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What makes a Good Wine List?

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.)
  • Choose some wines that people regularly drink in addition to the trophies and oddballs (and charge a reasonable price for all three).

Wine and food match suggestions are also helpful, especially if the wine list includes lots of unfamiliar names. They probably also encourage the chef and the sommelier to talk on a regular basis, insuring that the wine choices are up-to-date and appropriate matches for a changing menu.

Technology is beginning to change how wine lists are presented and how diners interact with them. In an article for the nzherald.co.nz,  New technology gives consumer instant information about their wine of choice, 12 September 2010 Jo Burzynska reports that New Zealand wineries are starting to put QR codes on their wine bottles.

The QR code is popular in Japan, where wine drinkers can use their 3G mobile phone camera to scan the code and automatically access the winery’s website. For Central Otago winery Drumsara, the QR code allows readers to access tasting notes for the particular wine and vintage, including a locator map that identifies the exact vineyard location of the grapes in the wine. Drumsara marketing manager, Wayne Matheson, is very excited about the technology: “It’s quite revolutionary really, and what it means is that wine buffs can be in a retail store, read our codes and immediately source all the information they want before deciding to buy. Similarly in a restaurant people drinking our wine can download the tasting notes and enhance their dining experience.”

Cheap Fun Wines.com recently reported that South Gate is the first restaurant in New York City to launch custom designed iPad wine tablets as a way for diners to navigate South Gate’s extensive wine list of over 650 bottles.

Let the wine list adventure begin!

One Response to What makes a Good Wine List?

  1. Pingback: Weekend Wine Reading » Cellarit Wine Blog

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