In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Building a Better Wine List, 7 August 2010, wine writer Lettie Teague discussed the surprising lack of consensus around the best way to present a restaurant wine list. Some restaurants list their wine according to country of origin, others groups the wines according to the standard varietals or simply colour, eg. red, white, rose. Sometimes wines are listed according to intensity, eg. light, medium, full bodied etc. or texture and aroma, eg. lush or floral, and occasionally emotion comes into play, eg. “intense and brooding.”

So, “which kind truly serves diners best?” Teague asks. If you’re reading this post or have already clicked on the link to Teague’s article, you’re probably the one who is usually given the task of choosing the wine! Invariably, I often find myself in that position, and if none of the names on the list look familiar, I call on the waiter for his or her advice!

Nothing wrong with that according to Teague. She argues that an enthusiastic and knowledgeable waiter or sommelier is just as important as an engaging wine list when it comes to selling restaurant wine. But surely we could all benefit from a few well thought out guidelines about how to present a wine list.

Here are Teague’s suggestions:

  • Geography-focused wine lists should contain maps. (If a place is important, then show it)
  • Varietal-focused wine lists should come with descriptors of the grapes. (What does a Coda di Volpe taste like, anyway?)
  • Descriptive wine lists should be limited to flavors and textures. (And those flavors and textures should be universal—words like crisp, fruity and oaky tend to be widely understood.)
  • A passionate sommelier is terrific—but better in person than on the page. (Emotional excess can annoy as much as appeal.)
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