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Oct 6, 2008 02:18 AM

How do you like a restaurant wine list to be laid out?

I thought there may have been a thread on this already, but a search revealed nothing.

I was curious as to how people preferred a wine list be laid out?

Do you prefer it to be grouped by country (after being divided into red/white first of course)

Or perhaps grouped by varietal or blend, regardless of country.

Lately, I see some lists grouped by wine-style (light & crispy, round & fruity, big & rich). I only like this style of list if the wine actually belongs in that category. Some restaurants, especially chains, get it wrong sometimes.That gets to be annoying when it is a wine I'm not familiar with, as I really don't want to debate with the server whether or not I agree with their categorization.

Once grouped, do you like any organization within that group - like alphabetical, price, vintage. I know the trick of the trade is to keep it random, otherwise guests tend to overlook certain wines.

Your thoughts?

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  1. Things I look for in a wine list:

    1) More important than anything else for me is ACCURACY. That means that the the wine's listing (including things like single vineyards, reserve disignations, complete appellations, full name of the producer, vintage, etc.) is accurate and correct.

    2) I want it to be well-thought out, that the wines on the list aren't merely names (impressive trophies or not), but rather were careful selected to actually compliment the restaurant's cuisine.

    3) I want it to priced fairly.

    OK, with that out of the way . . . I would *prefer* that a list be organized by type of wine, rather than by country of origin (that is, all the Chardonnays together; all the Cabernet-based wines together, etc.). Too many people, at least in the US, stop at (e.g.) "Chardonnay" and never look at the "white Burgundies," and so on . . .

    The *IDEA* of grouping wiens by style (light & crispy, round & fruity, big & rich) is a good one in THEORY, but you are correct in that all too often wines are incorrectly categorized. Additionally, some of these descriptions are too subjective -- when exactly does a wine switch from "round" to "full," for example. So while I don't mind this type of organization at all - indeed, I appauld the effort -- too often I find mis-categorized wines to embrace this concept without reservation . . .


    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Amen to both your and Frod's response.

      The encyclopedic approach also bugs me. I don't want to flip through a tome, however nicely presented, to find a wine I'd want to drink. There is no reason why a wine list of $300 bottles cannot be presented succinctly and coherently on a few large pages.

    2. So long as there is a coherent (and accurately applied) internal logic, I'm not very picky about whether they organize by varietal or by country. Alphabetical or by price are also both fine.

      I am not a huge fan of the "progressive wine list" because it's too subjective and often wrong. On the other hand, I don't mind quite as much wine lists that group based on "themes" that may reflect a particular personal focus of the wine director (not exclusively the focus on "intensity" or "weight" that seems to be the basic principle of the typical "progressive" list). A local restaurant has a list that has some "progressive" style categorizations (i.e. "Delicate Wispy Whites") but may also have a section just for grower Champagnes, another just for domestic pinot noirs, etc. If it were an encyclopedic list this might just prove annoying, but given the size of this list (about 250 bottles) it works.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Frodnesor

        My answer is: depends on the size of the wine list. I look for different things in a wine list that has 5000 bottles from a list that has 50 bottles (obviously).

        For a REALLY BIG LIST, (i.e. upward of 1000 bottles), I would prefer the selections to be broken down both by region AND varietal. I.e. I do not want the red burgundies to be mixed in with American pinot noir. Gets too overwhelming IMO (especially in restaurants that have, say 200 pinot noirs).

        For a moderate list (i.e. 100-1000 bottles), I do not mind if the selections are organized by varietal only (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage/Bordeaux blends, Syrah/Shiraz, etc...)

        I like the pricing to be progressive so that I can see which wines are at my desired price point without having to flip through the entire list. (i.e. for each 'subsection', i.e. "Cabernet Sauvignon"--I would like pricing to be progressive).

        I do not like it when restaurants have a separate section for "special" bottles (i.e. really expensive bottles). It kind of implies that customers not ordering those bottles are getting lesser wines or are being cheap.

        I find it irritating when wine lists lump a bunch of countries into an 'Other' category (i.e. Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal all get lumped into an "other" category).

        I do not like the use of stylistic descriptors as categories (i.e. "Big, Bold and Juicy"; "Light and Elegant")...these are usually misleading.

        Most of all, I am disappointed by the lack of imagination shown in restaurant wine lists. Who wants to see yet another steakhouse wine list that has verticals of most of the big-name California Cabernets (i.e. Shafer Hillside Select, Caymus Special Selection, Joseph Phelps 'Insignia') at grossly marked-up prices? Give me a list anyday that has a good selection of Alsatian whites, Priorat reds, Austrian whites, New Zealand pinot noir, etc...I want to have the opportunity to try wines I have never heard of before, wines that offer good value for money, and wines that pair well with the food on the menu. (Basically what Jason said).

        1. re: anewton

          >>> I do not like it when restaurants have a separate section for "special" bottles (i.e. really expensive bottles). It kind of implies that customers not ordering those bottles are getting lesser wines or are being cheap.

          I find it irritating when wine lists lump a bunch of countries into an 'Other' category (i.e. Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal all get lumped into an "other" category). <<<

          EXCELLENT points!!!

          Also, I agree that the degree and type of organization for a large list MUST be different than with a small(er) one -- something I didn't think of in my original reply.

          One side note: a friend of mine used to run a restaurant back in the 1980s in Soquel, CA named The Salmon Poacher. Everything was seafood (except for the NY steak); everything was fresh (except the Alaskan king crab). He was a wine freak, and had a great list of old reds -- lots of Santa Cruz Mountain Pinots and red Burgundies, as well as Bordeaux. His list was basically Champanges first, then RED wines with white wines at the end. Far too many people would surf the Chardonnays and white Burgundies and stop there, never looking at the great Pinots or red Burgs -- with the reds listed BEFORE the whites, people discovered his great selection, and -- well, Pinot and salmon . . .


      2. Personally, I like to see a wine list broken down by appelations and sub-appelations, but that is just me. Now, I've also seen such lists go far too deeply into the "sub" groups, and even I find those confusing.

        I am less a fan of the "light, medium-bodied, full-bodied" lists. Maybe it's because I know most of this data, and spend too much time going back and forth. Others might well appreciate these more than I do, but you asked what "you like," so I told you.


        1. Might have been tough to find the thread because the wine list org discussion was
          a huge thread drift, and begins with this permalink:

          I prefer a list to be organized by varietal, and then increasing in price, OR,
          by country, and then region/varietal. But I'm a winehead.

          A progressively ordered list (progressively increasing in intensity) is
          easier to navigate a wine list for some, perhaps most, people.

          6 Replies
          1. re: maria lorraine

            Sorry Maria, cant agree with you there. I think organization by price almost forces diners to ignore the cheapest wine out of saving face, and picking the second cheapest one by default.

            1. re: mengathon

              That may be a factor.

              What would you prefer? Alpha sort rather than price sort within a category?

              I did leave out a few obvious things that Whiner mentioned.
              Sparkling, White, Rose, Red, Dessert -- large general categorires
              Varietals within those large categories.
              Maybe region within varietal, but if not, then increasing in price (I know...)

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Ok let's take a crack at this. First, I agree with whiner's general layout of sparkling, white, rose, red, sweet, as most people would. Second, I think it's important to distinguish between those lists that have only wines from appellation system and those that do not.

                For the appellation system list, using France as an example, my ideal wine list would be organized by Region, Appellation according to the order in which you would prefer to drink the wines, somewhat dictated by how the menu is planned, and the specific wines on the actual list, and then specific wines within the appellation under the same guidelines. It's sort of why whiner's system of sparkling first, sweet last works. As an example, I'm going to use Champagne, Loire for whites and Rhône for reds.

                Pol Roger
                Pierre Peters
                Veuve Clicquot
                Aubry Rosé

                Coteaux du Layon

                St. Joseph

                Of course it wouldn't always work out. One would probably choose to drink a bone-dry Vouvray Sec before a Dagueneau PF, or there might be differing opinions on when to open the bottle of Krug. A lot of it would also depend on the actual wines themselves, i.e., an only bottle of old Hermitage would probably go before 3 young bottles of Gigondas. But that's what a good wine director is for!

                The same concept would apply to lists with mostly American wines, except broken down into region first, if the list is large enough, and then by varietal, again, in the order one might prefer to drink them.

                The difficult one is those with a mixed, balanced list, say 40% American, 25% France, 10% Italy and so forth. In that case, I would still break down by country, and follow the guidelines depending for the corresponding appellation or varietal system.

                I hope I'm making sense...

                1. re: mengathon

                  Thanks for the effort. Yup, made sense.

                  How you describe this?
                  By country, by region in increasing intensity, then in increasing intensity within a region?

                  I'd like to see this too, but it requries more thought than what goes into most wine lists.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    It definitely requires more thought. Which brings up another point that is probably best suited for another thread. Menus for food are planned, thought out, and tested, why not wines? This is a terrible way to do business, especially when you consider that beverages are the best sources of profit for restaurants.

                  2. re: mengathon

                    While I agree with much of this, I also have some disagreements with it, but let's wait until we start a new thread before drifting that far off topic. ;^)

            2. 1st by type of wines ("by the glass", red, white, sparkling, ...)
              2nd by country (US, France, Spain, ...)
              3rd by regions (bordeaux, rioja, )
              4th by prices (cheaper first, more expansive last)

              and for each wine (if possible) the varietal (single varietal, blend, ...)