‘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