Take Control Of The Wine List
Imagine this—you are seated at an upscale restaurant with one of your best clients and then handed a wine list thicker than a college textbook. You want to pick out the “perfect” wine to impress your client but everything looks like it is written in a foreign language. After only a few minutes the server asks if you have made your selection, so you decide to order the most familiar thing on the menu. You are not sure your selection will coordinate with your meals, and it costs more than your boss will tolerate for a client dinner. By the time the bottle arrives, you have broken out in a cold sweat and are ready to take a big gulp! The good news is that understanding the three main ways wine lists are organized is the first step to preventing this from ever happening to you.
There are three primary types of wine lists - those organized by the grape varietal, by geography (or where it is made), and by flavor profile (progressive). Keep in mind that some lists blend several of these methods. Let’s explore each of these three types of wine lists:
By Grape Varietal. Organized by the main grape variety used to produce the wine, this type of list definitely appeals to our varietally conscious culture. It may be further organized by country or state. Thinking of the grape varietal first and the origin second is an American trend. Many European countries are now trying to focus more on the grape varieties despite regulations that ban the top rated wine from listing them on the label. Sections for the popular varietals, e.g., Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, are usually listed, as well as an “other varietals” category for white and red. These lesser known varietal sections can often be more interesting, and is where many bargains can be found!
By Geography. This wine list is organized by countries of origin and often has the more specific subcategories, like the regions or state, which is the traditional type of wine list. If you love French wines, this type of list makes it easy. Flip to the French section and then look at what regions or wines are offered. The grape varietal used may (or may not) be listed next to the wines in this type of list. This is not an issue for most wine from the US since the wine is usually labeled by grape varietal, e.g., Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. The European wine industry, however, tends to focus on the region where it is produced and assumes we know what grapes are grown. Even though the principal grapes of Burgundy are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they won’t appear on the bottle of Burgundy’s finest wines. Progressive. This type of list is a relatively new approach that is organized by the flavor and body profile. A typical category might be dry-light-bodied whites, and the wines in that category may be ordered from mildest to fullest. This allows diners to look for the type of wine they enjoy and then order options in the same flavor and body category. Your favorite grapes or countries may be located in many different categories. Once you get the hang of these lists, they are tons of fun. They don’t require any special knowledge of geography or grapes—just a knowledge of what you like.
Hopefully you a have a better understanding of the three most common ways restaurants will organize their lists. The geographic and grape varietal lists will account for 80% of the lists encountered, but the progressive list may be a growing trend for the future. Hopefully the next time you take an important client (or that special someone) to dinner they will be impressed with your ability to find the right wine in no time!