Wine List: Win or Fail

How to spot a great wine list


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Wine List: Win or Fail A lot gets written for restaurateurs about how to put together a great list, but very little get written for consumers regarding how they can recognize that great list. So many metrics that are frequently used to measure the quality of wine lists, number of listings, depth of listings, range of regions, can be deceptive at best and downright silly at worst.

The real key to understanding a wine list is to understand how it was put together. Was it assembled out of love and passion, pure marketing, or a combination of both? By keeping on eye out for the tricks restaurateurs employ in building wine lists, you can start to get a feel for where the owner was going with it and where you want to go with it.

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  • Great Points! This is very educational and helps me understand more about the restaurnts I frequent.

    Jul 25, 2011 at 1:43 PM

  • Thanks for this. I recently visited a restaurant that had won awards for it's wine list, but I found it extremely lacking. The food at the restaurant was very simple and inexpensive (and not any better than I could make at home), but the wine list offered only two wines in the $40 range out of hundreds of bottles over the $100 mark. I feel validated in my annoyance now. :)

    Jul 25, 2011 at 3:34 PM

  • Oh. Wrong "its"! How embarrassing.

    Jul 25, 2011 at 3:35 PM

  • I have a small Italian restaurant and found your article very enjoyable. It made me feel good about what I do with my wine list and how I go about doing it! I think my customers can feel good about it too!!

    Jul 25, 2011 at 4:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    I'm often frustrated by "afterthought" wine lists. It shouldn't be too terribly difficult to have a small but competent wine list. That said, I have not started a restaurant before so what do I know? Here's hoping for more good wine lists in restaurants (like pastamom's)

    Thanks for the article.

    Jul 25, 2011 at 5:11 PM

  • Interesting selections that 1) accentuate the chef's cuisine, 2) are not the everyday brands from their favorite wholesaler's quotas, 3) a few unique varietals, besides Cab, Merlot, PG & Chard 4) realistically priced in proportion to the menu prices, 4) not an insult in mark-up from retail, and 5) a few "diamonds" on the list that the customer-in-the-know may find unusual & preference: for dearly-rare and dearly-priced wines, a separate "reserve" list; proper storage of all & evidence of meticulous storage in the case of mature bottlings. Lists written solely to receive awards from the Speculator are b-O-r-i-n-g...ten vintages of Domaine Ikinaffordit? Who cares?

    Jul 25, 2011 at 5:45 PM

  • Snooth User: flemn8r
    505202 10

    Great article. One personal obsession: lists that omit the vintage (of still wines at least). I'll happily pay for the great 2007, but not the lacklustre 2006, so tell me which you're offering!

    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks for all the comments folks. I too am annoyed by the vintageless winelist, to no end! It usually just shows that the owners are too lazy to even care about printing new lists once in awhile, or at least crossing out the old and writing in the new.

    I would love to be able to help folks with their list. Just a few tweaks can really make a huge difference. Maybe I should hit up TGIFriday's or Ruby Tuesday's and since if they want some help!

    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:08 PM

  • How about mark-up formulas???

    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:08 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    @Pastamom. Glad it helped! Where's your restaurant?

    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:08 PM

  • You can tell the love in the winelist usually quite easily. If it has your favourite wines of years gone by, half bottles, wines in the affordable category and at reasonable markups, fortified wines like sherry in the aperitif section (not Tio Pepe for dessert), vintage years given, even if crossed out, and regional wines beyond the big famous grape varieties.
    If you get a huge list, and a pressure or harrumph from the wine waiter to order before youre ready, send them away.
    If they want you to order a drink with no knowledge of the prices and drinks available, ask for the list.
    We need to train our restaurants to stop annoying us!!!

    Jul 26, 2011 at 6:44 AM

  • The fastest way to assess a restaurant wine list is to judge it by the house wine. What have they chosen - something interesting, or something so crude it pushes you to their more expensive selections? How does it match to the kind (and region) of food they are offering? And what is the price level and likely mark-up? A restaurant stakes quite a bit of its reputation on its choice of house wine, and the rest of the list rests upon it like an inverted pyramid.

    Jul 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM

  • Snooth User: bduchon
    821925 0

    This is a fantastic article! Something that will help me tremendously in the future.

    Jul 26, 2011 at 3:10 PM

  • Great articles... lots of good advice

    Sep 02, 2011 at 9:30 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Macy, if you want link backs why not ask? Your terse responses here, with a link that is often as long as you comment is spam. Please either add to the discussion or stop posting this way.

    Sep 02, 2011 at 10:10 PM

  • I read your article and commented on it and left my blog. I didn't mean for it to look like I was talking about MY blog... I mean great article in response to understanding wine lists. I didn't mean to be spamish.

    Sep 02, 2011 at 10:26 PM

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