An Italian restaurant, the Swiss-German side of Switzerland. Italian waiters but an Austrian Sommelier. I want to order some wine. Normally I’d try and go local with the wine: Amarone from Valpolicella in Verona, Tignanello in Tuscany, Chablis where you’d expect and so on – that’s great for the UK because unless you’re a Nyetimber fan (which would be a reasonable thing to be a fan of these days), you get to drink everyone else’s stuff. I’m going for French wine though, mostly because I’ve never been that keen on Swiss wine (name a single producer, region or even the most common grape type, if you can).
The two wines that I’ve narrowed it down to both carry the letters “MO” next to the vintage (1998 and 1999). I want to know what this means before I order so ask my Austrian sommelier – maybe it means “dodgy label” or “poorly looked after” in German. He tells me that it means that’s when the grapes were “geboren” – I’d never thought of grapes being born but I can go with that being how they emerge. It doesn’t make any sense though – all wines are born in the year on the label (with a few exceptions, like, say, 1745 Madeira which is a mixture of a couple of hundred years of the good stuff, with very, very little from 1745 in there). So I tell him he needs to think again. He tells me that other wines that say “1999” might actually be from various years – he plainly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He goes away. There’s much muttering with his colleagues after which he comes back to tell me that he’s sure that’s what it means and that he can definitely recommend one of them, a Corton 1998. I ask him what language “MO” might translate to – I figure I could make a good guess with some clues. Is it German? No, it’s French. Ok, who put the letters there, maybe we could ask them? The F&B manager, who isn’t around. Can we phone him? No, he’s off today.
I give up eventually and my hapless Austrian goes off to get the wine. A good ten minutes later he comes back with a completely different wine, which he recommends even more. It turns out that the wine I wanted isn’t available. He tells me he has one in the other restaurant, but that it’s locked up. That’s not much use to me: I don’t have the wine I want, I don’t know what “MO” stands for and no one seems prepared to ever say “I don’t know”. So I get another wine, completely different (but, as it turned out, not bad).
It’s not unusual for people to be afraid of those three simple words. Maybe it’s fear, a fear of “not knowing their numbers” perhaps. I’d understand that if there were terrible consequences for not knowing, but there really are. “I don’t know” followed by “but I will do by the end of the day and I’ll let you know” or “I don’t know, that’s a great question” is surely preferable to a made up answer about grapes bring born (or not). How hard can it be to say?
P.S. I’m very conscious I owe a follow up post to “know your numbers” – I’m working on it, looking for what’s public and what isn’t