Most people who are deep into wine have made the trip to Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, Fl. It’s equivalent to Mecca for those who appreciate an aged wine alongside a good steak. Opened in 1956 by the legendary Bern Laxter, it has been filling the house for decades for those who enjoyed dry -aged steaks. .
Bern loved his wine and amassed a collection so huge that he needs an adjacent warehouse to store them. The list, once chained to the table after it began to disappear, is so extensive it would take days to peruse it.
I’ve frequented this place a half a dozen times and it never fails to please, but I learned a valuable lesson the last time I was there with my wife. I enjoyed a 2010 Marsanny and a 1998 Beaulieu Vineyard cabernet sauvignon from the restaurant’s extensive wine-by-the-glass offering. Where can you find wines like this by the glass other than at Bern’s? Both were around $22 a glass, which I thought was reasonable for their age.
We decided to order a bottle of wine for dinner and I decided to let the waiter — who said he was a “sommelier” — find something special within a $100-150 price range. He was gone forever and, frankly, didn’t give it much attention. He came back with two wines from the Rhone Valley — one I didn’t even recognize and the other was a 2008 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage. I enjoyed this wine for decades but questioned whether it was still good. I decided to trust his assurance.
The wine was actually fine, but I remarked to my wife that I was surprised that this was the best he could do. Afterall, it’s an average wine and the budget I gave him was reasonable. The list was extensive and I didn’t restrict the region.
He said something that annoyed me. He said the top sommeliers protected the best wines for its regular customers. The waiter said if a customer liked a particular wine, they would declare it off limits in case he wanted it again. Now, I get that regular customers who patronize the restaurant year-round deserve better access to the best wines. But here’s the lesson for me: pick my own wine.
I was entirely capable of finding my own wine and I knew I could have done better. But I thought the waiter (who said he was a sommelier of some level) knew what was really showing well.
If you go, pick your own wine.