Last week, I was invited to a fascinating evening at the Institute of Masters of Wine in London.
The event was designed to launch the Institute’s 9th International Symposium called ‘Living Wine’, which will take place in June 2018, in Logrono in the Rioja region of Spain.
While examining the world of wine from many new angles, the purpose of the symposium is to explore our relationship with wine and how we regard it in our lives.
The Institute of Masters of Wine was established in 1953 and due to the rigour of the examinations, there are only currently 369 MWs worldwide.
Apart from London, there are now examination centres in San Francisco and Sydney.
Approximately 150 students sit the exams each year, with the pass rate often being 10 percent or lower.
The main objective of the Institute is “promoting excellence, interaction and learning across all sectors of the global wine community”. What its member MWs do also is question various practices in the wine industry with the ultimate view of enhancing the consumer experience.
During last week’s event, a number of MWs got up on their soap-box (or in this case up-turned wine cases) for a three-minute rant (presentation) on a topic related to our interaction with wine.
Subject matter ranged from the ways in which wines are marketed, to alcohol levels and health, but one particularly caught my attention, since it is close to my heart and some points I have referred to in previous articles.
This presentation was by Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine called The Drinks Business and concerned the failing of many restaurant wine lists in terms of pricing and range. The main point made by Patrick concerning price, relates to the excessive prices charged for wine by most restaurants, with a service charge then added on top.
With profit margins of up to 400 percent, insult is added to injury by adding a further 10-13 percent for service.
While paying a hefty mark-up and service for the food element is perfectly justifiable, storing wine, washing napkins and replacing decanting candles can hardly be seen as justification for the wine mark-up and service percentage.
Patrick explained: “Where the wine service is attentive, usually to show cause for the high prices, it’s invasive.
“I can pour my own wine, at my own rate, and I want it to hand – not chilled to tastelessness in a bucket deliberately placed beyond my reach.”
These and other comments are exactly what is needed to help change the all too easily accepted status-quo of wine pricing.
Patrick was also quite rightly irritated by the lack of opportunity in most restaurants to take your own bottle “you are made to feel like dirt or charged so much is not worth your while”, he commented.
Some places in London will add £100 for corkage on wine and more on champagne.
Patrick’s final point concerned restaurant wine lists.
While he applauded the trend for lists to be shorter, often the range is both homogenous and unoriginal, with wines selected being all of a similar type.
The wine range should be both affordable and eclectic.
His parting shot, which I applaud wholeheartedly, asked: “Surely restaurants realise that those who love wine are, potentially, their best customers?
“And, with that in mind, why insult them by overpricing the best accompaniment to fine food: which is of course, fine wine.”
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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