Skip to main content

I'd like to get some feedback everyone on their feelings towards having or not having vintage dates listed for by-the-glass (hereafter BTG) offerings.

At my restaurant, I do not list vintage for BTG wines, only those available by the bottle. My belief here is that actual taste is the bottom line. We gladly pour a taste of any of the BTG wines when guests are interested, and I train the staff to offer them freely. And of course, the vintage is stamped right on the label, so that too is just a question away.

I understand that vintage provides insight into style and quality of wine--essential when the label is all you've got to go on-- but when you can taste the wine, vintage becomes trivial.

Being dedicated to Italian wines only, my BTG offerings often change vintage suddenly and always without announcement from the distributors. Italian wine supply is comparatively small for any given producer, and my local market doesn't, apparently, warrant area distributors stocking up on esoteric Italians, therefore making it very difficult to keep hold a steady supply of given vintages. It's a mid/up-market family place, and constant reprinting of the three page wine list is very costly. By the way, I offer 11 reds BTG, 9 whites BTG, and 78 wines by the bottle.

That's my schtick, and I'm curious to hear what kind of thoughts it generates. Thanks
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

thanks for the reply JonesWineNo1, but can you explain your position a bit? I'm really curious t know why, given that you can taste before you buy a glass, why seeing the vintage in print is so critical? Also, why does the absence of the vintage on BTG wines call into question the integrity of the operation to the point you worry about "bait and switch"? I don't follow your logic on that one.
chaad, Welcome to the WS forums! Old German, GandyDancer, or Win Shuler's(sp) still around?

How large is your restaurant?---Those are a lot of BTG wines. How do you keep them fresh?

Now, from my perspective--I want to see the vintage, I do not want to order a Chianti and have a glass of 1996 or 1998, when there are much better wines available.....I alreay have enough problems ordering a full bottle from the wine list, only to have a substitude vintage brought to the table.-----And I have never had a server say, "I'm sorry, I'm out of the 1996 Tignanello, would the 1997 be okay [Roll Eyes] ?" Most all of the time, they bring the lesser vintage to the table, with only a flash of a presentation, and proceed with trying to open the bottle---and when I see them ready to cut the cap, I ask to see the bottle again! That happens far too much! Anyway, that's my take!

How many wines are on your list, and how many bottles are in your cellar? Also, it has been 4/5 years since I've been to Ann Arbor; name to top restaurants & what is the name of your place?

I enjoy reading the posts from those in the restaurant business, so keep posting!
I rarely order wines in restaurants, let alone glass versus preferred bottle. I prefer a wine list with the vintage date to help selections.

The only two things I absolutely need that I can control are:
1) No one drinks any wine from the bottle I purchase before I say so--previous discussions on this have become tirades
2) All pours occur at the table, so I can approve the bottle, including checking the label and vintage date, and then the cork.


Time has not been kind to the restaurants you mentioned; only the Gandy survives!

Thanks for the welcome-- I have been absent since they switched from the original BB format-- as well as for the reply and kind words.

I'm the wine director at Paesano's, which you may recall from your time here. One year ago, when I came aboard, the place was totally renovated, and so now has a different look and atmosphere.

Our seating capacity is 220 (I think!), but it's not a small place by Ann Arbor standards. In fact, the size is perfect, because we fill most every night with plenty of wine drinkers, who do a great job of drinking their way through the list. Consumption is my first line of offensive action for keeping the wines fresh, followed by refrigeration, and light vacuuming or gas for sensitive wines. Storage space is limited and keeps my stock of most of the 78 bottles to 6 bottles or fewer.

But to get back to my original question, I should point out that my BTG wines are not redundant, i.e. there is not a '97 Chianti available by the glass as well as a '98 Chianti by the glass, and even if there were, I would not suggest that by virtue of vintage alone one would be better than the other.

What can I say but taste! You can taste, you should taste! I guess that if your looking only for bragging rights, my BTG list might make it harder for you to flaunt your general vintage knowledge to your date, but the willingness of the staff to bring you samples of the wines you're interested in allows you to show off your good taste!

Finally, I still don't understand the "bait and switch" thing as it relates to BTG wine!
chaad, I think there's a difference between BTG and bottles. I would NOT buy any bottle without knowing the vintage (it should be printed on the list). However, BTG is different. If you offer free tastes and readily answer the vintage qustions, I see no problem.

One suggestion would be list the BTG wines, without vintages, in your overall wine list and have a second, single sheet (easily updated) that lists the BTG with vintages. Maybe include a couple of sentences about each wine.

Cheers !

Sorry to hear of the demise of the OG and Win Scheulers(sp). I even remember the "Pretzel Bell", and I know it has passed on.

The "bait and switch" comment applies if you have a BTG list that shows you have a 1997 wine, but you pour the 1996! The patron would be buying an excellent 1997 glass, but would be poured a subpar 1996, and for the cost of the 1997 bottle from Tuscany, the establishment could buy 2 or 3 1996 bottles from Tuscany; which results in a much larger profit for the establishment, and a loss for the customer.

Anyway, chaad, I hope these comments help! Good luck!!

(Good comments Dr. T, especially #2)
Thanks, JO, for sharing your ideas!

Your multiple page concept I use right now, printing 3 separate 8.5" x 17" sheets, for exactly the reason you mention. And really, doing a reprint every four months as I do would probably keep me up to date with the BTG vintage switches. In any case, I always review the vintage changes for taste, and pull 'em from the list if they don't appeal to me.

I also have tasting descriptions for all of the wines, too. It sounds like the list would be right up your alley! You can check it out at if you like. Thanks again.
hardly guessing games. All you have to do is like it, right? I thought that you were looking for a delicious/interesting/enjoyable (or whatever adjectives you prefer) glass of wine with dinner? If it tastes good, drink and enjoy it. If not, let's find something else.

Also, most restaurants don't keep their BTG wines hidden away. Most places are happy to bring the bottle to the table for your inspection, or even open a new one if you're worried about the taste or provenance. I know we are!

Could it be we attach too much to vintage years, to the extent we are not willing even to give a less famed harvest a chance?
All I have to do is like it? Sure, but I want the information at hand to decide what wine I'll try. I don't want you to make that determination for me.

I think you attach too much significance to hiding the vinatge year. The implication is that you are either too cheap to print up BTG lists or that you're serving off-vintages.
Whew, they must be bad to y'all out in Long Island! Too cheap? Off vintages? Sounds pretty cutthroat to me! I wish only you could check out our list and wine program before levelling such accusations!

Of course, if you want the info at hand (as if vintage will help you select between Bardolino and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!), then you want it at hand.

There is just so much more to take into consideration on any given list, in particular, recognized producers and tasting notes (subjective though they are!).

But, it really is not such a hassle to list vintages for BTG wine. It just seems that, in my particular case, listing them sets the stage for more upset (e.g. bait and switch paranoia) than they're worth.
JO offered the perfect solution. Keep your BTG list seperate from the main list. Update one page when it needs it.
I understand you are offering tastes, but I still want to know what the vintage is . . . anytime and anywhere.
Remember, you're in the service industry. Re-doing the BTG list periodically should not be that big a problem as long as you have a copy machine.
My two cents.
Its not just you, there are others who also don't know. I can't speak to the Seattle scene, as I haven't been, but I've got the most dynamic wine list in town. Our weekly specials, about which you didn't know, brings out two new wines every week, while weekends add to the array not just a super-premium available by the half-glass, but a four course food and wine "degustation," or tasting, menu featuring wines from the bottle only selections.

Hmm, what else might you not know about.... how about a weekly wine tasting every Wednesday that showcases 5 new wines (also available in the dining room) and an extensive "captains list," with enough '97s to satisfy all of the big game vintage hunters.

But thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Frankly, I don't know what the hubbub is about. Bub.

Many "middle of the road" restaurants - those who aren't the top echelon (a la Citronelle), but aren't a Sizzler either - don't print vintages on their wine lists. They simply can't afford the money or time it takes to constantly update their wine lists.

The upper echelon will always (I say with some confidence) print the vintages. The Sizzlers don't know what vintage is. The middle of the road guys know, but their inventory turnover pretty high (a lot more tables, a lot more glasses served). Making frequent updating a hassle of fairly large proportion if the wine list is long.

I don't really care if the vintage is on the wine list or not. If I'm ordering BTG, I always ask to see the bottle the wine is being poured from - no big deal. If the glass is off, I ask them to open a new bottle and serve me a new glass - I have NEVER had a restaurant refuse this. And I drink a lot of BTG because of the kind of work I do I frequently eat alone or with my 3-year old daughter (she's not much of a wine drinker yet).

And, like Latour, I always ask to see the bottle again if I'm buying the whole bottle.

Caveat emptor, guys. Who cares what's on the list - it's up to you to make sure you're buying something you want. Ask to look at the bottle. Don't take what someone has printed on a wine list as gospel or an indication of how they operate. That would be pedantic in the extreme.
Oh, sweet sensibiliy! I'd almost lost track of why I started this thread. Thank you for the thoughtful insight LilacWine!

Somewhere, as a society, we lost track of the cost of doing the food service thing, but that's off topic...

I don't think that restaurants are in the business to rip people off, through "hiding" vintages or amateur waitstaff. These things arise through economic necessity.

If you've worked in the biz, read Tony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential," or talked to your neighborhood entrepreneur, you know it's all for the love.
Many of the lists are prepared by the distributor or with a lot of their input. The resturant managers cliam that it is too expensive to put vintage on the list as 'I have to change the list, when we run out.' Hell, thats what computers and printers are for.

The other aspect that I have seen in very few resturants that have a great wine list,is thatthey also add a bit about the wine, such as taste, color, or a suggesged food pairing. What a pleasure there, with good info.

I also, shy away from any place that doesn't post the years. Most recent experience a while back was to order an Italian wine,Brunello. All I got brought to the table was 94's and 91's. I wanted a 95 or 90. After three tries, they did find a 90. The manager, kept telling me they were good years. All he wanted was my bucks. They were trying to sucker me with a bait and switch. Same price for each too. Since then, never again have I ordered a bottle of wine at the PGA resort a 4 star hotel. Yuck.
...personally, I've always thought of wines btg as to be the more 'best value' of that particular varietal. Let's say Merlot for instance? The restaurant isn't going to put their best Merlot in the house on the Wines btg list...its usually a middle of the road bottle that will generally not break the bank if wasted, and also is going to be a bottle the distributor will always have in order to keep this Merlot readily available for its restaurants to serve, and is ready to drink. We have Matanzas Creek and we have Blackstone Merlot in the restaurant where I work. Which do you think will be the Merlot to be on the btg list? Blackstone, and why? 1. Because our Matanzas Creek is a '97 and the Blackstone is a '00. 2. Because our Blackstone isn't meant to be held any certain amount of time and is probably more mass produced than Matanzas' and is a simple Merlot to satisfy the palate of someone who simply wants a glass of Merlot. In General, I have never expected the best vintage for any winery to become a btg wine? I usually expect the person in charge of Wine List decisions to provide a good, drinkable wine for each varietal listed, regardless of the vintage? If I go to a place that has Multipuciano(sp) on the list I do not expect it to be their best in house, but I do expect it to be reasonably priced, held correctly, and ready to drink...I hope not to annoy anyone with this little ramble, but I need to hit-it...reservations in an hour and just wanted to comment. As far as the bait thing, thanks for the heads up...but I'm sure I won't run into any trouble. I either go knowing I'm getting a bottle or I know that I just want a taste of the grape?

Don't scold me friends, just gracefully school me if I'm thought to be way off here (please).
Thank you for the post, OBXnative.

Rather than giving in to fears that restaurant service staff is attempting to usurp your freedom of choice, or caving in to your fear that restaurants are stockpiling wealth by skinning wine drinkers and preparing to step into the vacuum left in the wake of Enron's collapse, you've obviously put some careful thought to the issue of having vintages listed for BTG wines.

You bring a sound a reasoned approach to dining out. Again, my thanks.
I was going to suggest "blackboard" when I visited your webpage. Perhaps it is not a blackboards dining room, but many French and Italian bistros/trattorias use blackboards for constantly renovating offers. A separate printout list sounds pretty useful too.
The wine list seems rather sensible and I think I might shoot for the bottles straightaway, but there's no way you can substract ANY place from ALL suspicion. Either you're a regular or your own experience tells you "THE MORE INFO THE BETTER." Also, some of your BTG wines are good enough to MERIT a vintage date, and as for whites with the eventual opposite problem (overthehill bottles) I'd like to be sure before I consider the entire list: too often I'd arrange a menu around a special bottle that seems to me a good buy: too sad to discover that I'm ordering a full meal around a nonexistent bottle. In that case (ok: in that case alone) I'd compare wrong vintage/no vintage to a wine list without prices...
As an ambiguous compliment I'll say that having read the thread I expected a trickier place/wine list than is actually displayed on the web (IF it is 100% true: no price for the Sugarille? Sure it'll be in the vicinity of $200, but such absences mar an otherwise careful list, and inspire suspicion).
Thanks for the informed critique, Gastronauta.

As you noticed, the thread content had suggested a sinister, or as you put it "trickier" restaurant and list. I've been dismayed that so many, in posting their replies, have made very gross generalizations with only the barest information.

My intent in starting this thread was to get some genuine feedback on BTG vintage pluses and minuses. I want to have a modern wine list that appeals to genuine wine enthusiasts, not ingracious snobs and poseurs.

It's a no-brainer for a restaurant list to be loaded with big name and trophy wines at magnificent markups, but it's another game altogether to build one with stylistic diversity, quality and value; it takes more than just filling in the gaps with esoteric wines. Careful consideration is required, and that's why I came here to the forums.

Oh, the price omission for Sugarille is an oversight! Thanks for pointing it out (the site is not quite finished)! On the physical list, it's priced at $199. Great guess! Again, thanks for taking the time to read, and post, thoughtfully!
chaad, unlike the other subject where you showed that the customer service comes first, you are letting little things (printing lists, etc.) get in the way of really providing what the customer wants.

I certainly think less of a restaurant that does not list the vintage of a wine even BTG. As people mentioned, it is not difficult to indicate what is being offered without a lot of printing expense. In fact, I think highly of restaurants that show what they are offering on a blackboard because it shows to me that they are offering what they thing is good (based on the season, daily purchase, etc.) instead of being locked into a fixed menu.

I don't know how many times I've been offered a 98 CA cab, because "it is better than the 97" listed on the list that they ran out of. To not list the vintage is even worse.

You asked the question because you said that you wanted input. Unfortunately, your reaction to the responses indicate that you only want confirmation on what you have already set you mind to. You will not get that from me.

I guess I should have said that I wanted constructive input. Simple statements such as "To not list the vintage is even worse" are not helpful to me in weighing different approaches.

If you would be so kind as to state why you feel it is worse not to list vintages of BTG selections, that I would appreciate and add to my list of things to consider. That I do not find the litany of oversimplified, uninformed declaration that have filled this thread unpersuasive does not mean I'm only looking for affirmation of my position.

I know there are a lot of posts in this thread, but if you were to read them with greater comprehension, you might be more persuasive in your position. Your advocacy of blackboards as a way of demonstrating a restaurants committment to dynamism in the selections, while laudable on its own, is redundant in my case. As I stated in one of the early posts, I already run weekly specials, which, by the way, I print up on separte sheets.

Again, some explanation on your part would be more constructive and useful.
chaad: I'd never buy a glass of wine where the vintage wasn't listed. If I'm only going to drink one or two glasses of wine at dinner, I want to make sure they're good. I want to know the vineyard, producer and vintage to see that I'm getting value and something I want to drink or try. Not listing the vintage takes much of the fun out of the discovery and nixes the whole list for me. It's no difference than leaving out the name of the wine or the producer. Would you buy "Clos Vougeot?" Put down the info and let the informed consumer make his/her choice. alan
The wealth of dogmatic assertions about what you wouldn't drink and where you wouldn't go, and the sympathy those assertions earn, lead me to the following thoughts:

1) you all are playing some kind of stupid, contrary game with the newbie, or
2) you would rather be fooled than admit vintage ratings are only the coarsest guides to wine quality.

I've served wine for about 10 years in restaurants, and cannot recall more than a handful of occassions where someone asked to see the bottle from which their glass was poured. And this is a well-heeled, well educated, well traveled university town (not some L.I. backwater where they don't know a pedant from Piedirosso). On top of that, I think those people wanted to remember the label, not check the vintage accuracy.

If I'm wrong on both counts, then those imperious posters would rather b.s. on some bulletin board than make their desires known where they would really count: at the restaurants. (Or perhaps you do, and your senseless blathering is causing all of those face-offs so joyously recounted in the sommelier threads in "madder").

And if, as Alanw claims, not having vintages printed for BTG wines "takes the fun out of the discovery" you may be interested to hear about this land that's rumored to be on the other side of the western sea. C'mon now, don't tell me you'd rather read about the wine than taste it! Do you get some kind of vicarious satisfaction in toeing the line drawn by the James gang (Suckling, Laube)?

Which leads me to another thought: If James Laube threw a 100 pt bottle off a cliff, would you jump after it?
You sure haven't helped your cause by showing your argumentative side.
You asked for constructive criticism. You got it from very knowledgable people, just the ones who you purport to cater to.
Apparently you didn't hear what YOU wanted to hear. Maybe you would have been better served by not asking. Do it your way. But know this: Your way isn't the correct way. Open your mind if possible.
chaad -

You started this thread by asking for feedback. Looks to me like you got what you asked for!
Why don't you try to process the feedback as useful commentary?

If you were just looking for confirmation, support or affirmation of what you decided to implement, then maybe you shouldn't have asked for feedback!

The 'regular' posters on these boards by and large have valid opinions, and shouldn't be discounted just because they don't agree with you 100%. You can learn a lot from these folks. I know I have!!! [Big Grin]

It sounds like you like things just the way you have implemented them. GREAT! I'm sure most of the posters here wish you success in your endeavors. But don't EVER expect to get a 100% approval rating on these boards. It would be a boring day in Forumville if anyone ever does.

Enjoy. [Smile]
"The earth trembled, the sea swelled, and the sky parted, revealing the Hand of God! 'Know this,' the noble and distinguished voice declared, 'Your way is not the correct way, my child. Return to your crummy little joint, secure in the knowledge that it is so because it has been written!'"

"And so the 'irregular' sommelier, redolent of benevolent knowledge, packed his cellar, intent to live the rest of his days in the land of The Vintage of the Century!"

--Pedagogues, chapter 69, verse 217
chaad: I've found that thick skin helps on this forum. don't get sucked into the all-too-common name-calling and stick to the wine stuff. Let me give you another example of why I want vintage. Let's say you've got Roumier Bonnes Mares listed BTG. I love the 90, 91, 93, 95, 96 and hated the 92 and 94 vintages. Why should I buy a glass without knowing the vintage? Why assume that everyone wants to be surprised? I'm pretty knowledgeable about Burgundy and like to make informed choices. How is it different from deleting prices from your restaurant menu--you leave off info that some prefer. alan
thanks alanw, I was getting carried away...

You made a great point with the Roumier. My thought on it is that there is no reason to be surprised or buy without first knowing the vintage. Granted, you have to ask first, but I guess my question is whether having to ask, either for the vintage or for a taste is inconvenient/upsetting for the wine drinker?

As you know, most people have nearly no interest in wine, much less vintage preferences for a given producer. Part of my rationale for omitting the BTG vintages was to allow the elite few who really do enjoy wine to have a more dynamic selection process. Meaning, when someone is asking about the winelist, thats my cue or opportunity to get to the table and chat with them. As I've said in earlier posts, I've got a lot of stuff going on as far as wine goes--specials, captain's list, super premium half glasses--and often pop something open just to entertain someone. Maybe its a bit selfish of me, but I enjoy talking to people about wine, so I like the opportunity to get involved, too.

So yes, it takes a bit more to get the vintage info, but it's available for those who want it. I had thought, I hoped, that the extra step would be less irritating than the inevitable vintage inconsistencies between the menu and what's actually being poured.
chaad: As long as your waiters don't mind running back and forth to check vintages, I don't mind asking. The reality, though, is that it takes a fair amount of time to get the answer in a busy restaurant and, if the answer isn't a vintage I'm interested in trying, I may have to ask 3 or 4 times till I find what I want. Now, given, only a small percentage of your clientele is wine-geek material, but it's a nuisance for the server and the patron when the info isn't available. To me, it's no different than not listing the menu prices, but then I spend 4 times as much time on the winelist as I do the menu. alan

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.