Any Port in a storm?

Hardly. Where once people couldn’t afford to be picky about the quality of their Port, things have improved drastically in the last twenty years or so. Until 1987, existing Port producers effectively kept the industry locked up, and any new producers were locked out.

Since that time, producers such as Dirk Niepoort have nudging (if not shoving) the industry forward. Where once very little table wine of quality was made in Portugal’s Douro Valley (where real Port is made), today over half of the wine in the Douro is table wine. Again, led by Niepoort, most of it is great value stuff, and some of it is fantastic.

When Niepoort’s Redoma was first released back in 1991, it pretty much set the standard. With subsequent wines, such as Batuta and Charme, Dirk has only added to his bad boy image, with wines that are as idiosyncratic as they are delicious.

Even before Dirk took over from his father some years ago, the Niepoort name was associated with high quality Port. The vintage Ports were ripe and tasty, and the LBV’s and tawnies were viewed by many as benchmarks. They still are today.

While Port is supposed to have been invented centuries ago, it’s only been in the last half century that it has been of the quality we see today. The great old vintages, in this writer’s opinion, are no better than the best of the new vintages, such as 2000 and 2003. The tawnies being offered today are far better than those of twenty years ago.

With Niepoort as one of the young leaders, Port’s best days are ahead.

Why does service suck at some restaurants?

In an unidentified city in Southwestern US, I’m back in a familiar haunt. Now it seemed unfamiliar. A server who suggested one customer should “arrive home safe”, whatever that means, and accompanied that with some weird chuckle. He spotted my Dayrunner and wisecracked that he hadn’t seen one of those in a long time.

The owner ambles through the restaurant. He doesn’t recognize me, and makes no eye contact with any customer, though I’ve asked one of the other servers if he is around. She makes no attempt to let him know he’s been asked after. But at least she is there to help out when the offending serve brings me the wrong wines, drops them and ignores me when I try to inform him of his error.

She apologizes. He observes the whole thing and says nothing. The owner ambles past again.

Why does service suck at some restaurants? Because the owners don’t care enough. They’re too busy counting their stacks of money (though that’s rare enough), or trying to get through the day before the dishwasher is taken away by the INS or something blows up and they simply hope they can get out the door before tee time.

I expect that, at some point, it catches up with them. But the damage has been done. Customers figure that service is non-existent in America. Some servers learn to be rude or even hateful to (or at least about) their customers. Worst of all, the other servers see that good service and attitude doesn’t really matter enough to the management and owners to take action.

Before long, nobody cares. Bad service and bad attitude, like theft, is a cancer.