Vote For Me At SXSW

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2 – Click on the “Search/Vote” tab, then search for “your brand internet”. My session Your Brand And The Internet - A Firm (Free) Foundation should be at the top of the list.

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Van The Wine Man At SXSW

I am excited to announce that I will present an interactive workshop, Digital Engagement Prep List For Your Restaurant, on the opening day of SXSW 2016. SX is a colossal interactive, film, and music event, celebrating its thirtieth year in Austin, Texas. This will be the third year it features a food-focused track, SouthBites, and I will host one of the first SouthBites workshops. You can get a taste of the latest innovations and inspirations from the festival, even if you are not planning to attend: Enter your email address here to receive my SXSW Interactive report, including wine and dining finds. And, follow the action on Twitter: #SXSW #SXSWInteractive #DinerReady

A Digital Marketing Workshop For Restaurants

 Click the image and enter your email address to receive my SXSW Interactive Report

Click the image and enter your email address to receive my SXSW Interactive Report

In this workshop, we will conduct a strategic audit and make adjustments to restaurants' online images that accelerate engagement. Restaurants will leave ready to improve customer service, attract feedback, and drive reviews, resulting in loyalty and profits. 

These are examples of the questions we will answer:

Where should my restaurant focus to have the most influence with diners online?

How do I set up all these digital marketing elements to tell an attractive, consistent story to diners?

After I set them up, how do I manage all these profiles to engage and bring in more customers?

Who Should Attend?

Restaurant owners, chefs, and managers. Social media and P.R. personnel. Employees responsible for customer relations and service...Essentially anyone working with restaurants.

If you will be at SXSW, please join me!

Friday, March 11th, 2016 - 3:30-5:30 pm

Hilton Austin Downtown - 500 E. 4th St. - Room 412

Pre-register here, beginning February 17th.



Van The Wine Man's Most Popular - 2015

Here is a recap of my most popular posts of 2015:

 Wine-O wall at Brian McClintic's Les Marchands

Wine-O wall at Brian McClintic's Les Marchands

Brian McClintic, Master Sommelier And Much More

The SOMM star talked about managing his insane schedule, promoting winemaking in Santa Barbara, and his philosophy on wine service.

Wine Talk With Rajat Parr

The two-time James Beard Award winner and extraordinary wine taster discussed his four current winemaking projects and the importance of trying different wines to expand your palate.

Dave Danhi Thinks Grilled Cheese Needs Veterans, And Wine

The man behind The Grilled Cheese Truck has ambitious and creative plans for such a simple and delicious staple of life.

Sandhi and Domaine De La Cote - Santa Barbara Stars

Rajat Parr sat me up in his tasting room to try several examples of the excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming out of Santa Barbara County.

A Visit To Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

Favorite memories from a drive up the mountain, with Paul Draper, Monte Bello assemblage, and pieces of Ridge history.  



Attentive, Interested Service - Al Biernat's, Dallas

Attention to finer details is an element of service that moves a restaurant higher on my list. Al Biernat's of Dallas is one of the finer examples.

 Porterhouse for Two

Porterhouse for Two

Al and his management team are continuously working the floor, actively scanning throughout all areas of the restaurant, seeking out opportunities to make diners feel welcome and appreciated. Outstanding service is an obvious priority, and on the rare occasions I have experienced anything sub-par, recovery has been impressive. Just how deeply does this importance of service stretch? 

On a Friday night, early for a reservation, my wife and I turned to the busy bar for a pre-dinner beverage. There must have been fifty people seated and crowded around the sweeping, half-moon shaped bar, but I lingered for only a few seconds at a far edge before one of the bartenders approached me. I asked for Buffalo Trace neat, and when he presented our drinks he said, "I'll only charge you for one drink. There wasn't enough (of the Bourbon) for a full drink." In the glass was enough that I would not have been disappointed had he not called attention to it. 

A few minutes later, thinking I would have a full pour of another brand, I turned back toward the bar. The same barman met me while squeezing his way out of the bar into the crowd. "I was just going to check if we have another bottle." he said to me, hurrying past. He reappeared after a few moments with a large smile, new bottle in one hand, and an already fully-poured glass in the other. He was understandably pleased to delight me, even as he promptly turned his attention to another customer.

This is the attentiveness of just one member of the staff, shown in ten minutes in the chaotic bar, while simultaneously caring for dozens of others. Attention to detail is deeply ingrained in service at Al's, and continues in every aspect and throughout the dining event. Observant and interested service around excellent steak and seafood elevates an Al's experience to the top.

Al Biernat's - 4217 Oak Lawn Ave. Dallas, TX  75219



Are You Trying Different Wines?

If you simply like wine, should you feel the need to expand your tasting experiences? There are numerous practical reasons to do so. All your current favorites will eventually become unavailable, so you will need replacements! Then there is this advice from Rajat Parr:

 Impromptu tasting at Coppia, Portland, OR

Impromptu tasting at Coppia, Portland, OR

"The only way your palate will evolve is to taste different things. If you taste the same things every day, you’re not evolving your palate. Keep an open mind, try different things, that’s the most important thing." 

If you think you only like a limited few wines, you may be surprised at how many more wines you could be liking. Get out and try something strange, intimidating, or pink. For each wine you are drinking today, there are dozens more that you will find equally pleasing and exciting to explore and share. 



A Year Of Bests - Restaurants

A tasting menu of my favorite flavors from a year of Van The Wine Man.


Getting Started

Salade d'Auvergne at Les Halles Downtown, New York City

Spicy Herb Spring Rolls at Chada Thai and Wine, Las Vegas

Spicy Steak Chili at Elway's, Denver

Speakeasy Tartarre at 21 Club, New York City

Pasta at Elio's, New York City


Main Events

Sweet Chicken Chile Quesadilla at Kogi BBQ, Los Angeles

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp and Grits at Mr. B's, New Orleans

OFS Dirty South at One Flew South, Atlanta

Chicken Bonnne Femme at Tujague's, New Orleans

Steak Frites at DB Brasserie, Las Vegas

Steak For Two at Peter Luger, Brooklyn


To The Finish

Profiterolles and Coffee at Chez Nous, Austin

Hazelnut Paris Brest at Republique, Los Angeles



One Year Of Wine

Today marks one year of Van The Wine Man online.

 At Peter Luger - Reservations in background

At Peter Luger - Reservations in background

It has been fun traveling from coast to coast, connecting with many people responsible for delivering outstanding wines and restaurant service. Then, meeting even more consumers like myself, and sharing our experiences. The exploration was exhilarating, and memories satisfying.

I am even more excited about the next year. This first year was about proving to myself that I could keep the blog consistent, and make it relevant. Now, I expect an upgrade, from more helpful and timely content, to greater interaction with fellow and future winos. 

Good wine, and learning all about it, continues to become more easily accessible. I will continue on the path of guiding you to memorable and satisfying wining and dining experiences, and hope you will share your discoveries. Thank you for going on this journey with me.




Service-included is a conversation I previously addressed in a post highlighting Camino in Oakland. A sudden surge in relevance came last week, with Danny Meyer's announcement that his Union Square Hospitality Group will systematically eliminate tipping across his restaurant empire. Meyer's former partner Tom Colicchio initiated a similar move at his flagship restaurant in September. While increasing numbers of restaurants experiment with a variety of service compensation policies, these bold steps by some of the bigger names in fine dining set the stage for widespread adoption of included hospitality. This leads to important questions for consumers:

  • How much will service-included restaurants raise prices, and will it be greater than typical gratuity?
  • Will the price increases result in better-trained and longer-tenured wait staffs, that know me and how deliver truly satisfying service?
  • Will included service prove to be worth it, consistently outstanding, and always exceeding my expectations?
  • How will non-adopting restaurants adjust, depleted of the best available servers, and what will it mean for diners?

What will you think if your favorite restaurant goes no-tipping, and increases prices twenty-percent? Just how good will service need to become for service-included to succeed?



Wine From Unexpected Places

Wines often surprise with unheard of grapes, but unexpected stories also surround their points of origin. Check out this delicious tour across continents:

Pietradolce Etna Rosso 2013

Made from Nerello Mascalese, grown on the "northern slopes" of Mount Etna, Sicily, the largest active volcano in Europe. Dirty and stony, for sure! - $22

Domaine de Fontsainte La Demoiselle 2013

Not so surprising a place, (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) but with antique vines planted by the Romans, on a thermal spring. A tasty blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Mourvedre. - $20

Campolargo Valdazar 2009

Trincadeira da Bairrada, Touriga Nacional, Baga, and Tinta Barroca grapes from Portugal. That sums it up. Ripe and earthy, with lasting length. - $20

Channing Daughters Rosato Di Cabernet Franc 2014

A Long Island, New York winery, with a reputation for experimentation. Like this Rosé made from 100% Cabernet Franc. Crispy citrus flavors and bone dry. - $20

Lieu Dit Pinot Noir Santa Ynez Valley 2013

Sommeliers like Eric Railsback flocking to make wine in the Santa Barbara area is no surprise. The volume of fantastic wines, and that they remain undiscovered by the mainstream, is another story. Bright red cherries, with acidity and a fantastic finish. - $40


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Wine Cork Conversations

The cork may be as socially impactful as wine itself. I have heaps of corks displayed or stashed in a variety of containers around my house, where their colors and names add visuals to the sharing of experiences. But conversations around these small stoppers are much greater than these conversations in my kitchen.

Corks vs "other" closures is a subject of hot debate and lobbying. Discussion carries on regarding sustainability, costs, and corked wines. While natural corks remain the preferred method of closure by winemakers, the competition is inching closer. 

Recycling and repurposing of corks appears fit to take off, with ReCork claiming to have collected over forty-nine-million. As more people drink wine regularly, expect to see additional drop-off points as cork recycling goes mainstream.

Decor and the use of corks for artistic expression is an expansive industry for both professionals and hobbyists. Just search "wine corks" on Pinterest. You could possess the ideas or designs to become the next (first?) famous cork artist of the world!

Do you have a side in the cork vs other debate,  or would you miss corks if they were only used for ultra-premium wines? What do you do with your wine corks? Post a comment, or a picture of your cork project for me to share. 

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Pour The Wine - Simple Service

Over-pouring of wine may be the norm, but what if instead there was no pouring? Recently, a server in an established restaurant opened my bottle of wine, sat it on the table, and departed. I waited a few minutes before pouring it myself, determining it had been forgotten. I kept waiting for the server to offer to refill the glass, but it was not going to happen. After removing the cork, wine service was over for the evening, and I poured the entire bottle over the course of the meal. The server handled food and water, I did not witness any other bottles of wine being served, and overall service was agreeable. I was left to wonder.

A server in a restaurant where a bottle of wine is frequently on the ticket ought to be prepared to pour it. Just not too much.



Wine Stories - Paydirt, Paso Robles

 Going For Broke label

Going For Broke label

Patrick McNeil always brings non-traditional artistic expression to the wines he works with. An entrepreneur on the business side of wine, he was previously behind the design and marketing of The Prisoner, among others. Now with winemaker McPrice Myers, he has his own memorable brand on the market, Paydirt. The label on the current Going For Broke blend is part of a larger work of art, with another piece of the puzzle appearing on a different bottling, Reckless Abandon. Perhaps there will be additional wild-eyed labels in the series, and exciting red blends to match!

Paydirt Going For Broke 2013 - A mouthful of a red blend, with Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. A juicy balance of dark berries, medium tannins, some peppery spice, a taste of The Dirt of Paydirt, and a pleasantly lingering finish. $30

 Art on the wall of Paydirt

Art on the wall of Paydirt



Brooks Lake Lodge, Wild West Luxury

 Pinnacle Buttes view from Brooks Lake Lodge

Pinnacle Buttes view from Brooks Lake Lodge

Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa is a secluded hideaway near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, The Continental Divide, and Jackson, Wyoming. If you find yourself searching for a luxury or all-inclusive lodging option in this territory, it is likely to show up. A unique combination of resort and ranch, it has upscale service and amenities in a wide open, scenic setting, with well-arranged activities to fulfill your every outdoor desire. 

Dining is western gourmet to the fullest. Dinner features daily choices of entrees, like venison, walleye, or a bison tenderloin with horseradish glaze and roasted asparagus. There are locally inspired dishes, like a trout pâté salad, and always out of the ordinary sides, such as a gouda risotto. Afternoon tea, a meal in itself,  offers a selection of cheeses, fruits, and warm, fresh-baked cookies. The Cowboy Bar is a popular gathering spot in the evening for lively conversation and libations. The wine list is brief but solid, with many of the wine (Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Clos Du Bois for the house wine) and beverage names featured to match the rustic theme of the lodge. The wines, along with a selection of local beers and a full bar, are available for purchase, the only food or drink not included in the initial price.

 Bison Tenderloin

Bison Tenderloin

The staff is loaded with passionate and completely-equipped personnel. Our fishing guide had a degree in wildlife management and concentration in fisheries. The wrangler that led our horse rides had a nursing degree and plans to pursue work in horse pharmaceuticals. The massage therapist is renowned in the area. The general manager is full of knowledge, and energy! He talked in depth about the history of the lodge, the land and ecology, and the variety of wildlife inhabiting the area. All this when he wasn't teaching a guest to shoot a bow and arrow, or leading a hike to the summit of the nearby Pinnacle Buttes. All the staff members were well-informed and prompt to assist with any request, regardless of their particular responsibilities. It is an extremely smooth-running operation.  

Accommodations, from rooms and suites in the main lodge, to the numerous private log cabins, are modern rustic in style. All rooms are updated and fresh, with lodgepole pine furnishings, cozy wood burning stoves, and private porches or balconies to take in the beautiful views of the horizon. The spa is surprising, with a full-range of spa services, sauna, workout facility, and a gigantic, outdoor hot tub with another panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. 

For an active luxury experience in the still somewhat wild west, give Brooks Lake Lodge a try!

Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa - 458 Brooks Lake Road, Dubois, WY  82513



Westbank Grill - Four Seasons Jackson Hole

The Four Seasons Jackson Hole is an ultra-luxury resort in a breathtaking setting, located near the base of the Grand Teton mountain range. Somehow, Westbank Grill exceeds these surroundings by delivering an excellent wine and dining experience.

The Food: A perfectly prepared 32oz dry aged American “Kobe” Wagyu bone-in beef rib eye with grilled vegetables and roasted mushrooms with Wyoming Whiskey, rosemary, and garlic confit. Five intriguing sauces accompanied the beef, including huckleberry pudding and horseradish cream. 

The Wine: Jackson Hole Winery The Outlaw Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, a local product. Sourced from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, it showed dark fruit and a velvety smooth finish, and meshed well with the beef. The winery does production nearby, at over 6,000 feet!

The Service: A true team effort was flawless from greeting to goodnight. Several staff members seamlessly transitioned throughout the night after our initial lead server became ill. Had she  not made such a strong first impression, we would not have noticed that our service was being managed on the fly. There was no indication that anything went off-plan. 

The Atmosphere: From an open booth featuring what must be the restaurant's best view, I felt completely at ease in the large dining room. It is the epitome of a luxurious while rustic theme, with a majestic stone fireplace dominating the center of the room, and floor-to-ceiling windows on either side overlooking the mountain and ski lifts. 

Westbank Grill in Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole - 7680 Granite Loop Rd., Teton Village, WY  83025

Westbank Grill @ Four Seasons Jackson Hole Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



The Wine Community-Building Power of SOMM

 Passionate wine community following a  SOMM  screening

Passionate wine community following a SOMM screening

Whenever I view SOMM with people that are seeing it for the first time, the audience reaction reminds me just how emotionally-charged the film is. This is especially so with responses in a crowded theater. The amplified "Awwwws" and gasps during the scenes where the sommeliers receive the results of their Master Sommelier exams, or when we learn they are never told the correct identity of the tasting wines, are particularly stirring. These collective, engaged expressions create a warm sense of comaraderie, that everyone in the audience is going through the testing process together with the somms. 

The sense of community lingers after the film, as people gather over their glasses to compare viewing notes. Conversations carry on about the talent and commitment of the somms, how unbelievably rigorous the MS program must be, or favorite lines like Brian McClintic's "...tannins that ripped your face off!" The best observations are of how the film has inspired the viewers to taste and educate themselves about a broader scope of wines. Question and answer sessions lead to deeper discussions, with notes recorded for future reference. New friendships are initiated, with plans set in motion to share further in the mutual love of wine. Wine brings passionate people together, and SOMM escalates wine's societal effects.

SOMM is a special kind of film for wine lovers, and the show will go on: SOMM: Into The Bottle will premier as the opening feature of the Napa Valley Film Festival on November 11th, 2015. It will star many of the wine superheroes from the original cast, and if the initial teaser is any indication, the same powerful emotional impact from the first film carries on as well. Follow me for more details on the sequel as they become available.

Download SOMM or buy it on DVD

View my previous post: SOMM - The Addictively Emotional Wine Film



Chance Meetings With Winemakers

I met Jeff and Stephanie Lippencott by chance at lunch in a hotel where we were staying. Jeff is a composer, responsible for music accompaniment to numerous top-rated television programs. Later, as I sat at the bar reading Rajat Parr's Secrets Of The Sommeliers, Jeff sat next to me, and asked what had me reading the book. I explained my passion for wine, my blog, and working to share the love. "I make wine!" he exclaimed. 

Jeff enthusiastically described cultivating a small vineyard over the past decade in Southern California, from which he now produces Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend under the One Vine Four Branches label. Stephanie recounted the depth of resources and research that have been invested in learning about winemaking. They once hired a Master Sommelier to gain entrance to and escort them through barrel rooms of the first growth chateaux of Bordeaux. Jeff is hands-on throughout the entire winemaking process of growing, harvesting, barreling, and bottling his wines, which contain only juice from his grapes. Annual yield determines whether the wines will be single varietal or blends. An early effort, the 2010 Syrah, won a gold medal in the Los Angeles Cellarmasters home winemaking competition, and a silver medal in Wine Maker Magazine's home winemakers competition. He expressed his excitement over recently receiving a shipment of new, custom-made, French Oak barrels for use with his 2015 vintage, which will be a blend appropriately entitled Maestro. While still very limited in volume, Jeff's "hobby" has grown from sharing a few bottles with friends and clients, to making sizable philanthropic gifts. 

I love to meet winemakers and hear their inspiring stories, and the surprise aspect of this encounter provided an additional thrill. It was an exhilarating conversation that came about entirely by chance, even after our initial introduction. More wines available logically means there are more people making it, so remain alert to wine-minded people you run into. You never know when that person sitting nearby is a winemaker!



Elway's, Denver - Winning Wine And Service

Visits to two of John Elway's upscale steakhouses in Denver could not have been under more opposite circumstances, yet both yielded outstanding experiences worth repeating. 

 Elway's Downtown

Elway's Downtown

First, my wife and I were thrilled with an anniversary dinner at Elway's Downtown, inside the Ritz-Carlton. Arriving for a reservation, we were recognized and seated immediately in a cozy, semi-private booth, complete with flowers. Several members of management and staff cared for us throughout the evening, with Executive Sommelier Gail Oversteg taking the lead. She gave excellent recommendations from the wine list and food menu. A pair of truly prime steaks were perfectly prepared, and we are now loyal users of Elway's steak seasoning. Gail continued to exceed expectations throughout the evening. After I inquired about the aerator she used to decant our Burgundy, she produced a new, boxed and gift-bagged version of the device that we gladly purchased at cost. 

On another trip, we made a spontaneous drop-in to Elway's at the airport, on a game day no less. Anxious about a short layover, yet hungry for great food, we cautioned the hostess of our dilemma. She mentioned that the menu would be limited (no prime steak this trip) for such a brief meal, but assured us it could be done. Our waiter, Andrew, was aware of our time frame when he introduced himself, and reassured us we were in good shape. A strong list of wines by the glass included selections like Guigal Cotes du Rhone and Acacia Pinot Noir. The Spicy Steak Chili was exactly that, with chopped chunks of beef bringing serious heat. Andrew presented the check immediately after our meal. We were in, out, and fully satisfied in twenty-five minutes! 

Completely different experiences in scope, with identical happiness. Elway's has a high-five recommendation for wine, food, and service.

Elway's Downtown - Ritz-Carlton 1881 Curtis St. Denver, CO  80202

Elway's - Ritz-Carlton Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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Missouri, The Show Me Wine State

You might not have Missouri at the top of your wine destination list, but it has much to be discovered. If you find yourself in the midwest, fall presents some of it's best wine experiences.

Missouri Is Full Of Wineries

September is Missouri Wine Month. Spread throughout the state are over one-hundred-twenty wineries, offering styles of wine to please any taste. My brother-in-law's family owns the DeLaney Vineyard and Winery in Nevada, where they produce wines from nine grape varietals, all planted and developed in a little over a decade. Ten wine trails connect the dots for day trips or weekends of tasting delight.

Grape Varietals Of Missouri

Missouri's grapes may be unfamiliar, with names like Catawba and Cayuga. There are no Cabernet or Chardonnay vineyards, but countless options emerge from the eleven grapes that excel in the state. My favorites are made from the Norton, which produces a bold, dry, red. It is the oldest native grape in the United States, with ties, like most U.S. wine subjects, back to Thomas Jefferson. Some of the best Nortons come out of Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. Historic itself, the winery has existed since 1847, and was once one of the largest winemaking operations in the country. Like many of the wineries, they offer regular tours, and host frequent special events that are open to the public.

If you need further motivation to taste and tour the wineries of Missouri, there is natural beauty to behold. Fall foliage will be breaking out in brilliant color in the coming weeks, adding to picturesque settings on rolling hills alongside rushing rivers across the state.

Missouri offers an experience with all the history, variety, and good wine as more well-known areas. You just have to imagine sipping your Seyval Blanc instead of Sauvignon Blanc while watching the sunset.

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Quenching Your Wine Thirst - 2015

Standouts from a tasting of the current portfolio of Thirst Wine Merchants.

White Wines

  1. Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste Rose 2014 - A delightful dry Rose from French varietals. $16
  2. Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2013 - Becoming a regular favorite from Rajat Parr. $34
  3. SCRIBE Estate Chardonnay 2013 - Grapes from the corner of Carneros, Sonoma, and Napa, with a hint of pepper. $25
  4. SCRIBE Chardonnay Skin-Fermented 2014 - From a different clone in the same vineyards as #3, delivering a very unexpected punch. $34
  5. Gramercy Cellars Viognier 2014 - A field of daisies and baby powder. $22

Red Wines

  1. Leonetti Cellar Merlot 2013 - A Merlot leading the way?! Very dark, thick, and smooth. $84
  2. Figgins Family Estate Red 2012 - Herbaceous, then very dry and balanced. $87
  3. Chateau Angludet Margaux 2011 - The winemaker loves Petit Verdot, and this has 12%. Dark and earthy, with a hint of sweetness to finish. $45
  4. Blackbird Vineyards Arise 2012 - Dirty and chewy with strong spice. $52
  5. Owen Roe Syrah Ex Umbris 2012 - From hot and cool climate vineyards offering balance. Smooth with some spice. $19
  6. Sean Minor Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - $18
  7. Boroli Barolo 2010 - $45
  8. Shaefer Vineyards Merlot 2013 - $53
  9. Casa Silva Carmenere 2013 - $15
  10. Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2013 - Yes, Lambrusco. $18




Don't Judge - Simple Service

I have a friend who is a member of the Joseph Phelps Preferred Wine Club, and has verticals of Insignia and Backus Cabernet in storage. You might not pick him out of a lineup to be the wine collector. I witnessed a server in a full-service restaurant with a solid selection of wine offer my friend every drink available except the wine list. After the list was asked for and delivered, the server highlighted only wines by the glass. For whatever reason, this server had determined my friend was not a serious wine drinker. 

A server in a restaurant with any wine program at all should have the list at the ready, if not on the table, when making introductions. After that, there are simply too many potential unknowns to judge a diner on appearance. If the server had offered the list going in, he might not have found out about my friend’s collection of wine, but he would certainly have known he was likely to order a bottle. When selling a full-service experience that is attracting sophisticated diners, it is a good rule to expect that they want your best, regardless of appearance. Or at least that they want to see your wine list.