Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wine List Blues.

OK, I'm on a mission to change all restaurants' wine lists to accommodate me (and my friends). I'll be selfish here and request that I am no longer left wondering what is best with my dish or if my guests will be happy with the wine I choose. Since I am usually the one that everyone hands the wine list over to the minute we sit down, I need more information from the 'expert' who put the list together. At the very least, give me some decent descriptions, a chef recommendation or two, some ratings, winemaker's notes and let me make somewhat of an informed decision.

This raises an interesting observation. If I even have trouble with the majority of the wine lists out there, how about the average person dining out with little knowledge of wine? In the sea of choices on a linear wine list, how do we choose? It becomes a guessing game at best. Unless swayed or compelled otherwise a certain way (by the rare resident Sommelier), most will opt for the tried and true brand name or strictly go by price leaving out some potentially great wines to try. I believe that restaurants have gotten lazy with their lists and are not only leaving the customer in a flux, but leaving money on the to speak.

Here's an example of how I feel a page should appear vs. the usual linear listing of wines and their prices:


Merlot (pronounced ‘merr-lo’) originates from Bordeaux region of France and is used both as blending grape and for single varietal wines. Merlot based wines usually have a medium body with hints of berry, plum and currant. It’s known for its softness, low acidity and light tannins which make it a very easy to drink wine. Merlot pairs well with grilled meats, duck, pork chops, veal and light pasta dishes.

►►Chef recommended menu pairings:
Ravioli alla Caprese, Penne Villa Capri, Pollo Parmigiana, Vitello alla Parmigiana, Filetto al Pepe Verde, Bocconcini di Manzo al Gorgonzola

Merlot Selections Region Price

2005 Fallbrook Reserve - Fallbrook, CA $21
95% Merlot, 5% Syrah
The ripe cherry flavors are complimented by the rich deep character of the North/Central Coast Merlot grapes, providing a distinct varietal fruit character with exceptional color and a smooth lingering finish.

2003 Martin Ray - Napa Valley, CA $36
96% Merlot, 4% Cabernet
A deep garnet color highlighted by aromas of ripe cherry, plum and a soft hint of vanilla. Bright, complex flavors of fresh cherry and strawberry are nicely rounded out by rich vanilla oak.

2003 Kenneth Volk - Paso Robles, CA $39
87% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc
This dark Merlot has aromas of anise seed, ripe berry, olive and cigar box spices. On the palate, the wine is tightly structured with moderately firm, persistent tannins.

2003 Hall - Napa Valley, CA 90/WS $48
100% Merlot
On the palate, expect generous briar fruit and black cherry with hints of spice, mocha and vanilla as smooth, subtle tannins round out the mid palate, leading to a long, lingering finish.

2003 Peju Estate Selection - Napa Valley, CA 91/WS $52
92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet, 1% Petit Verdot
Bright red color with aromas of red currant, vanilla, clove, raspberry, bing cherry, and freshly crushed sage. This Merlot is suave and finely textured, round and voluminous on the palate - with rich flavors of vanilla bean, cherry and currant.

Fun Wine Facts:

When wine makers refer to ‘Bordeaux style’ wines, they are referring to the use of at least three of the five main Bordeaux blending varietals which are – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.


In my opinion, this accomplishes many things. First of all, by giving some background to the varietal (Merlot in this case) it gives the customer some information about the grape beyond just what Merlot stands for in their minds. Second, it immediately gives them an idea of what goes best with the food and credibility from the Chef. Third, by using the winemaker's notes, it allows an opportunity to upsell the more expensive wines and/or insert ratings if they choose. Last, it brings to life the menu and gives an air of comfort to the reader/customer and can appeal to their palate more easily. Plus, you give the reader some wine tidbits that they may not already know and this lends to building more customer loyalty and good conversation.

So, let it be known from here on out, I am going to approach every restaurant I know or visit from now on to make these changes to their list. Truly, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one...coming soon to a restaurant near you.

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

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