The waiter hovers beside you on your rare night out to that swank restaurant, tapping his order pad while you nervously examine the wine list. Your date sits across from you, waiting for you to pick the perfect drink to accompany that special evening.
The pressure is on.
You could just close your eyes, point randomly at the list and hope for the best, but there’s a quiet little shop in Phnom Penh that could help alleviate some of that pressure.
Red Apron Tasting Gallery, which officially opened in 2004 near the corner of streets 240 and 19, offers an opportunity to sample from a vast selection of quality wines, empowering the occasional wine drinker with the ability to choose for themselves.
“Step by step, you form your own opinion, and that is the most important thing for me,” said Dutch national Jeroen van Daalen, manager of the Red Apron.
“Why should somebody buy a wine at $50, $60 or $80 if they don’t know the wine, and then walk out and hope that it is nice?” he asked.
Walking into Red Apron is like entering another world, with wooden wine crates stacked fashionably along the floor, glasses hanging from racks above the tasting tables, soft lighting and relaxing music played at just the right level.
You can spend a leisurely hour comparing a few wines by the half or full glass, accompanied by a little bread with meats, cheese or pate.
“Over time, the customer finds out for himself-not from me-that he likes maybe this grape or maybe that grape,” van Daalen said.
And, he added, first-hand knowledge gained from sampling wines could actually benefit a customer’s wallet.
“You’re going out with your girlfriend, your boyfriend,” he said. “It’s a special day and you want to open a very special bottle.”
“You’re better to find out here, at $10 a glass or half glass, and if you don’t like it you [could] save yourself $140 and don’t make a big mistake.”
And for those not wishing to fork out $50 plus for a bottle of wine, Red Apron offers a fine selection of wines in the $10 to $20 range. “We select very carefully our low-priced wines here,” van Daalen said.
Because of van Daalen’s firm policy of people deciding for themselves, he is hesitant to point out which wines go best with which dishes.
“I like to challenge dishes,” he said. “If you say the red wine goes with this and the white wine goes with that, it’s so basic-it’s common knowledge.”
But that said, van Daalen did offer up a couple of suggestions.
The French Gewurztraminer and the Chilean Casillero del Diablo whites are both wines that he feels go very well with Asian dishes.
“People drink red wine most of the time, but often white wine goes much better with Asian food,” van Daalen said, adding that his experienced staff will offer advice on wines that best suit that special meal.
While good wine speaks for itself, Red Apron’s Cambodian staff provide the expertise and maintain the ambience that welcomes customers to appreciate the subtlety and complexity of a good vintage, van Daalen said.
“We have a nice group of people who are interested in what they are doing,” he said, adding that two of his staff have studied at vineyards in France.
“It’s pure teamwork… and that makes people eager to learn and discover.”