Monthly Archives: July 2018

BACKGROUND TO SAWi WINE LIST AWARDS

A great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. – David Lynch

‘Most restaurant wine lists are praised and given awards for reasons that have little to do with its real purpose, as if it existed only to be admired passively, like a stamp collection. A wine list is good only when it functions well in tandem with a food menu. – Gerald Asher

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”- Robert Mondavi

Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s most respected wine writers, recognises these kinds of awards as the sommelier’s chance to shine: ‘Great chefs get stars; great wine lists get less attention’.

As Johnson alludes too, wine lists do not receive the attention that they deserve. In the SAWi World of Fine Wine it has become something of priority for all the reasons as set out about the wine list awards on this website.

Many of us when sitting down in a restaurant have the habit of first taking the wine list and scrolling over the prices depending on the wine category we fit into (as a personal behavioral attribute):
– social drinkers who normally go for the cheapest wine;
– basic wine drinkers who rather choose a label they know and also won’t spend much;
– conservative traditionalists (snobs) who normally do not know what a good wine is but, mostly targets middle-of-the-road bottles, while also being influenced by price;
– wine enthusiasts who are experimenters and adventurers who want to know what a good wine is and are keen to learn more and therefore ask questions first;
– connoisseurs going after higher end wines to impress and enjoy the experience with others.

So, what’s the problem? Well, let the penny drop. Do you allow yourself to order some other appetizing drink first until you have decided what to eat if you really want to experience how food and wine can complement each other? As it stands, it could well be argued that the majority of restaurant wine lists are of little help to let patrons discover their taste preferences of wine and as a result to exit their comfort zones and try something new. The list must satisfy all the needs for lunch or supper and celebrating events. It should obviously also fit the food menu.

Then again, the wine list may be as good as it gets but, in top establishments, should be backed up by a well-trained sommelier or wine-stewards that knows wines and could engage and provide valuable advice based on a guest’s food preferences. Once served, these experts should share more information about the particular selection (that is if patrons are interested to know). In other words, their mastery should be put to good use in engaging enough with patrons.

WINE LIST EXPERIENCES

‘See if any of this sounds familiar: You’re in a restaurant that takes wine very seriously, one where a thick, leather-bound, 25-page book arrives with great fanfare–and a thud–at the table. If you’re in a group with no discernible host, who picks it up? Ideally there’s a wine geek in the mix to take charge (fraught with its own perils, not least of which is listening to that person). Otherwise it’s a game of hot potato–one that few diners want to play anymore.

That’s tough for me to accept. I’ve spent the past decade working as a sommelier in restaurants with supersize wine lists, but I’ve come to realise that my acquisitiveness appeals to only two types of customer: the aforementioned oenophile, a guy (it’s usually a guy) who’s just as likely to bring in his own bottle as he is to order something from me, or the fellow sommelier, also usually a male nerd, whose childhood affinity for, say, baseball cards morphed into a fascination with oxidized, skin-fermented white wines from Slovenia.

But when it comes to typical drinkers, I’m under pressure to edit things down. As one friend put it: ‘I don’t come to your restaurant to read a book’. I learned the less-is-more, one-page approach to wine
lists rather than just buying anything that had been my MO for much of the previous decade. I had
to make each choice count. I was curating rather than collecting. The result reads like a menu rather than a list, which is the whole point; the idea that a great cellar must be a ‘deep’ one is on the way out.

It’s tough to downsize. Sommeliers don’t really ‘do’concise. Much as I have come to love parsing the differences among Barolos (and acquiring as many vintages and producers as possible), it’s my job to find a perfect, textbook Barolo for the person who’s never tried one. Because on any given night, I deal with greater numbers of neophytes than of fellow connoisseurs and finding wines for them is more difficult–and more satisfying–than jousting with an expert.

So, is the short list a better way to go? If you trust the restaurant, yes. My idea of a great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. While my cork-sniffing brethren and I may hate to admit it, an encyclopaedic list doesn’t really do that. It may be a book, but it doesn’t tell a story’. – David Lynch