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Restaurant Wine List Review – Wine Taste, Why Keep It a Secret?

We’re your customers. That’s right, we pay your bills – so listen up. Why can’t we know your wine list? We know what we like, but your wine list doesn’t give us a clue. Ok, so we’re not wine knowledgeable, don’t despise us because we’d still like some wine that we’ll delight in. We really like wine, especially with a excellent meal. But we don’t want to study the stuff so we can know your wine list and know how a wine will taste.

Count these up: 1) County of Origin, 2) Producer, 3) Vintage date, 4) Appellation, 5) Variety of Grape, 6) Vineyard, and 7) season the grapes were picked (Ice Wine, Late Harvest, etc.). That’s right, seven items of information must be catalogued and understood to give us a chance at knowing what a wine tastes like when reading your traditional wine list. Keep six of these, change the seventh, and all bets are off on how the wine will taste. We get as confused as a blind dog in a meat house.

If you hear a lot of us saying, “Just give me a glass of your house white,” you have a wine list problem. Hey, we’re not too cheap to buy a bottle of wine; we just don’t want to make a sizeable investment in a bottle we may not like. So why keep us in the dark, trying to decipher your wine list code? Why not tell us how the wine tastes, and we’ll pop for a bottle or two.

Expensive restaurants once solved this problem with a sommelier whose job it was to discern our taste preference, analyze the menu we’ve ordered, and recommend a wine we would delight in with our meal. There are precious few qualified sommeliers around these days, especially in affordable restaurants. When your wait staff recommends, it’s usually wines they like.

The only thing worse than a traditional wine list is one with “winese” puffery descriptions.
Example: “This wine has hints of dark tree fruit, root vegetable, autumn leaves, pears, berries and vanilla, with a strong end of cigar box.” Incredible! Do you have something that tastes like wine?

In January of 1980, Grey Moss Inn in Grey Forrest, Texas, implemented the “Customer Friendly Wine List.” Customers could order wines by the way they taste for the first time ever. The wine list was divided into categories:

1) Slightly Sweet, 2) Light, Soft, 3) Light, Crisp, Fruity, 3) Fuller, Rounded, Dry,
4) Elegance, Finesse, 5) Robust, Complex, Full Flavored 6) After Dinner Sweet

Red, white and rose wines all appeared in most categories. Some wines like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon appeared under as many as three categories. As customers, we knew that by staying within a category we could be experimental ordering wine and still delight in our selection.

Jill Goolden published the book, The Taste of Wine, around 1990 , and about a decade later Fiona Beckett published Wines by Style. The thesis of these books is to classify wine by how it tastes, rather than the seven criteria above. These books led to a rash of wine lists offering up their contents by taste profile – but these glimmering lights seem to be flickering out.

If you lack the confidence to develop a wine list for your restaurant that lets us order wines by the way they taste, hire a qualified wine consultant, or work closely with your vendors to achieve your goal. Then watch your wines sales grow from glasses to bottles, as we feel comfortable ordering from your list.

Bill Stephens writes the syndicated column heyrestaurantguy.com heyrestaurantguy.com . His 35 year career in food service includes restaurateur, caterer, food and wine columnist for Harte-Hanks, Murdoch and Hearst Newspapers, food and wine magazine journalist, and he consults for restaurants with Bill Stephens Associates billstephensassociates.com billstephensassociates.com

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