I often get asked about Wine Lists and why some are better than others.
The general roundabout question always seems to be…If it’s probably the most important tasks of a wine director; why is creating and managing a restaurant's wine list seem to somehow be an afterthought?
Wow! It sure is a difficult question but it doesn’t have to be...
But just what sets apart a just-ok wine list from a great one? How does a Wine Director or Sommelier go about picking wines and making a great list? What’s most important?
My way of thinking is that there are folks who are interested in wine but may not know anything about wine.Then, there are interested enthusiasts; who will be eyeing for particular names or styles. It’s key to try to build a list that appeals to everyone.
A great wine list starts with the proprietor(s) caring about wine and caring about profits. This must go hand in hand or the list is doomed.
Also, storing the wine in a hot closet just won’t work. Do it in the best cool environment if not a cellar. Make this happen. It speaks about the heart of the establishment.
Let's get deep for a second...
Today, the new era of the Mixologist is on the rise; just like the new era Sommelier. Knowledge and creativity are in play.
The wine 'is' the driver that sells repeat menu diners; not the mixed drinks. The last thing a foodie wants consider is distillation. It's a distinction that should be understood. Mixed drinks encompass the 'establishment' but truthfully not the meals...That's not it's purpose. But, the wine is both....and I say if you care about 'sense of place' in your wine; you are on the best path.
Then the first step in making a great wine list is talking to the chef about the food. The wine should go with the food. Period. That is crucial. This gives me hints and ideas to the types of wines that will pair remarkably well with the dishes. Wines with the right acidity, freshness, body, salinity, minerality most and notably—structure
The wine list is one that can pair up with multiple dishes and be able to criss-cross where several wines can address the dish. A guest needs to be able to sit with the menu at first glance along the wine list and determine whether he or she will or can return to your establishment and this is even before a bite of food is ever taken. Will it work with the meals? Will it work with Cheese? Will it work with dessert? Will it work on its own?
The list has to be fun and have some crowd pleasers as well the ones that make you think a bit. Like a white or a red that you wouldn’t expect. Or a varietal from a producer or a vineyard that is a curiosity. A great wine list can tell a story about history, geography and the combination of flavors that compel you to want more. They echo a Sommelier's beliefs about wine. Not necessarily what are the Somm’s favorite wines or a who’s who greatest hits… but a diversity of taste. A diversity of value and some prized ones are important as well.
A list that is too small and cheap can tire you very quickly. So a small restaurant needs to be crafty and empathetic to its dishes; if they care about their patrons. Caring means to make sure all the information that is needed is displayed so the guest gets what they thought they were ordering and can make the right decision alone or with help from the Somm.
It’s not about whether the wine scored 90, 92 or 94 points. A great wine list is all about caring and listening your guest likes and providing them with your best options available, all while keeping it fun and enjoyable.