“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 menu.” Gerald Asher.
Most of us, when sitting down in a restaurant, have the habit of taking the wine list, scrolling over the prices first while relying on the social behaviour wine category that we fit into [as I have highlighted in the previous issue of the month] either as:
– social drinkers who go for the cheapest wine
– basic wine drinkers who would rather choose a label they know and don’t spend much
– conservative traditionalists (snobs) who would normally have no idea as to what a good
wine is, but could go for a middle of the road bottle as being influenced by price;
– wine enthusiasts who are experimenters and who want to know what a good wine is are
keen to learn more and therefore ask questions first;
– connoisseurs who go after high end wines to impress and appear in the know.
So, what’s the problem? Well, let the penny drop. Have you decided what you want to eat yet and why order a bottle (fine perhaps for the social drinker who cares less) if you want to experience how food and wine can complement each other?
The fact is that the majority of restaurant wine lists are of little help. Such a list, in order to be “good,” should not be a way to extract as much cash from a customer as possible. The list must work for the comfort seeker and adventurer; a list that satisfies both the needs of the Wednesday supper, as well as those of the Saturday night celebration. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the right kind of wine with grilled chili sirloin, chicken casserole, oysters, seared scallops and a cheese plate?
How should it be then? With a bit of extra attention, a start would be grouping wine lists by Varietal and Style, Bubbles & Pinks, Fresh and Bright (Light to Medium Whites), Stand up Whites (Medium to Big), Flex Reds (Smooth & Elegant), Brawny Reds (Big & Bold). This would make for a well designed wine list, hopefully from the particular area! It should fit Gerald Asher’s criteria of being well suited to the food menu.
Then again, a wine list may be as good as it gets, but should be backed up by a well trained waiter who knows wines and could provide valuable advice. Unlike my last experience when only Slanghoek was available at a harbour restaurant due to the owner and winemaker being friends! Why don’t we keep to our regions? Nevertheless, I ordered a Chenin Blanc, after a while which, the waitress returned to ask me: “a red or white”?