The make-up of a good wine list

Unbelievable that there are still restaurants, bistros and café’s that don’t pour wine-by-the-glass at the guest’s table, thus depriving the diner to view, if not validate, the label.

It is obviously a matter of having chosen the wrong establishment. Is it to late to exit the joint? Staying or leaving, both way’s, it’s unfortunate.

So what comprises good wine service? It starts with a well-considered wine list, an interesting and balanced selection.  By this I mean a reasonable offering of all key varietals such as sparkling wine and Champagne, Riesling, the white Pinot’s, Semillon, Sauvignon and partners, Chardonnay, a few other aromatic whites such as Arneis, Fiano and Albarino.

This leads into reds, well, not wanting to neglect Rose’s, like Pinot Noir and Burgundy, Italian varietals, Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet and family, blends, Shiraz and more.

To this, sticky’s, maybe demi bottles and magnums should be added to the list. As it appears in the modern world of dining, there are ciders, sake’s, sherry’s and other fortified wines that deserve consideration and enrich the offering to diners.

Maybe about six or more titles in each category is a level where choice and delight begins. Otherwise it is fairly difficult to represent key regions as well as a wider choice of vintages. Such list can and should be enriched by a representation of quality imports, given respective varietals are benchmark and add value through originality and terroir expression.

All this does not mean that I disrespect short lists, say an A4 sheet fillet with perhaps 20 positions, offering the common and not so common wines where appropriate to the dining venue. Or such list may fit a luncheon menu with the aim to provide more focus on speed of selection, delivery and service. May be a themed or regional selection is an option respective to a venue. All I suggest is that a wine menu has to be engaging, harmonises with the style and cuisine of a dining venue and has price options for each varietal and for varying budgets of diners.

A comprehensive wine list so, to my coloured point of view, is really very delicious. It is a journey to the worlds wine regions, perhaps a discovery tour of rare or unknown labels and to some, a re-visitation of past tasting experiences.

All that, I hope you agree, entertains, is enjoyment and has the potential to heighten the diner’s anticipation for upcoming food and wine matches.

Appropriate cellar and storage condition too are imperative to a guest centric wine list and to rather polished wine service, as guest then receive well cellared wines at correct drinking temperatures. Chances are high under best conditions that older vintages and age-worthy wines are in prime condition.

Glassware is next on my list of criteria that completes good wine service, and ultimately, a splendid restaurant experience.

Today there are many choices of quality glassware, from simple, large couped and rather thin-walled generic red wine glass and appropriate white wine glass to a more complete range of quality glasses designed to elevate characteristics of a respective varietal. The glassware should be appropriate to the style and discernment of the venue, no more, no less. How often then, you think you receive value for money?

Is it appropriate for the sommelier to smell and taste your wine? Yes, it is. It’s actually their bloody job. Unless you wish to do this job yourself? I always do. I actually like the sommelier to ask if he or she should check for any fault. And if it is something rare and really expensive, these are good reasons for the sommelier to ask the guest on how they wish to proceed re pre-tasting.

Being the recipient of good wine service by aware restaurant staff or a sommelier, adds greatly to the enjoyment of an event. I liken to offer a tasting to them, if it is a rare, aged or otherwise special wine.

The chef too, should get a taste. I hear some chefs cook even better if they can moisten their lips with a stunning wine.

Some would actually take such opportunity to fine-tune a sauce, a component, if not the dish to ever better synergize with a respective wine.

Before an initial tasting by sommelier or guest, a wine may need to be decanted or perhaps aerated into a carafe. Here too lies great knowledge of assessment of a wine and the skill of handling and pouring that elevates wine service to a wine experience.

All those factors are subjected to the knowledge and skill of dedicated people. This cannot replace an assembly of expensive labels for the sake of impressing guests or to win a best-wine-list award.

To summarize, here are the factors should be reasonable standard and that a diner can use to benchmark a restaurants wine service quality.

  • Appropriate to cuisine
  • Appropriate to ambition of establishment
  • Accessible & wide range of prices
  • Informed service team
  • Need wine menu presentation; every label promised must be available
  • Vintages displayed
  • No spelling errors
  • Quality glassware
  • Correct serving temperature
  • Every label to be presented to guests, inclusive wine-by-the-glass
  • Every (new) bottle needs fault checking, inclusive screwcaps
    Cheers to all that!

Dining Out

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