariably, reds are served too warm and whites too cold. It's the one-size-fits-all approach: fine at the local pub, not so great at an upscale restaurant.

Wine writer and former restaurateur Frank Wilden.
Wine writer and former restaurateur Frank Wilden. Photo: Supplied

As for sparkling wines and champagne – well, they're not what they used to be. Recently, a friend dining at a very well-credentialled restaurant was taken aback to find his expensive grower champagne served with all its bubbles removed, thanks to an unrequested, vigorous decanting. Decanting: yes, of champagne. Your glasses have been chilled? Another great way of reducing all that lovely effervescence you've just paid a premium for.

Wines with corks? So last decade. Removing a cork swiftly from a wine bottle requires training and skill and … well, why bother with that when you can just twist again with a screw cap instead? And then there's the issue of cork taint; good luck arguing your case on that to someone who doesn't know how to detect it.

Of course, your choice of venue has been predicated on the owners' locavore philosophy. The chicken, the cheese, the fish. Chef is passionate about promoting local produce so they're all from just down the road, aren't they?

But the wine list is another matter. Clearly, Wine Guy (or Gal) is passionate about promoting produce from as far away as possible. Fancy a Croatian malvasia istriana? Or chardonnay from Long Island, New York? Just don't even think of asking to try some of that globally acclaimed wine from Australia or New Zealand to go with all our local, ethical, sustainable, virtue-signalling produce. (The fact that it's easier to apply egregious mark-ups to unidentifiable wines from overseas is, of course, merely coincidental.)

The good news is there are still places that know great wine and how to serve it. France-Soir, City Wine Shop, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Bellota in Melbourne; Fix Wine Bar and The Dolphin in Sydney; and East End Cellars in Adelaide – to name a few that are holding their ground against this strange, insidious underground temperance movement.

Meanwhile, my bank account is growing and my waistline shrinking because when I find myself in enemy territory, I just hold my ground – by drinking water. Tap water, that is.

Frank Wilden is a wine writer (Business Insider) and a lapsed restaurateur.