It happens all too often now. I'm dining with my wife, a friend or a business associate for lunch and we are both in need of a morsel of libation. But as the sun is still out, a bottle is simply too much - a point that is metaphorically and literally driven in by the glint of my white Mercedes-Benz station wagon near the far end of the parking lot.
Fancying myself someone who actually knows a thing or two about wine, I give it a swirl then a deep sniff and finally a good slosh. As my brain processes the flavors, my judgment on first sip is generally based upon the wine having three distinctive notes - beginning, middle and end - before I even bother classifying the expression of the grapes with such modifiers as fragrantly herbal, jammy, brightly acidic, earthy, zesty or the cringe-worthy 'fruit forward' (like there would ever be a 'fruit backward' wine).
Sadly, most wines barely pass this test. But then again, most wines are designed for everyday drinkers, with the amount of labor required to make a symphony-in-your-mouth beverage very often justifying a price point unattainable by nearly everyone on a regular basis.
"Well, it's a Pinot. Nothing great, but it'll do," I say to the server, who politely nods in agreement while already slinking away so as to end the conversation, "Yeah, but it's a good food wine."
And there it is. A two-word buzz phrase that is now the de rigueur excuse for allowing any piece of plonk of the wine list - marketing puffery at its finest.
Think about it for a moment: name one wine that doesn't pair well with food? In fact, an argument could be made that wine was first invented then regionally perfected to work in harmony with a given area's produce. So, in essence, when someone says that a certain label is a 'food wine', what they are really saying is that it's garbage otherwise because you need to shove some snacks down your throat just to wash out its asphyxiating aftertaste.
And don't get me started on food wines being good palate cleansers. Any beverage from carbonated water to hallucinogenic absinthe can be categorized as that. The fact remains that a vintage should stand on its own and shouldn't have to rely on any complements for its enjoyment.
Luckily, the average customer hasn't yet caught on to the gilded blunder of this terminology. But just like how we now sneer at receiving 'jug wine' or 'table wine', this titular phrase will quickly start to garner the proper amount of scorn it deserves. Ergo, you had best make your sommelier and your servers aware that 'food wine' will soon be verbum non gratum (Latin for 'a word not welcome').
My diatribe aside, the point remains that for your menu to truly shine all of your beverages must be able to hold their own. True, there are places where volume is the game of the name, but in most cases we are all trying to deliver an elevated product that the entire team is proud to work for while every customer goes home feeling fulfilled. For this end, you simply must take meticulous care in curating the best possible wine list. If it isn't working, let your inventory of that bottle run out and don't restock, lest you are left with a bunch of forgettable food wines that won't serve your brand.
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The world’s most published writer in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the managing director of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry also sits on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. He is a much sought after public speaker. His published work includes five books: “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015) and “The Llama is Inn” (2017)..and “The Hotel Mogel” (2019).