Staff Wine Training is Essential

Yesterday I held a wine training session for the staff of a local steakhouse.The owner has been working with me to update his wine offerings and train his staff. This initial meeting was to assess and improve their wine knowledge and serving techniques. It quickly became evident that there was a great disparity in knowledge. The manager knew a great deal and was eager to lean more. Others were in various stages of understanding with one admitting he was a neophyte. Falling back on my educational training, I tried to make it interesting and informative to all. Their wine list has about twenty-five selections, so I focused on the most obvious choices, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for whites, and a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds. I have found over time that most servers will only concentrate on four or five wines to suggest no matter how many selections the wine list has.

The main concern here was to show the differences in style and intensity of the wines and have them use appropriate terms to describe their characteristics. While the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was acidic, I demonstrated how that acidity nearly disappeared with cheese samples. The concept is that most wines are meant to complement food. The trick is to get the best match. Selling terms were discussed such as crisp for acidic, and full bodied for tannic. We reviewed the menu items from fish and chicken to pork and steak. Each server now had a better understanding of wine and food matches and could now make appropriate suggestions.

Table service was another concern. Wine understanding and matching suggestions need to be put into practice at the table. Basic procedures were revived such as placing the wine list on the table, presenting the wine ordered to the buyer, properly opening the bottle, and pouring for the guests. Most servers were familiar with this practice, but now had a greater uniformity of style in wine service.

It’s difficult to create a staff of superior wine servers, but the understanding that appropriate service adds significantly to their tips is a grest motivator. The goal is to have the server and the customer benefit from the interaction. By the way, the restaurant has increased its wine sales and profits since intiating the new wine list offerings and hopefully this training will carry wine sales to higher level.

The presentation can be seen in the traing section of this website.

Wine Storage

A new wine storage facility opened in Sarasota and I decided to check it out. I met with the owner, of Cellar Fifty-Five, Brett Laurvick, and had a tour. This is a fabulous facility. It is only three months old and everything is brand new. The lockers vary in size from 3’x2’dx2.5’h  to 7’x9’dx8’h. Brett said that the larger ones were the most popular. They are symmetrically arranged  and the entire area is pristine. Some unit owners create racks inside and others simply stack cases. The entire area is climate controlled at 55 degrees (hence the name) and 60% -70% humidity. Membership has two levels, Basic and Premium, and monthly costs will vary accordingly. Entry level membership is reasonable at $35 per month. Access to the lockers is 10 AM to 5 PM weekdays, and 10 AM  to 4 PM Saturday. All customers are allowed 24 hour access. Another feature is the ability to accept wine shipments directly. They can be held or placed in the locker. Also a wine inventory is available to premium members as well.

Brett was involved in sports representation and became hooked on wine when a player served him a Joseph Phelps Insignia at dinner. A native of Washington State, he then made it his mission to visit as  many wine producers as possible. After leaving the sports business,  he then decided to focus on wine storage. According to him, this is the only  wine storage facility in Sarasota County dedicated to the broad spectrum of wine collectors. Another facility in Sarasota caters to large collections and is more expensive.

In addition to wine storage, Cellar Fifty Five has an intimate lounge at the entry to the facility. Clients can use it for private tastings at a reduced rate.

With the constant heat and the vagaries of weather in Florida, this presents a nice option to  the serious wine collector.

8229 Vicela Dr. Sarasota, FL 34240     Directly off Fruitville road, it is easily accessible from Lakewood Ranch as well.


Having spent most of my life in the wine business, I thought I was immune from novice mistakes. However, the other day I thought I did not have enough chilled white wine for dinner so I decided to put a sauvignon blanc in the freezer for a quick chill. Needless to say I forgot about it. The next day I realized my mistake and now it give me the chance to describe what happens. I most cases, freezing wine will not incur any problems. The wine will reconstitute itself after thawing and the taste will most likely be unaffected. However the danger lies in the wine  expanding upon freezing causing a pushed out cork or a split bottle if the glass is week. Fortunately there was enough eulage ( space between the wine and the cap) to absorb the expansion.

The other characteristic of frozen wine is the appearance of tartrate crystals. Many times people would tell me “there’s glass in my wine”. Actually it’s tartaric acid (cream of tartar) that has precipitated out. Totally harmless. Most wines undergo a cold fermentation to pecipitate them out before bottling but freezing carries the process to another level.


Tartaric acid crystals


Sometimes it takes a while to come to an obvious conclusion. After I began writing this blog and paying more attention to the analytic evaluation of wines, instead of the hedonistic (which wine was consumed more), I began to notice the initial harshness of big reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah  seemed to show a  bite on the tongue. Perhaps the alcohol was dominating the fruit due to the temperature. In order to alleviate that, I placed some in the refrigerator for thirty minutes or so. Voila. Each wine had a much more attractive and smoother taste. For comparison, I had two glasses, one with room temperature wine and the other chilled. It was easy to see the difference. Most red wines show best at room temperatures which in Europe could be 68 degrees and in most of North America 70 to 72 degrees. However, here in Florida, my house averages 76 degrees.

Visiting Publix always seems like an arctic excursion. However, yesterday  I purchased a bottle of Santa Christina (lovely Tuscan wine) and opened it upon arriving home. It was the perfect temperature. Easy way to get your wine chilled.