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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, ...)

              1. I have a linked question. How do you expect people to list proprietary reds, clarets and other blends? I often find these sort of intertwined and usually inappropriately so. Should a blend predominantly Merlot (eg. Uriah) be listed under Merlots, or should they have their own catch-all? You sort of fall into the same trap, even if less so, as you do bunching certain regions together.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Icantread

                  Restaurant with wine lists that do list by varietal will often have a "Red Bordeaux-style Blend" listing, or they might have a listing that reads "Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends." The latter is subject to more errors than the former, as the latter may have specific wines which are Merlot-dominant, yet are shown with the Cabernets . . . and that would (technically) be in error. Personally, I would prefer to have the listing be something along the lines of "Cabernets, Merlots, and their Blends" -- or something along those lines.

                  Many restaurants will have a "Rhone-style Blend" category, and as such, it doesn't matter if the wine is Syrah-dominant, or if the blend is heavily weighted towards (e.g.) Grenache.

                  And before anyone else says it, I don't have a clue where they would stick those Aussie Cabernet-Shiraz blends! ;^)

                2. I want my list ordered by *truly reasonable, objective, standards* -- I HATE HATE HATE lists ordered by body or fruit profile. I'm not 12. Find some way to rationally and objectively group the wines that I can understand and agree with having not already tasted all of them.

                  Ideally, a list is organized:

                  *Potential sub-divisions for region, rose, vintage v. NV, BdB

                  *Potential sub-divisions for region, grape, Cru, sweetness level (eg. Kabinett v. Auslese),


                  *Potential sub-divisions for region, grape, Cru

                  *Potential sub-divisions for color, region, style (eg. Vintage v. Ruby Tawney Port),, grape

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: whiner

                    You're not 12, it's true, but sadly (to accept your meaning in the context in which it was used) many people are . . .

                    The wine knowledge of average adult in the US is woefully lacking, and I, for one, can see how t his sort of grouping can be quite helpful to those individuals whose personal knowledge (and comfort) level is less than my own.

                    But they'd better be categorized correctly, or there will be hell to pay! ;^)

                    1. re: zin1953

                      *or there will be hell to pay!*
                      Except that many of the "12 year olds" may never know the difference.

                      1. re: Frodnesor

                        Precisely! That's why this sort of layout can (and does) appeal to a great many people.

                        The people who are going to be -- um, "ticked off" -- that a wine or wines is not categorized correctly is not the average wine consumer . . . it's the more knowledgeable individuals who are "misled" when buying an unfamiliar bottle that turns out to be in the wrong grouping . . . .

                      2. re: zin1953

                        I do not like the "body/style" lists, BUT feel that they provide a service for certain clientel. It then behoves the restauranteur to try and define who the clients are and structure the list for them.

                        One criteria for this thread might be to differentiate between restaurant "styles," and then do a "how I'd like to see that type of restaurant present its wine list."

                        Jason, from your standpoint (representing wineries, retail, sommelier and wine consultant), which types/styles of wine lists have benefitted your clients the most? I would *guess* that it differs by the types of restaurants, but would like to hear your experiences. I know that this deviates from the OP's exact thread, but feel that it is at the heart of the matter.



                    2. Hi! Hope you're all doing well. Great conversation.

                      My thoughts in this:

                      Somehow paired with what goes with the food offerings. Maybe color coded to each item on the menu?

                      It would be easiest with digital ink - but we're a ways from that today. Maybe we should assign it to a graphic design class to come up with a reusable system.

                      24 Replies
                      1. re: girobike

                        For me, this is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper, and fails miserably in reality.

                        The major problem with this is simple: who is the (owner/wine buyer/sommelier) to tell me what I should and shouldn't drink with my food? Does he/she/they have MY taste buds in THEIR mouths? How would they know that I like *this* style of California Pinot Noir but not *that* style, or that I think ____________ served with ___________ is a match made in heaven, but that I can't stand it when it's paired with _________? (Which is not true at all of my wife, who actually likes that style of ___________!) Or that I can't stand over-oaked Chardonnay, but that I perceive ___________ is an example of a Chardonnay that's over-oaked, but that someone else might think it's perfect . . .

                        How often do you actually agree with those suggested wines at moderately-priced chain restaurants places like The Olive Garden? I don't know about you, but most of the time I don't.

                        At high-end restaurants which have a knowledgeable staff and/or trained sommelier -- or in retail stores, too, for that matter -- his or her job is NOT to tell you what to drink with this or that dish, but rather to enquire about your food choices, your price range, and about the style and character of wines that you (and your party) enjoy, and then to suggest something that will fit YOUR taste, not theirs . . .

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I have occasionally seen this done effectively where the food menu may suggest a particular wine pairing for a dish. Sometimes it's just for a dish here or there, other times for pretty much everything on the menu (then usually matched up with the BTG program). Even for someplace that had an idea of what they were doing, I think it would be a daunting task to try to do so for every wine on the wine list (though it might force some places to think harder about whether their wine list really matches up well with their food offerings).

                          Jason, I didn't have you figured as an Olive Garden type - do tell, what wine do they recommend with "Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara"?

                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            I just KNEW that was going to come up! ;^) There is one near my office, and about three times a year -- someone's birthday or something -- we end up there.

                            1. re: Frodnesor

                              Maria Lorraine and I talked about the Slanted Door in San Francisco and how they've made a (very) short list of wines that match admirably to the food there.

                              Mark Ellenbogen made the effort to think harder, and it shows.


                              1. re: girobike

                                Ellenbogen is the rare example of someone who can successfully pull off something like this. OTOH, a lifetime in the wine trade tells me that for every successful "Mark Ellenbogen," there are 100+ "wannabe" failures . . .

                                1. re: girobike

                                  You are absolutely right. I think Slanted Door has just about the best wine list I have ever seen. Not because it is a long list, nor because they have DRC or anything like that, but because the list is *perfectly* appropriate for the food in a way I've seen at almost no other restaurant I've been.

                                  If you are not familiar, here is the dinner menu: http://slanteddoor.com/dinner.html

                                  And here is the wine list:

                                  Now, I contradict myself because this list *IS* organized partially by body, and then, within each sub-division, it is organized by what the wine director believes is increasing intensity. But SO much effort has been put into this list, that it works. (FWIW: I usually order the déthune brut rosé, which is a particularly fine value and pairs excellently with all the food there.)

                                  1. re: whiner

                                    Here is the permalink where girobike and discuss the Slanted Door wine list:

                              2. re: zin1953

                                Have you ever seriously given thought to it? I mean - seriously? I could assign it to a product design class and I'm sure they would come up with some variations that might even actually work.

                                Ok, its my fault for not explaining the context, so please let me clarify - I go to a restaurant to relax, not to exercise my brain too much. I don't need a sommelier to dance around me, but sometimes its helpful to get an idea of their point of view of what fits with the food as a starting point to make a decision.

                                I appreciate other peoples' informed points of view. Emphasis on informed.

                                I am also living in Europe at the moment, where its much easier to find restaurants (and people) that are exacting in their standards when it comes to wine pairing as wine is very much a part of life here.

                                I would never order wine at a chain restaurant. Call me spoiled, but life is too short for lousy wine.

                                You last point - respectfully disagree. If I go to a high end restaurant, I expect perfection and a new experience in flavors. That's why I shell out the big bucks. I've found that if I give a creative sommelier that works hand-in-glove with the chef or understands the subtlety of the flavors, they can really surprise me with their choices of pairing.

                                Point to note: The best sommelier I've ever come across was a 24 year old woman in a restaurant in the Alsace who, when asked by my wife and I to use her imagination as to what fit best with the food, created the most enjoyable dinner I've had so far.

                                PS: This wasn't the kind of restaurant where they ask you about you food choices, price range etc. That's what I mean by high-end.

                                1. re: girobike

                                  >>> Have you ever seriously given thought to it? <<<

                                  Only for most of the part 40+ years.

                                  >>> I could assign it to a product design class and I'm sure they would come up with some variations that might even actually work. <<<

                                  "Design" isn't the issue. You want a color-coordinated list? I can set it up in probably 30 minutes, maybe an hour. That isn't the problem. It's AGREEING on what color goes with which dish -- duels have been fought over less! ;^)

                                  >>> I don't need a sommelier to dance around me, but sometimes its helpful to get an idea of their point of view of what fits with the food as a starting point to make a decision. <<<

                                  It seems as though you've missed my point . . . or mis-interpreted my admittedly "partial" example.

                                  1) Were I the sommelier, I'm going to ask you what you have selected for your first course, second, entrée, etc., so I will know what it is you and the rest of your party will be eating this evening.

                                  ***Already at this point my mind is beginning to sift through my inventory.***

                                  2) Next, I am going to ask if you have any ideas of something that might interest you.

                                  ***This helps me get a) an idea of what you like; b) if you're looking for one bottle for your entire meal, perhaps one with each course, or perhaps various wines offered BTG; and c) your "comfort zone" in terms of price. These are crucial bits of information: a) there is no point recommending (e.g.) a Merlot, if you hate Merlot (and no point in suggesting something French if you still call frites "Patriot Fries); and b) if you mention a wine that is $40 on the list, I'm not going to start naming bottles which are listed at $400 -- there is that "time wasting" issue, but MUCH more importantly, I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable by suggesting wines outside your comfort range, nor do I want to make you feel that, perhaps your companion(s) are thinking you're too cheap to buy a "good" bottle. If it's on my list, it's ALREADY a good bottle -- from the least expensive to the most, I vouch for ALL of them! ***

                                  3) IF, and this is a BIG IF, I feel that I do not have enough of an impression regarding your comfort level, I am next going to ask you for your approximate price range. OTOH, if I have a rough idea, I skip this step and

                                  4) I begin making recommendations . . .

                                  These recommendations then become a synthesis of what *I* think will work with your menu, modified (perhaps) by what you have told me regarding your likes and dislikes, and adjusted to fit within your comfort zone in terms of price.

                                  Remember that no one size fits all, and each interaction the sommelier will have with each table over the course of an evening will vary -- EVEN IF two tables are both having the NY strip steak, and both want to spend approx. $100 . . .

                                  >>> I would never order wine at a chain restaurant. Call me spoiled, but life is too short for lousy wine. <<<

                                  While not EVERY chain has bad wine, I certainly agree with your basic point. As I pointed out in my reply to Frodnesor, I end up having lunch at The Olive Garden against my will roughly three times a year. I order iced tea.

                                  >>> You [sic] last point - respectfully disagree. <<<

                                  I think I addressed this above.

                                  >>> Point to note: The best sommelier I've ever come across was a 24 year old woman in a restaurant in the Alsace who, when asked by my wife and I to use her imagination as to what fit best with the food, created the most enjoyable dinner I've had so far. <<<

                                  For a sommelier -- or a chef --- THIS is a dream come true! It happens far too infrequently, however, which is unfortunate. I, too, have said to a sommelier -- more than once -- "This is what we've ordered . . . this is (roughly) how much I want to spend . . . go crazy!" The results, far more often than not, are spectacular. I have often done the reserve, too: contacted the chef well in advance, described the wines we would be bringing, and given him (or her) free reign on the evening's menu, with a limit of $____ per person. This has also resulted in some spectacular meals . . . .


                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Your last paragraph is one reason that I often go with the "sommelier's pairings" with a tasting menu. Fortunately, I often do not have a real budget, but care more for the ultimate pairings from the cellar of that restaurant, at that time. Most often, the results are great. Sometimes, not so great. Restaurant August in NOLA was such an example.

                                    Still, this does not address the layout of a wine list, but does go to the heart of what we expect from a sommelier.

                                    Sometimes it's a transcendental experience, and sometimes, I scratch my head and know that I could have done far better from a good wine list.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Bill (and girobike):

                                      >>> Sometimes it's a transcendental experience, and sometimes, I scratch my head and know that I could have done far better from a good wine list. <<<

                                      This is why I generally do NOT go with the "sommelier's pairings." First, they are to his/her taste, and not necessarily mine; and secondly, I always wonder how long the bottles have been opened . . .

                                      This is why I prefer to speak with the sommelier -- even if it's just to say "go crazy!" -- as I want him or her to understand something about where I'm coming from, so to speak, what I like/dislike, and so on. That way, the ideas/choices/selections of the sommelier will be more likely to be "bull's-eyes" rather than "duds."

                                      For example, the sommelier's choices to pair with the tasting menu may include Cache Phloe Winery's Pinot Noir -- an extremely well-known, well-made, and highly regarded "Pinot Noir-as-Syrah" that most people would be thrilled to see . . . but while I love Pinot Noir, I really hate the "Pinot-as-Syrah" style - even though I haven't had the Cache Phloe version, I've had enough wines in this style to know that the odds I'll really enjoy it are very long indeed . . . while there is a slim chance the wine might blow me away, it's far more likely I'll be more focused on the wine I don't like than the delicious food it's paired with . . . I'd rather have a bottle of something that spans 2-3 course of the nine-course tasting menu.

                                      Even when I DO tell the sommelier to "go crazy" and select the wines, at the very least, I'd like to know what he's selected PRIOR to his opening the wines -- again, if he picks that "Pinot-as-Syrah" styled wine, I'll probably veto it. This doesn't mean I have to be familiar with each and every wine. On the contrary, I hope to be turned on to wines I may not know. But if (e.g.) he/she wants to serve me a wine in a style I'm not fond of, I at least want to know the thinking behind the selection, and voice my reservations. If the reasons for the choosing that bottle is sound -- AND, especially if I have previous experience with this particular restaurant's sommelier -- I'll be more likely to accept the bottle . . .

                                      Yes, sometimes it IS a transcendental experience, and sometimes I scratch my head -- but (IMHO) a little information and dialogue helps to diminish the head scratching. ;^)

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        Jason, as usual, you make very good points. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.


                                  2. re: girobike

                                    "If I go to a high end restaurant, I expect perfection and a new experience in flavors."

                                    What happens if an old standard pairs better with the particular dish? Now, I have a very inquisitive mind, especially with regards to wines. Still, for me at least, it is about the final pairing. If an old fav. happens to be the best wine, THAT is what I would like.

                                    I think that a sommelier's first responsibility is to pair wines with the food that the chef is doing. Beyond that, I am not sure that I give too many "extra credits," if he/she can stump me. I do not ming, when they do, but that is not their main job. Get me to the best for THAT dish.

                                    The wine list should be similar. Help me find the right wine(s) for my meal choices. The question is how is that best set in print.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt


                                      When I said that about high-end restaurants, I meant the food, sorry. I would go with old standards too if it works with the food. But its kind of hard when there are 20+ courses being put in front of you with exotic things like tortellini whose skin is made from olive oil with a jellied broth of squid's ink inside, where the taste is unlike any reference point you've had in the past.


                                      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Its a great discussion we're having, and I'm very glad to know that there are people like yourself who care about wine and food.

                                      Sadly, I missed that for 11 years in CA 'cos I was working far too hard, and the area where I lived was boring for nightlife.

                                      I am guessing you're based in Northern CA?

                                      1. re: girobike

                                        There are a number of us here care a great deal -- perhaps too much? -- about wine and food here . . . and yes, I live in North Berkeley hills.


                                    2. re: girobike

                                      >>>Point to note: The best sommelier I've ever come across was a 24 year old woman in a restaurant in the Alsace who, when asked by my wife and I to use her imagination as to what fit best with the food, created the most enjoyable dinner I've had so far.

                                      PS: This wasn't the kind of restaurant where they ask you about you food choices, price range etc. That's what I mean by high-end.<<<

                                      I'm curious about this. It *reads* that you were at Auberge de l'Ile and the sommelier was 24 and didn't ask you what you were eating? (Don't they have some customer choice, or was it "everyone eats from the exact same tasting menu"?)

                                      I mean, I 'think' I know what you are talking about, kinda, but, in my experience, no matter how expensive a restaurant, price range and what you are eating have mattered in wine selection.

                                      I've encountered some wonderful sommeliers, but I've never left my wine decisions entirely in thier hands without some guidance...

                                      1. re: whiner

                                        Great. I might most likely have to spend some months in 2009 in CA, so it would be great if I could meet some of the Chowhounds in person.

                                        1. re: whiner

                                          Hi Whiner,

                                          No, the restaurant was not Auberge de I'lle. It was L'Arnsbourg in the Alsace. The thread that you refer to had 3 restaurants. L'Arnsbourg was one of them.

                                          They have an a la carte list of appetizers, main courses and desserts, and 2 degustation menus - small and large.

                                          When we go there, we always ask for the large degustation menu. I've included a scan of the large menu from 2007. Translation:

                                          - Opening dish
                                          - Carpaccio of Scallops with a Granny Smith & Eucalyptus Cream
                                          - Pumpkin and Truffel Gnocchi, in a Bouillon of Black Rice
                                          - Fried Baby Sole with Fresh Hazelnuts, Topinambur and Parmesan
                                          - Spaghetti made from Parmesan "Alfredo"
                                          - Lobster in a Couscous Foam
                                          - Fried Duck's Liver, Quince and Mushroom Broth with Jasmine
                                          - Red Cabbage and Cream of Mustard
                                          - Pigeon's Breast, Parsnips Puree and Wakame
                                          - "Cappucino" from Potatoes and Truffels
                                          - Intermission
                                          - Small Things To Give Your Gums Pleasure

                                          The menu itself is somewhat misleading, because they fill you up with many other things. In 2007, we received 25 individual things to try. They were small, but lovely. Also, what you see in the menu is not necessarily what you think it is. There are many hidden textures, flavors & nuances, which make wine selection a little - well, challenging.

                                          We decided on a compromise - 4 half bottles (what the hell - it was Christmas!) to cover as much as possible. Claire's choices:
                                          - Champagne Rose Premiere Cuvee B. Paillard
                                          - Riesling Clos Sainte Hune Trimbach 1999.
                                          - Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clos Mouchere" Boillot 2001.
                                          - Cote-Rotie Madinere Cuilleron 2004.

                                          My wife has a record of what we had the previous year before in 2006 in the B&W scan attached. The bold items are what was on the menu, the items in normal text were extras. In 2007, there were more.

                                          L'Arnsbourg is a very special place. Its located literally in the middle of nowhere - the staff have to live there during the week or in the nearby villages if they have a car. To want to work there, you have to really be motivated - sacrifice nightlife etc. and learn your craft in the middle of nowhere, like a monastery of gastronomy.

                                          The Klein family that run the place have their pick of candidates. The owners and their staff are just simply excellent people.

                                          The young lady in question named Claire, seemed to really understand the challenges of matching the subtleties of the offerings, and was confident enough (without the attitude that you sometimes get in other places) to take the challenge and run with it. We had a chat with her later to congratulate her. She said that she'd taken up the job at L'Arnsbourg because she wants to be a Sommelier in the future.

                                          I asked the owners later about Claire, and they said they were very happy with her. I'm keeping a watch for where she goes later in life. We got lucky!

                                          1. re: girobike

                                            She sounds amazing and the wines she reccomended all sound very reasonably priced for such a fine meal. I must say, I've done the 11 course thing, but neve 25! The only reason I brought this up was that there have been threads about people going to very expensive restaurants (The French Laundry, most notably) where there has been some complaint that the sommelier will automatically assume your budget is in excess of $400/bottle, even after you've queried about a $150 bottle of wine, which I do not believe to be appropriate, no matter how "high end" the restaurant is.

                                            1. re: whiner

                                              Hi Whiner,

                                              Claire did an amazing job. She's just naturally talented. What I appreciated was especially your point - that she thought about matching the right wine with the food first rather than maximizing profit.

                                              We try our best to avoid those restaurants that are cash cows (us being the cows). We cook and wine a lot at home and go out to nice places now and then so we have a break, so we know if we're (seriously) being taken for a ride or not.

                                              After having been milked once or twice at such farms, we've adopted a "Never Again" policy. There are unfortunately too many people out there with more money than brains, so these places are able to get away with it.

                                              I have some metrics that I use to identify a potentially good restaurant to visit beforehand. My wife and I make it a sport to find such interesting places that are uncompromising in their art and yet have reasonable prices in wine and food.

                                              We have never visited the French Laundry when we were in the Wine Country, and do not intend to in the future. I once left three messages on three occasions some years ago to secure a reservation 4 months in advance during a weekday and never got a call back. There are many other places in the world that thank God don't have that kind of attitude.

                                              We've been having fun finding little gems around the world and I'm more than happy to share in this forum.

                                              1. re: girobike

                                                I'm not recommending you dine at TFL, but they only accept calls for exactly two months before the day of the reservation. You are precisely the person Thomas would truly most enjoy hosting. Let me know if TFL sounds like something you'd like to do, and I'll help.By the way, after dining in many Michelin-starred restaurants, I prefer the "little gems" too.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Hi Maria,

                                                  Thanks for the offer! I know the worth of a recommendation from one person within the Wine Country community to the other, so I really appreciate your gesture.

                                                  Please also let me know when you plan next to come over to Europe and I'll be sure to set you up also with some "little gems" by talking to the owners. You have my email.

                                                  If everything goes right, I should be back in CA some time in Spring 2009, so I'll be sure to contact both you and Jason.

                                                  1. re: girobike

                                                    Whiner is a great one too. True bon vivant.
                                                    Happy to do what I can here in wine country.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Hi Whiner,

                                                      I'd like to extend the same offer to you too. Its been great having these discussions. I really enjoy them.

                                                      I'll be taking a Burgundy tour next month with family and will post pictures and a short report here.

                                  3. I want it current and accurate. Fairly generic works for me but an appelation based list would probably be my preference.

                                    1. My thoughts:

                                      I don't really care how a list is presented as long as the theme is consistent and fact-checked. Each wine director has his/her own theory and idea and they are welcome to them, just don't be lazy about it. That said, I find wine lists where price is the first consideration (cheapest to most expensive) to be insulting and lazy.

                                      Vintage is of less import to me than varietal (accuracy wise), (vintages change, give your man a break that he may have sold the last of the 96 and has moved on to the 97). Suppliers are also notorious (especially here in NYC) for sending the wrong vintage which may not always have been caught. Just send it back and order your back up choice if you don't like the change. (Always have a back up choice.)

                                      Wine lists that fall into the "iconic" category also bore me. If you want my money, at least put some work into finding some interesting wines that actually go with the food your chef has created. A few big names thrown in for those who buy by name and rating are fine, but I like to see things that are different.

                                      Too many break downs become confusing. Keep the sub-zones, sub-regions to a minimum so the principal idea of the wine stays the focus. Wine geeks will find the details, but its important that all your guests feel comfortable ordering wine.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Le Den

                                        >>> Vintage is of less import to me than varietal (accuracy wise), (vintages change, give your man a break that he may have sold the last of the 96 and has moved on to the 97). Suppliers are also notorious (especially here in NYC) for sending the wrong vintage which may not always have been caught. Just send it back and order your back up choice if you don't like the change. (Always have a back up choice.) <<<

                                        Hmmmm . . . well, I WOULD have agreed with you if this was 1968, and wine lists were printed (and paid for) by the wholesalers, who would only print them every six months, if that. HOWEVER, it is 2008, and there is this incredible new device called a computer . . . and there is this great thing called "desktop publishing" . . . .

                                        First of all, most restaurants these days print their own wine lists*, meaning that a vintage change no longer means an inaccurate list and/or little stickers on the wine list with the new vintage (written in ink) covers the old one.

                                        Secondly, while it IS be true that -- as long as there is no price increase -- many wholesalers will indeed "switch" vintages (from, to use your analogy, from the '96 to the '97):

                                        a) The wine buyer/sommelier SHOULD catch it -- and send it back to the wholesaler. How do I know I want the 2097? Maybe it's not as good as the 2096 vintage was. Restaurants are not retailers, and gone are the days when the restaurant HAS to carry the next vintage of Cache Phloe Napa Valley Chardonnay or Domaine Jean Deaux Santa Rita Hills Pinot Nor -- let alone automatically carry the subsequent vintage of a Bordeaux, Châteauneuf, Douro red or Rioja . . . .

                                        OF COURSE, if you the customer are presented with the "wrong" vintage (e.g.: you order the 2096 and the water/sommelier brings the 2097), you should send it back. (Unless, of course, you either don't mind drinking the 2097, or -- as it turns out -- the '97 is a fantastic vintage, much better than the '96 (and much more expensive). HOWEVER, there are still restaurants that do not even bother to list vintages at all! And that (IMHO) is inexcusable!


                                        * Heck, I was doing this in the early 1980s with a daisy-wheel printer and "fan-fold" computer paper. Our wine list featured 200+ wines and over 20 wines BTG a night. We had changes to make every single day, and we only had 11 tables and 14 bar stools!

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          Just to further the discussion on vintage...

                                          Correct vintage is *essential* on a wine list!!!!

                                          The difference between, say, a 2003 Cote-Rotie and the same bottling from 2002 may very well be the difference betwee a truly outstanding bottle of wine and one that is borderline undrinkable.

                                          Of course, it is my job, as the customer, to inspect the label, vintage, and taste and approve of the wine I order. However, that does not mean the owner does not have an even greater responsibility to bring me what I ordered.

                                          If I order "The steak" off the menu. And I am, indeed, brought a steak. But the menu description was a bone-in ribeye and I am brought a sirloin, I would be (rightfully) upset. Why should wine be treated any differently, especially when vintage can play such a dramatic role in a wine's character.