Wine Service in Europe

By Franz Scheurer


I ask myself seriously if it is simply time for me to return home to Australia or if culinary standards have really slipped that far in Europe. Maybe a bit of both, but I have racked my brain to remember a single place that knows what wine service is all about, and failed to be able to name one. There is a total lack of professionalism at all levels and across all price categories. From the three Michelin star restaurant, via the Jeunes Restaurateurs (guide for the young restaurateurs of Europe), to the local truck stop, they all have one thing in common: they don’t know how to serve their wines, nor do they seem to care. Here are some examples:


In a three Michelin star restaurant the sommelier took our order for a magnum of a very respectable aged Burgundy and disappeared only to reappear with a magnum decanter. He never showed us the bottle, nor did he open it at the table. When we questioned the wine (it was clearly oxidised) he simply stated that there was nothing wrong with this wine, this was the way it was meant to be. (sniff!) Here we have a classic combination of three star incompetence matched only by three star attitude.


A Jeunes Restauranteurs place in the Alsace didn’t fare much better with pouring the wine from one central location across the diners then failing to notice empty glasses during the rest of the evening (we had to get up to reach the wine bottle and fill our own glasses). At least they opened the wines at the table.


Other star studded restaurants either didn’t bother bringing us a wine list at all and we had to ask for it, or they took the order and failed to bring the wine or the right wine.


And so it goes on. There is no excuse for the lack of basic wine service. It is consistently bad. We found the same in Italy, Switzerland and France and it honestly baffles me. Have we come such a long way or have the standards in Europe slipped so badly?


I also noticed a real lack of enthusiasm from sommeliers and waiting staff for their wine lists and wines. I expect a mixture of knowledge and salesmanship when I talk to a sommelier. I love sparring with a sommelier, exchanging knowledge and learning, but I am baffled by a “Je m’en fout” attitude which clearly says “I don’t give a damn”.


The opposite is fortunately true of the winegrowers and wine makers. They seem to have acquired all the knowledge, passion and eagerness to pass on and share knowledge. Maybe they know that their product is treated with contempt at the “grand tables of Europe”.