Your Sommelier’s Wine List Critera

Let me tell you that there are some bad wine lists in this town. I don’t care what anyone says. I look at some restaurant wine lists and I have to ask myself what was the wine buyer thinking?! Now, before you proclaim me a snob, let me share my criteria for a good wine list. And it is not the same for every restaurant.

First, a wine list should have a good mix of wines that match the food. Duh! Right? So what is a restaurant that has elegant and sophisticated food doing with so many wines that kill those subtle nuances? Italian food should have Italian wine, French with French, etc. Even an American retro-style diner can have wines that pair with burgers and fries.

So why do some restaurants not take the hint? Food from a certain area goes best with wines from that area. They “grow up” together on the table and within the culture. It’s odd going into an ethnic restaurant and all I see is California Chardonnay and Cabernet. How about something that goes better with the spicy curry or the noodles? I wonder if they have ever heard of Riesling or Pinot Grigio.

Secondly, a wine list should have wines in a range of prices. Not everyone has the same budget. I get turned off when I peruse a wine list and see all expensive wines. It’s like the restaurant is trying to gouge you. It’s also a turn off when you see mostly inexpensive wines that you know just aren’t really that good.

I recommend to restaurants to have low-, medium-and high-priced wines in each category in order to give guests a choice on how to spend their money.

Thirdly, a wine list should be fairly priced. Being gouged on price is a pet peeve of mine.

Restaurateurs should know that they take dollars to the bank, not percentages. When I write a wine list, I am much more interested in giving guests value for their money than keeping percentages. This may shock some people, but wine lists should “sell wine” not just have some great names on them that only 0.01 percent of the population can afford.

Wine lists should be easily navigable. I dislike the progressive wine list that lists wines by weight or dryness. Studies have actually shown that type of wine list sells less wine than varietally categorized ones. If I want a Pinot Noir, it should be easy to find that section. And wine lists should be easy to read, not only by category but by font and size of lettering. Some restaurants are already starved for lighting, making reading a wine list or any menu difficult. If it’s easy to read, it’s easy to order.

A good wine list doesn’t have to have a specific minimum number of selections or verticals of a single wine. Size, in this case, does not matter as much as the quality of the selections and price. If a wine list has all the criteria above, then I’m ordering.

Recommendations: 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($169) I tried this wine Saturday night and it was impressive, to say the least. Not cheap, but just as mind-blowing as some of those cult wines in the stratosphere. 2009 Ca Donini Pinot Grigio ($8) This is the value of the year so far. Lovely fruit, refreshing and a manini price!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. rviernes

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