Wine, Wine and More Wine

Darcy O'Neil :: August 20, 2006 10:45 AM

Pinot GrigioWhen thinking about, or discussing how to further promote cocktails, the trick is to  get people off of their old drinking habits. But to do that we need to look at the primary competition. At the bar I work (“Mint”) wine is a significant part of the dining experience and the primary competition to the cocktail. Both wine and cocktails have their place in the dining experience, but wine tends to encroach where cocktails have traditionally been ordered, such as aperitifs and digestifs. Why does this happen and how can the situation be fixed to provide people with a balanced and enjoyable experience?

A great meal matched with a good bottle of wine is the perfect combination for a night out. Getting quality wines is exceptionally easy these days because there has been an all out effort by wine makers to produce drinkable wines at very reasonable prices. Australia has been putting out affordable wines with big flavour that is forcing other wine regions to bring their “A” game. No more riding on the reputation coat tails of the past, if you want to compete, your wines need to be good. Restaurants are also making a good effort to have these wines on hand. Many of them use wine agencies that spend their time sourcing these wines. All of these factors, plus one more, add up to tough competition for cocktails.

So what’s the “one more” issue that makes for tough competition? Well, I’ve alluded to it before and it’s the quality of the bartender and the cocktail. Today’s generation doesn’t know what aperitif means and doesn’t understand the principals of bitter substances in ones diet. This also applies to many modern bartenders who think that sweet and sour is the only way to go with a cocktail. Really, how many combinations of fruit juice and synthetic sour mix can you put together before you realize it’s the same old drink in different get up? Sweet drinks before dinner isn’t a great idea.

This lack of quality forced people to default to wine for the before and after dinner drinks. The aperitif is the primary victim of the wine onslaught, the digestif still seems to struggle along. Wine is a super safe choice. You will always look sophisticated drinking a glass of wine, most wine flavours are predictable for a specific grape variety and wine has trends, like the massive Pinto Gris (or Pinot Grigio in Italy) thing going on right now. Aside from some name pronunciations you really can’t do anything wrong by ordering wine if you follow some obsolete rules (“red wine, red meat; white wine, white meat”).

One way to get the cocktail back on people’s culinary radar is to put out a cocktail menu or have servers suggest a specific drink at the appropriate time during the meal. Also, bartenders need to be treated more like professionals rather than low wage shaker monkey’s. And a good restaurant shouldn’t serve drinks with reconstituted powdered kool-aid sour mix! How can a completely artificial drink compete with a beautifully aged, natural wine? The reality is that it can’t, unless the bar staff starts to bring their “A” game to the bar. And this means more education and looking to the past to reinvent the present.

Also, it means patrons of restaurants need to ask for specific drinks and ensure that the restaurant ownership knows if the drinks are up to snuff. Peoples opinions on the food is always considered and if an entree isn’t done right, it goes back to the kitchen to get fixed. That doesn’t happen very often at the bar. If your drinks isn’t good, let the manager know, it will help improve things a lot because it will force restaurateurs to take note that drinks are also important, not just the food.


1. At Mint we use the Lifford Wine Agency (Ontario)and they have done an excellent job of sourcing good wines from around the world.

2. After writing this post, it peaked my interest to see what wine sales were like, compared to cocktails sales, in the early 1900's or the 1950's. I haven’t done the research yet, but it would be an interesting result if cocktails and spirits out sold wine. I'll see what I can find.

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