Food Writer's Diary
Bashed by magnums

Bashed by magnums

My table at the Magnum Bash

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Midtown Manhattan is a big, masculine, money making machine that serves big hunks of USDA Prime steak and great big rich red wines to go with it, mostly to people with generous expense accounts.

Owners Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc. — which owns all 10 Del Frisco’s locations as well as the Sullivan’s Steakhouse and Del Frisco’s Grille chains — won’t tell me on the record just how much money they gross each year in the 400-seat restaurant, but it's in the tens of millions of dollars; it has to be.

About a quarter of that comes from wine sales, Del Frisco’s wine director David O’Day told me earlier this year.

“Our customers are a very savvy crowd,” he said. “They know the vintages of Bordeaux and the boutique producers of Burgundy. Sometimes they don’t need the sommelier to guide them. They know what they want.”

General manager Scott Gould told me that many of his customers are very proud of their personal wine collections, boasting of how awesome they are.

And one night a year those customers have a chance to prove it.

Last night was Del Frisco New York’s third annual Magnum Bash, when the restaurant’s best customers are invited to bring a large-form bottle from their cellars. “We’ll pop it for you, no corkage!” the invitation said.

I’m not one of Del Frisco’s best customers, and if I used my expense account to eat at Del Frisco’s and order the sorts of wines that those customers order — let’s just say an awkward talking-to would follow.

But the restaurant’s publicists wanted me to check it out. They even supplied a magnum for me — a 2005 Domaine Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvée Coeur de Roy Vieilles Vignes.

That’s a fancy red wine from Burgundy.

And hey, I like steak and wine, so I went.

Here’s what I don’t like: Listening to rich middle-aged men (mostly men) brag about how many vineyards they’ve been to, dropping producers’ names like hipsters rattling off obscure indie bands you’re not cool enough to know about, boastfully pouring from their expensive bottles of heavily extracted lumbering Napa Cabernet Sauvignons that resemble the personalities of their owners — proud, brash and completely uninterested in the fact that you’re trying to enjoy your steak without having your tongue pummeled into submission by young, tannic fermented grape juice.

That Gevrey-Chambertin probably would have been pretty good, but it wandered off to another table for other people to sample while I was trying to be polite and reaffirm the masculinity of men who generously offered me their palate-numbing pre-releases that, like many of their owners’ dates, were too young.

But hey, that’s just me. Everyone seemed to be having a grand time — including me, except when the conversation drifted into who knew which winemaker better, because I don’t care — and I think it was a very successful community-enhancing night for the team at Del’s, which is what their regular customers apparently call Del Frisco’s. 

It underscored a problem that the wine world has, however.

Winemakers were pioneers in telling their products’ story, something everyone in the food and beverage world is trying to do now. But often the stories are so long, obscure or uninteresting that it’s hard to bring the uninitiated into the fold. I probably would have been more interested in my dining companions’ stories if I knew the names they were dropping, but I didn’t and I wasn’t particularly interested in learning them.

Similarly, on Sunday I attended a From Bubbles To Bordeaux dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (it’s been a big steak week for me) that featured all French wines, all poured at a special dinner simultaneously held at 95 Ruth’s Chris locations across the country. Those dinners aren’t typically attended by wine experts, but by those with healthy curiosity about wine. Unfortunately, the wine distributors’ representative — our speaker for the evening — didn’t seem to know how to talk about wine to the uninitiated. He talked about the commune that one of the wines came from.

“What’s a commune?” a guest asked.

“It’s like an AOC,” he said, which was not helpful.

“It’s a designated growing area,” I whispered to my guest, who’s more of a beer drinker and who nodded in appreciation, although “designated growing area” doesn’t really mean anything, either, now that I think about it. But at least it’s in English.

Although pioneers in telling their products’ story, the wine business really needs to learn to tell those stories to the millions of Americans who are trying their wines for the first time each year.

And I need to stay away from big, young Cabernets.

October 21, 2014: This blog entry has been updated with a picture from the Magnum Bash, and the number of seats at Del Frisco's in New York City has been corrected.

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