Unlike Lettie Teague, I don’t have to come up with wine column ideas. I am beholden to no man, woman, trannie or Murdoch meat grinding daily like The Wall Street Journal; I can write when, how and about what I choose, up to and including Khaleesi’s lovely ochre/sepia-toned nipples, and still refer to myself as a wine journalist.
Why then (might come the logical rejoinder) waste time writing a column I don’t have to write about a column that Lettie did have to write?
Easy peasy, cheesy sleazies: I have to regain face after I accidently let slip the fact that I find WSJ’s wine columnist sort of hot in a scrawny, liberal-arts-major, intellectually earnest and enologically overbearing sort of way.
Actually, what I said was that I wouldn’t kick her out of the sack for eating Aspinal of London Luxury Christmas Crackers, but whatever; I have a friend who mocks me anyway by emailing random odd things that Lettie Teague comes up with in order to fill her weekly word count for a hoary old business journal and challenges me to think with my head instead of my petrified trouser dragon.
The latest was: ‘The Pleasant Surprise of Chain-Restaurant Wines’, WSJ, August 29, 2014. http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-pleasant-surprise-of-chain-restaurant-wines-1409328776
Ergo, thoughts on this odd article:
‘High-end chains such as PF Chang’s and Fleming’s Steakhouse are inarguably popular.’
Right; so if their popularity is inarguable, why mention it? This is the WSJ, not Jack & Jill in the pediatrician’s waiting room—assume that your readers do not need you to state the obvious, unless of course you are being paid by the word. But, I digress.
In any case, the non-sexual thrust of the article is that Ms. Teague was ‘surprised’ to discover that certain upscale restaurants have upscale wine lists, even if the servers can’t engage in enlightened banter over specific vintages of Avancia Cuvée De O Godello. Her surprise is further augmented when she learns that a white-tablecloth restaurant like Morton’s Steakhouse, where checks average $170 per couple pre-gratuity, has not one, but four sommeliers at their Midtown Manhattan location, failing to note that getting a sommelier certificate in 2014 is even easier than getting a boner during Game Of Thrones.
She also points out (correctly) that the California cabernets on the list are overpriced, and opts instead for a $70 bottle of Argentina malbec which she knows retails for twenty.
All of which is odd, granted, but the oddity that seemed oddest is that the theme of the article is Lettie’s surprise that these specific spots (Fleming’s, Houston’s and that Chinese chingadera P.F. Chang’s are also included) take pride in providing decent wines to their clientele. Why? Because they are, after all—in WSJ biz-speak—‘chain restaurants’, that’s why.
That’s the whole surprise-worthy factor: The chain gang, in the opinion of our favorite Wall Street journalistette, actually shows wine savvy in choosing a selection of which she approves—even if, as she quips (possibly to lend credence to her initial postulation)—“When I asked our waitress if I could speak to a sommelier, she replied, ‘You mean an actual person?’”
Her bitingly sarcastic response, not given in the article, is likely to have been something memorable like, “No, you dense twat, I want a fictitious person to recommend a Strongwine from Dorne—as dark as blood and as sweet as vengeance.”
Anyway, so far, so good.
The thing is, though, Lettie Teague may be breaking Christmas crackers on Rupert Murdoch’s nickel and quaffing malbec with a 350% markup on Fifth Avenue, but at the close of the day, she’s a corn-fed Hoosier chick who did, in fact, attend a liberal arts college (Kenyon) and knows (I suspect) that when Midwesterners think of chain restaurants, Morton’s Steakhouse is not the first joint that leaps to mind.
In fact, the expression, ‘If he takes you to Morton’s, he’s worth a second date’ is precisely why I intend to take Daenerys Targaryen there, on the off-chance she doesn’t put out on the first one.
As Lettie well knows (even if her editor-in-chief Gerard Baker doesn’t), to us vast sea of slack-jawed yokels between New York and L.A., some of whom actually read The Wall Street Journal, ‘chain restaurant’ means places like Applebee’s, TGIF, Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel, where the only ‘surprise’ is that they don’t serve white mule in mason jars.
Since I am not on any hoity-toity, fancy-schmancy New York expense account, were I to write a column on chain restaurant wine lists, the tone of the piece might be somewhat different.
For starters, there’d be no pleasant surprises.
Ergo ² :
Applebee’s: The list aims to be all-encompassing, so long as your compass points due 7-Eleven. Classic offerings from Sutter Home, Sutter Home, Sutter Home and Sutter Home are balanced with ambrosial Barefoot and gems from Cupcake Cellars. Kendall Jackson Chardonnay is the lone breakaway ‘Vintner’s Reserve, a wine so bland and sweet that it might as well be served from a soda fountain; considering they sell twenty-four million bottles of it a year, not sure how much the vintner could conceivably be reserving.
T.G.I.F.: Thank God I freebase; otherwise this tired, lowest-common-denominator list would turn me into a teetotaler. What line-up of mediocrity would be complete without Beringer White Zinfandel and Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio to shore up the (again) Cupcake Cellars and KJVR? One that includes (as its high water mark) Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, the wine that proves that Marlborough is capable of turning their premier grape into something flat and forgettable.
Olive Garden: The ‘Picking The Right Wine’ comments on their menu suggest merlot with chicken and chardonnay with beef, so you know from the giddy-up that you are encountering some iconoclasts in the OG wine program. Cavit wines form the backbone of the list; they sell for $6.50 per glass and up, while the wine retails for around $5.50 a bottle, which means that the chain is probably paying around $4. This might be understandable if pasta wasn’t such a goddamn high margin foodstuff to begin with. The list actually includes the semi-decent Francis Ford Coppola’s Diamond Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, but not to put too fine a point on it, if Michael Corleone chose to blow me away in an Olive Garden, I would carry the ignominy into eternity.
Cracker Barrel: Hands down, Cracker Barrel—the company that drew the ire of normal people when it refused to hire gay waiters and still represents a big night-on-the-town for the very demographic that its name pays homage to (crackers)—wins the chain restaurant wine list contest by a country mile simply by refusing to have one. They claim that serving wine would clash with their ‘family-oriented’ theme, but I suspect the real reason is that they think of wine as liquid gay.
With apologies to Ms. Teague, this is how a real Midwesterner rates chain restaurant wine lists. Granted, it’s hard to keep you down on the farm now that you’ve seen Paree, but sometimes you have to be reminded that your roots are shiny black with good ol’ wholesome Indiana topsoil.
Plus, she still raises the mainsail in my flotilla and (as opposed to Emilia Clarke) Teague’s in my league, more or less. No columns about her nipples, though; promise. Whereas I imagine they are quite pleasantly surprising and chromatically balanced, in my imagination they must remain. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Wall Street Journal does not have a mandatory nudity clause in its contracts.