Restaurant Wine List Pet Peeves

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - November 11, 2009
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Glides down your palate

What bugs you most about wine lists when you dine out? I have my own pet peeves, but I’m sure you have your own. I look at wine lists everywhere I go. Even if I’m not going to have any wine with the meal(which is rare), I still like to look and see what creative (or not) marketing restaurateurs and sommeliers are doing on their wine lists. I also like to see what the buyer is buying. Here is a list of my biggest pet peeves for wine lists.

The wines are marked up too high. Yes, I do believe that there are still restaurants out there that are charging their guests too much for the wine. Sometimes I ask myself if they are really in the business of selling wine or holding it. I know that the number crunchers say that you need to make a certain percentage on your wine. But do you take dollars or percentages to the bank? Has anyone heard of Costco here? Their markups are low, they have the best merchandise and they do our state a great service.

Wouldn’t it be great for restaurants to do the same?


I personally don’t like wine lists that are done “progressively,” meaning that it lists wines from lightest to heaviest, from driest to sweetest. A recent Cornell University study actually showed declining sales from wine lists written in this manner. It makes sense to me because if someone is looking for something specific but is not a connoisseur, he wouldn’t know if his Merlot is lighter or heavier than a Cabernet. On top of that, consumers who do know wine have a harder time trying to find the wine they like. The “progressive” wine list may be helpful for the staff in the restaurant, but not so much for the guests. The restaurateur is better off investing some money in training the staff better.

I can’t stand it when a wine list is not up to date. I’m not talking about an item being sold out for a few days. I know that happens from time to time. But there have been times when I’ve had to change my selection three times before they actually had the wine in stock! How can you let something like that go for so long? The wine program is a money maker if you manage it properly. Keeping it up to date is essential. (By the way, vintage discrepancies do not bug me that much. I know a good wine program should be selling wine, so if the wine is on to a new vintage than what is listed, I’m OK with that. Unless, of course, it is something very specific and very expensive.)

It also irks me when I can’t read the wine list. Either there is not enough light or the font or text is too small to read. I don’t have any vision-related problems as I’m still relatively young. But when someone chooses some weird font where an E looks more like a G, it makes it frustrating to read through. The simpler and clearer to read, the better for me.

The size or scope of the list doesn’t matter as much to me than if the wines are well-chosen and well-priced. The list does not have to be perfectly suited for the menu either. It should certainly have wines that go well with the cuisine, but there are still plenty of wine drinkers who drink what they like no matter what.

Recommendations: 2008 Hybrid Pinot Grigio ($9) Fun, vibrant melon and citrus fruit just burst from the glass. It is cloudlike and satisfying; a stellar value. NV Roederer Estate Brut ($22) Every time I have it, I am surprised at how good a sparkling wine it is. Great biscuit aromas along with citrus fruit abound with a creamy texture and more than pleasing aftertaste glides down your palate. Delicious.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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