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Are most food critics ill-equipped to review a restaurant's wine list?

ipsedixit Jun 24, 2013 08:52 PM

Is it time we have dedicated sommelier + wine reviews by dedicated wine critics?

How would people feel if a wine critic reviewed a restaurant's wine service and then did a passing glance at the food menu?

Isn't that sort of what we've come to accept when it comes to food critics and wine?

  1. PotatoHouse Jun 25, 2013 03:31 AM

    " In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

    Anton Ego
    "Ratatouille"

    5 Replies
    1. re: PotatoHouse
      maria lorraine Jun 26, 2013 11:55 PM

      But that's a movie script.

      1. re: maria lorraine
        PotatoHouse Jul 1, 2013 11:25 AM

        Doesn't mean that it is not true.

        1. re: PotatoHouse
          maria lorraine Jul 1, 2013 02:23 PM

          It's a perfectly fine piece of dialogue for an animated cartoon character who is drawn as the epitome of a negative restaurant critic. Anton Ego's restaurant reviews are so negative and his opinions so caustic that they create fear in chefs and restaurant workers.

          Think back to the movie. This is the basic plot, the basic struggle in the movie -- to make the food at Auguste Gusteau's restaurant so good that it finally wins over Anton Ego, the caustic, deeply sad restaurant critic who is usually never pleased.

          Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, the last sentence lacks clarity, and doesn't make sense.

          So no, I don't think that piece of cartoon character dialogue contains any insight into non-fictionalized real-life restaurant criticism. Especially its remark about negative criticism, or that reviewing is easy.

          Negative reviewers like François Simon, who seem to relish spewing vile, are a rare exception. The pervasive edict among publishers is that a restaurant must be good enough to warrant a published review, otherwise it's overlooked. The goal is to send diners towards excellence, not to give them another reason to stay home. But this is just my perspective.

      2. re: PotatoHouse
        Robert Lauriston Jul 1, 2013 01:47 PM

        That line rang very false to me. Writing restaurant reviews is for many critics consumer reporting. Letting readers know about a great restaurant or dish they might not have heard of is the best part of the job.

        Writing a negative review is one of the worst parts. You have to be more sure than usual that you're right, which may mean having to eat an meal or two at the restaurants you least want to return to.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          c
          collioure Jul 1, 2013 02:30 PM

          Another excellent point. I invariably enjoy your contributions - and you make wine and food matches I couldn't conceive of, but I know they are point on.

          BTW a new local restaurant that we love has asked me to put a bilingual review in the Trip Advisor.

      3. Chinon00 Jun 25, 2013 05:32 AM

        I'm not sure. I mean what percent of restaurants reviewed in say the NYT have notable wine lists worthy of requiring a sommelier's attention?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chinon00
          ipsedixit Jun 25, 2013 06:35 AM

          That's an interesting choice to use as an example. NYC of all cities in the US would probably have the most restaurants deserving of at least a separate sidebar review of the wine service and list.

        2. z
          zin1953 Jun 25, 2013 07:33 AM

          >>> Isn't that sort of what we've come to accept when it comes to food critics and wine? <<<

          No.

          13 Replies
          1. re: zin1953
            z
            zin1953 Jun 25, 2013 10:12 PM

            Let me amplify, if I may . . .

            The people who are very knowledgable about food will love to read a review of a restaurant they've never been to, *or* to one they've "discovered" already. The people who are less knowledgable about food will read restaurant reviews with a look to where to go, for either a special occasion or a new experience. The people who don't care about food won't read it anyway, but still have to eat . . .

            In contrast, the people who are very knowledgable about wine will figure they know more than the wine critic, *or* won't want to listen about the wine list anyway, preferring to make up their own minds (or they ignore wine lists anyway, and plan to bring in their own wines). The people who like wine but are less knowledgable may be the most interested, but the least likely to respond; that is to say, they might be interested that there are all sorts of esoteric choices, but if they go, they'll be more likely to stick with their "usual" familiar names. The people who don't like wine won't be interested at all.

            1. re: zin1953
              Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:10 PM

              Jason,

              Good points.

              As the full "restaurant experience" is prime to me, I will review the ambiance, the food, the service, the wine list and the wine service. I even get into the wine stemware, as that is important to me, as well.

              If readers do not like it, such is life.

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt
                maria lorraine Jun 26, 2013 11:07 PM

                The ability exists to do as ipsedixit asks -- "to have dedicated sommelier + wine reviews by dedicated wine critics" --
                the question is: Will those reviews interest a large-enough audience to warrant publishing?

                I do come across dedicated reviews of wine lists and feature articles on sommeliers in some wine journals but wonder how appealing readers find them. The question editors/pubs ask is: Will this article drive readership?

                Reviews of restaurant wine lists usually aren't published unless the story has some topspin and local angle, as in: "Top Ten Restaurant Wine Lists in Seattle." There is limited need for such articles, and as you can surmise, the prose must go down easily (e.g., a Top Ten list of anything).

                In regards to a review of the wine list and wine service found within a restaurant review, much depends on the column inches available. A reviewer may write about the merits of the wine list, but if that paragraph is of little interest to passing readers, it will be cut. The final edit of the story often contains mention of only a couple of bottles or pairings.

                A review that fully evaluates a restaurant, in terms of most dishes on the menu, wine list, service, ambience, flow and chef biography, is rare. Those are long feature reviews, and pubs rarely have that kind of room.

                1. re: maria lorraine
                  Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 07:55 PM

                  ML,

                  Good points.

                  As I am not employed by either an electronic, or print medium, I do not have those constraints.

                  When I review a restaurant, I try to cover all bases, to give the readers the ability to see how the whole experience was viewed by me.

                  I will often start with the architecture, and the ambiance, and then take the reader through the process, such as FOH, and table spacing, along with lighting, seating and table size. Then, I move on to the service, the food, the wine list, the wine stemware and the wine service. In this, I expand on dishes, wines (mini-tasting notes).

                  It's the same with wine reviews, and restaurant reviews - I do not want numbers, I do not want forks, I do not want wine glass icons - I want to know what the full characteristics of the wine are. Same for a restaurant - I want to know if I would enjoy spending my $ there, and get useful details, somewhat free of the reviewers' bias. Unfortunately, one usually gets too many biases, and too little detail.

                  Now, if limited to electronic and print food critics, I think that there might be a deficiency with many food writers. They know wine from the carafe at an Olive Garden, but little more. I assumed that we were talking about the more well-rounded CH members, but probably projected a bit too much.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 08:17 PM

                    I sincerely hope we will be able to dine together in the future.

                    1. re: maria lorraine
                      Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:37 PM

                      I share those sentiments - completely!

                      As we are in SF, at least once per month, and often more, this should be a slam-dunk. We do our own thing on Sunday nights, then Monday may, or may not be a dinner that I share with my wife. Often, she has dinner meetings, so I do solo, and often am on the hunt for where we might share a meal on the next Sunday experience. Some trips are longer, so we/I will have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights to dine.

                      We must make this happen.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        z
                        zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 08:42 PM

                        Count me in! We've been talking about this for far too long . . .

                        1. re: zin1953
                          Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 09:18 PM

                          I agree. It is something that needs to be done - I don't have THAT many "good years" left!

                          Hunt

                          PS - sorry that the schedules did not work out for NOLA.

                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                            law_doc89 Jun 28, 2013 04:49 AM

                            Hey, you guys sound great. Ever get to DC?

                            1. re: law_doc89
                              z
                              zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 06:51 AM

                              (FWIW, I was there in February.)

                              1. re: law_doc89
                                Bill Hunt Jun 28, 2013 10:30 PM

                                About 2 - 3x per year.

                                I have an open thread on dining near the Mandrin Oriental (an area, with which I am not familar) in Oct.

                                Hunt

                      2. re: Bill Hunt
                        Robert Lauriston Jun 28, 2013 11:35 AM

                        Architecture, ambiance, lighting, stemware, etc., that's sometimes over 80% of Michael Bauer's reviews. He's not as bad as he used to be. Me ne frega.

                        When I wrote reviews I focused on the food, including wine when relevant, e.g.:

                        http://www.sfweekly.com/2006-07-05/di...

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          Bill Hunt Jun 28, 2013 10:31 PM

                          Robert,

                          Nothing wrong with reviewing just the food, but I am looking more for the whole experience. Some appreciate that, but some do not.

                          Hunt

              2. j
                john gonzales Jun 25, 2013 08:53 AM

                I could see the benefit of what you suggest but don't necessarily agree with the basis or need. First off, even though I am a wine nut I am not that interested in an extensive review of the winelist. Though I really wish more places would put their list online.
                I think there is a difference between food and wine. I might really like to hear the critics detailed review of a place's pizzas and pastas. They can relay details to me, such as the texture, cooking style, saucing etc that I would not be able to assertain without having tried it. Especially as there are so many acceptable/quality variants of something like pizza. I don't consider such detailed information as beneficial over a winelist.
                First off a particular wine is not variant from one establishment to another. I don't need the critc to describe their subjective view on Dom Perignon or Tignanello. It might be debatable but IMO enjoyment of a particular wine is even more subjective than for a particular pizza. even if a reviewer did try to delve into the individual selection on the list they usually could not come near covering the majority of them and is not that likely to hit upon those that any particular diner might select given the variation in pricing.
                Whereas with food it is easier to cover a good range of dishes that any particular diner might reasonably want to try. A food dish review also has more time-absent value. A wine can be different from vintage to vintage. A reviewer might correctly love a wine when they have it, but a subsequent vintage which may be that available by the time the diner goes may be significantly different.

                I don't personally see the need for more than a general description of the list. So for MY purpose I think a general food critic ought to be able to provide such. I like to know the areas of concentration of the list. I like to know about how many selections there are on the list, and where the prices are distributed. I like to know if there are almost exclusively young wines or also those that are aged. I'd also like to hear about the stems and wine service. Most importantly I like to know what the mark-up is on the list. In actuality these things are pretty easy to assertain and don't involve a nuanced palate. So while I would like a solid paragraph surrounding wine, I don't think a sommelier's knowledge is necessary to provide it.

                1. g
                  goldangl95 Jun 25, 2013 09:10 AM

                  This would only be interesting in a "best of" list every few years type way. Wine lists are rather fixed - they don't change much year to year. Most restaurants don't have a dedicated sommelier and if they do - sommeliers don't rotate out very much. Say in SF, the restaurants with a sommelier probably less than 20?

                  For now, I have just evaluated on if I go to the restaurant's website and the sommelier is featured - I look at the wine list and it looks solid- that's all I really need.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: goldangl95
                    p
                    plaidbowtie Jun 26, 2013 02:28 PM

                    I could name way more than 20 restaurants in SF with a proper sommelier on staff off the top of my head.

                  2. c
                    collioure Jun 25, 2013 11:50 AM

                    My experience (dated) is that fine restaurant critics excel at tasting food but do not have the wherewithal to comment upon wine lists.

                    1. Bill Hunt Jun 25, 2013 09:28 PM

                      What about a food critic, who also knows their wines?

                      Are they immediately discounted, because they know both, rather an being an expert in one vs the other?

                      Sorry, but I think that I am missing your intended point here.

                      Hunt

                      115 Replies
                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        c
                        collioure Jun 26, 2013 03:11 AM

                        Bill, these folks are trained to taste a

                        1. re: collioure
                          z
                          zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 06:16 AM

                          Really? How?

                          1. re: zin1953
                            c
                            collioure Jun 27, 2013 10:24 PM

                            Jason, they are trained to determine among other things,

                            if the food served matches the description on the menu, if it says truffle, is there really really truffle, if it says cassoulet for example, is it the real thing prepared over a period of two days or something hastily assembled at the last minute

                            is the salad lettuce fresh, is it properly and not overly dressed

                            is the seasoning correct or is the kitchen heavy-handed with the salt

                            is the service timely, neither too slow nor rushed . . .

                            but it's all about the food and service

                            1. re: collioure
                              z
                              zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 06:49 AM

                              I'm sorry . . . is there a school of restaurant criticism that they attend? How much is the tuition? Is this considered an undergraduate degree, or a post-graduate one?

                              Yes, of course, I'm teasing, but "who trains them" is a serious question. While it is true that *some* critics are, for example, former chefs or ex-culinary students or have some sort of connection to the "culinary arts," this is not true for the overwhelming majority of people who review restaurants around the world. For every New York Times-quality restaurant critic who has years of experience prior to being hired to write for the Times are dozens of restaurant reviewers in small town papers, weeklies, and even monthlies where (as I've cited elsewhere) interns or sports reporters or "lifestyle" reporters are told to go out and write a review . . .

                              1. re: zin1953
                                c
                                collioure Jun 28, 2013 01:49 PM

                                Jason, they have standards to meet. It's a kind of training.

                                If you can't discern if the herbs are fresh, if you don't write accurate notes, if you don't know much abut the ethnic cuisines you review, you're not going to last long.

                                Yes, there are all kinds of reviews and reviewers, but I think we are talking about those which might include a review of the wine too.

                                1. re: zin1953
                                  Bill Hunt Jun 28, 2013 10:33 PM

                                  Yes, too many were doing sports, or obituaries, and because they liked to dine, were thrust into a new role - like the office assistant, who gets handed Adobe InDesign, and suddenly becomes VP of Marketing.

                                  Hunt

                                2. re: collioure
                                  Robert Lauriston Jun 28, 2013 11:48 AM

                                  Michelin has one foot in the past where there was a "correct" way to do things, at least in France, but modern tastes vary. With salt in particular you can't please everyone.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    c
                                    collioure Jun 28, 2013 01:59 PM

                                    I have never placed much faith in the Michelin guide for food anywhere in Europe. It does not react quickly enough to changes within the restaurants. Moreover, for someone who prefers modern, inventive cuisine, its standards seem to be too inflexible. I do use it to get the names of restaurants in a locality, but then I look for someone else's opinion.

                                    Instead I use Michelin for hotels.

                                    For food in France I depend on Gault et Millau, in Spain I think it's the Repsol (formerly Campsa) guide now, and in Italy Veronelli!, Espresso and now Gambero Rosso.

                                    Yes, Veronelli in Italy. That little book is worth its weight in gold. I just looked up the restaurant to which Veronelli awarded a coup de coeur in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Meloncino is still there. The only time in my life that I have ordered a dish twice in the same evening - Spaghetti alla Rucola. I can't make it - maybe one of you hotshot chefs knows the tricks. In any case in Italy the Veronelli guide is special, and do visit the restaurants listed with a heart.

                                    1. re: collioure
                                      Robert Lauriston Jun 28, 2013 02:44 PM

                                      I knew a stringer for Gault et Millau, he didn't have special training. Neither did Gault or Millau, they were journalists.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                        c
                                        collioure Jun 28, 2013 02:51 PM

                                        Don't know anything about their methods, but I've always been able to depend on them. Whether it's three sentences or a whole page, they capture the flavor of the establishment.

                                        Twice after excellent dinners I voiced the opinion that the restaurant was underrated. The first time the chef-owner brought out the addendum sheet for the year. The guide book had been in error. 14, not 12. A few years later Jean Schillinger was awarded a gold key.

                                        The second time the chef also came out. He had been (rightly) unhappy with his rating. We had enjoyed a beatiful dinner in the garden. I took an idea or two home to our restaurant. His restaurant was the destination in Beaune for years after that.

                                        I study hard for our trips. After a busy day of travel I want a good dinner (yes, with a good bottle of wine too!). Budapest and the Czech Republic pose special problems this fall.

                              2. re: collioure
                                Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:12 PM

                                I would hope that they are capable of reviewing every aspect of the restaurant - food, service, wine and wine service.

                                I "grade" them on their abilities, and discount their reviews if they slip up on any aspect, just as I would hope that readers would do to me, should I slip up.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt
                                  maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:04 AM

                                  Yes, most magazine and major newspaper restaurant reviewers are highly trained, in food, in wine, in pacing, in everything that goes into making a fine meal at a restaurant. Certainly skills and interest in wine vary among reviewers, but what is more often at play is that the reviewer has limited space to talk about wine. All the words alloted him/her are taken up by the food, the ambience, and a brief chef bio. The reviewer is not allowed to wax poetically about the wines, even though many do have to the skill to do. The most a reviewer can squeeze in might be talk about a couple of bottles or pairings.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine
                                    Robert Lauriston Jun 27, 2013 08:55 AM

                                    "most magazine and major newspaper restaurant reviewers are highly trained, in food, in wine, in pacing, in everything that goes into making a fine meal at a restaurant"

                                    I've met a fair number of other reviewers and read interviews with famous ones. They tend to have a lot of experience, but little or no formal training.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      z
                                      zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 09:24 AM

                                      Agreed.

                                    2. re: maria lorraine
                                      maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 11:06 AM

                                      Experience, training, on-the-job training -- that's what I meant.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine
                                        Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:00 PM

                                        ML,

                                        I do agree. I see reviews of many restaurants, in print. I often feel that the editor should have given them a bit more space, to write a good, and all-encompassing review. They are often filled with "cutsey" comments, and little useful info. I see these in "Travel+Leisure," "Food & Wine," "Hemispheres - Three Perfect Days," "Conde Naste Traveler," "Southern Living," "Sunset," and many similar publications - light banter, cute expressions, and little real meat.

                                        It's the same with the Food Network, or the local morning news - it's about light banter, laughter, perky personalities and little info, to live by.

                                        Good points,

                                        Hunt

                                        1. re: Bill Hunt
                                          law_doc89 Jun 28, 2013 04:52 AM

                                          I find the same thing: a dumbing down on the assumption that no one really cares about content. Unfortunately, the marketplace does seem to bear them out. It can be frustrating if one takes it all too seriously.

                                          1. re: law_doc89
                                            z
                                            zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 07:00 AM

                                            There is also (or, perhaps, I would simply HOPE there is also) a difference in publications. Newspapers like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and papers in other cities that "know how to eat" should be (and are) very different than cities like Las Vegas (where the reviews seem all but advertisements for the establishments being written up), Fresno, or Rapid City -- see http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/revi...

                                            1. re: zin1953
                                              PolarBear Jun 28, 2013 07:28 AM

                                              Historically here if you didn't advertise with the paper, you did not get reviewed. For a while Joan Obra changed all that with well researched in depth coverage but sadly she's gone and it's all been downhill.

                                              1. re: PolarBear
                                                z
                                                zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 08:05 AM

                                                That is/was historically true of many papers . . . also food-oriented radio shows.

                                            2. re: law_doc89
                                              Bill Hunt Jun 28, 2013 10:35 PM

                                              Well, IMHO, fine-dining is just not what it once was, but then I am old, have too many great memories of great restaurants, and hate to leave those behind. Such is life, as one becomes a "dinosaur."

                                              Hunt

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                c
                                                collioure Jun 28, 2013 11:30 PM

                                                It isn't what it was. I think it's better with all these talented young chefs about, products available from around the world, ethnic and fusion cuisines everywhere, and the ability to enjoy them in casualwear.

                                                Who knows? In time if you want a review of the winelist/ wine program, it might arrive on your I-phone if you have a subscription.

                                                1. re: collioure
                                                  Bill Hunt Jun 29, 2013 09:28 PM

                                                  Sorry, but I am not interested in a subscription, just like I am not interested in FaceBook, or even Yelp.

                                                  I gather my sources from elsewhere.

                                                  Hunt

                                    3. re: Bill Hunt
                                      ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 04:28 AM

                                      Yes, you are missing the point.

                                      I am asking whether there should be dedicated wine critics for a restaurant's wine service/list given the fact that *most* wine critics are not properly equipped to review or critique the vino aspects of a restaurant

                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                        c
                                        collioure Jun 26, 2013 05:46 AM

                                        Given how few are interested in such, I think it's unrealistic.

                                        Does the Wine Spectator still recognize excellent wine lists? I was rather proud of my award.

                                        That's perhaps closer to what you seek.

                                        1. re: collioure
                                          z
                                          zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 06:16 AM

                                          Really?

                                          See http://blindtaste.com/2008/08/15/what...

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            c
                                            collioure Jun 26, 2013 06:26 AM

                                            My antivirus doesn't like that page.

                                            What is your point?

                                            What percent of Americans drink wine?

                                            What percent of Americans order a bottle of wine in a restaurant?

                                            1. re: collioure
                                              z
                                              zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 06:46 AM

                                              Try this from the Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/22/business/fi-winehoax22

                                              Or from the New York Times: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/21/sour-grapes/

                                              Or from Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2008/08/the-wine-specta.html

                                              From author and wine blogger Alive Feiring: http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/2008/08/wine-spectator-award-of-excellence.html

                                              From The Wine Economist: http://wineeconomist.com/2008/09/04/t...

                                              . . . and on and on.

                                              1. re: zin1953
                                                c
                                                collioure Jun 26, 2013 07:02 AM

                                                Thanks, but what's the problem?

                                                The Spectator evaluates wine lists.

                                                I would be interested in their methodology.

                                                1. re: collioure
                                                  z
                                                  zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 07:13 AM

                                                  Ah. So you didn't read the article(s) . . . .

                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                    c
                                                    collioure Jun 26, 2013 07:18 AM

                                                    I did. They all reported the same story.

                                                    So what?

                                                    1. re: collioure
                                                      z
                                                      zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 12:29 PM

                                                      You're the one who was proud of your award . . .

                                                      The Spec awarded this non-existent restaurant an Award of Excellence for -- at least in part -- a "reserve list" stocked with wines that got rated "poor" by the Speculator itself; they failed to visit the restaurant (as called for in its methodology); and -- once earned -- they almost always renew the award as long as the establishment pays the $250, even if the wine list becomes a shadow of its former self (of course this presumes it was worthy in the first place, something which is dubious at best).

                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                        c
                                                        collioure Jun 26, 2013 12:52 PM

                                                        I'm not sure I even paid a dime. I'm sure I didn't pay any $250.

                                                        In any case at that time it was the only thing going for wine lists. So sure I'm proud to have earned it. I put together a very approachable wine list in the form of a bound looseleaf notebook, the pages decorated with wine labels, arranged by grape type and including wine-matching advice as well.

                                                        Again I am interested in their methodology while you seem more fascinated with the fake restaurant.

                                                        1. re: zin1953
                                                          PhillyBestBYOB Jun 28, 2013 04:22 AM

                                                          I'm pretty sure the Wine Spectator awards have never involved visiting the restaurants in question, except perhaps for the highest ranking?

                                                          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB
                                                            z
                                                            zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 06:50 AM

                                                            According to their stated methodology, they do.

                                                            1. re: zin1953
                                                              PhillyBestBYOB Jun 30, 2013 06:25 AM

                                                              Actually they don't visit every restaurant, as is explicitly stated on their website:

                                                              "We cannot visit every award-winning restaurant (although all Grand Award winners and many others are inspected by Wine Spectator editors), so we encourage our readers to alert us to discrepancies and disappointments."

                                                              http://www.winespectator.com/group/sh...

                                                              And I don't see why they should. They are reviewing wine lists, not wine service or food. However, I'm sure as wine lovers, they are more likely than most of us to actually visit many of these restaurants in the course of their work and lives.

                                                              As long as they are upfront about their criteria, people can judge the value of the list for themselves. As a long-time WS subscriber (as well as WA and IWC, despite my disbelief in wine scores), I use the list to suggest possible places to visit when I travel. The fact that some publicity hungry looser faked them out, says more about him than the list. I wouldn't have shown up at his "restaurant" without more research anyway.

                                                              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB
                                                                p
                                                                pinotho Jul 1, 2013 11:23 AM

                                                                I see.......shoot the mesenger, huh ?

                                                                1. re: pinotho
                                                                  z
                                                                  zin1953 Jul 1, 2013 09:00 PM

                                                                  Well, if all else fails, I suppose that's all that's left.

                                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                                    Bill Hunt Jul 1, 2013 09:09 PM

                                                                    Unfortunately, this forum is littered with the bodies of "messengers." Such is life.

                                                                    Hunt

                                                  2. re: zin1953
                                                    law_doc89 Jun 26, 2013 08:03 AM

                                                    That is pretty funny. It is so amazing how people will avoid acknowledging ignorance so actually stop learning. It is a matter of human nature. A physicist at NYU used a computer program to string together random phrases of jargon and got the thing past peer review and published. Why would we expect that people who eata re any less insecure about their actual knowledge? Whe I hear someone citing a Parker/SPectator number instead of describing the wine, I move on.

                                                    1. re: law_doc89
                                                      law_doc89 Jun 26, 2013 08:18 AM

                                                      http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/04/gar...

                                                2. re: zin1953
                                                  Fowler Jul 7, 2013 08:59 PM

                                                  Too funny! Thanks.

                                              2. re: ipsedixit
                                                Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:13 PM

                                                Exactly why do you feel that way?

                                                Just curious,

                                                Hunt

                                              3. re: Bill Hunt
                                                c
                                                collioure Jun 26, 2013 06:28 AM

                                                Bill, these folks are trained to taste and evaluate food and service. Generally they are allowed to order one glass of wine.

                                                They don't know enough to evaluate wine lists. What they might do and don't would be to consider if the wine varieties at least match the food of the menu.

                                                Allow me to explain how some restaurateurs "develop" a wine list. They turn it over to a sole vendor who even prints it for them. This is an opportunity for the vendor to sell the secondary wines he has to take from a winery in order to get their best wines.

                                                So he puts Winery A's mediocre Chardonnay and Winery B's subpar Cabernet on these wine lists. Meanwhile smart restaurateurs are ordering Winery B's excellent Chardonnay and Winery A's prized Cabernet to offer to their customers.

                                                I assure you that few restaurant critics will be able to recognize the difference.

                                                1. re: collioure
                                                  ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 06:37 AM

                                                  Thank you, this is interesting about the wine lists.

                                                  But I think it goes beyond just the lists themselves.

                                                  In the way a restaurant critic will review not only the food but also the service and pacing of the meal, a wine critic can do the same with obviously the wine, as well as the sommelier, the stem wear, the pour, the tasting, etc.

                                                  And one aspect that I think is severely overlooked when it comes to the interaction of food and wine is a holistic review of a tasting menu with a wine pairing. Whenever a food critic reviews a tasting menu, it is often focused primarily on the food aspect, and not so much on the wine, and (more importantly) not so much on the pairing itself.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                    c
                                                    collioure Jun 26, 2013 06:42 AM

                                                    Interesting point about tasting menus, but I wonder if the critic is allowed to try (and pay for) all the wines. Wines are often optional with such.

                                                    Critics have budgets and I would be surprised if many of them have the right to splurge on a tasting menu. A critic who identifed himself could be invited into the kitchen to sample the tasting menu items.

                                                    I have trouble imaging someone who has perfected a tasting menu not having good wine matches.

                                                    1. re: collioure
                                                      ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 06:44 AM

                                                      Why wouldn't a critic be "allowed" to try and pay for the wines in the wine pairing?

                                                      The critic is allowed to try and pay for the food, right?

                                                      >>>I have trouble imaging someone who has perfected a tasting menu not having good wine matches.<<<

                                                      That assumes alot.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                        c
                                                        collioure Jun 26, 2013 06:51 AM

                                                        It all depends on whether the critic is incognito. If he isn't, he may get the red carpet treament and everything could be free. But then his critique is somewhat compromised.

                                                        Incognito he is surely on a limited budget.

                                                        I have trouble imaging someone who has perfected a tasting menu not having good wine matches - because they can test them themselves. The bottles are open to be poured by the glass.

                                                        1. re: collioure
                                                          ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 06:54 AM

                                                          That's just not true.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                                            maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:21 AM

                                                            My experience is far different from collioure's. What he writes is not true for any of the reviewers I know or the publications I'm familiar with in the US and Britain.

                                                            There is a difference in reviewing wine and in reviewing wine lists. A wine list reviewer focuses on how well the wine list pairs with the food and serves the clientele. It evaluates the synergy of food and wine pairings, the BTG program, overall approachability of the wine offerings as well as the rarity of special bottlings, the cellar and buying program, wine evenings (Rhone Night), winemaker dinners, upselling of a food item with a wine, many things.

                                                            1. re: maria lorraine
                                                              c
                                                              collioure Jun 27, 2013 02:28 AM

                                                              Pardon me, Maria, but I don't believe I addressed this issue.

                                                              I spoke to restaurant critics' wine commentary and Wine Spectator awards. Were I to address a restaurant's wine program, I would cover many of the facets you properly noted and probably a few more.

                                                              My personal knowledge of restaurant reviews is from Chicago (a large market) and Gault et Millau which I have followed for 4 decades in France and used find my way to wonderful, inventive tables since the 70s. (I don't always sleep so well, but I do know how to find the best table for miles.)

                                                              Gault et Millau offers the most verbose (and most accurate and timely) restaurant reviews in France. For a long time it offered one sentence on wine in its longer reviews (e.g., "cave rather focused on great Southwest managed by excellent young sommelier"). Now there is a wine paragraph for the 100+ restaurants ranking 16/20 and higher (two toques).

                                                              So there's one idea for the USA - for top-notch restaurants with wine programs send an expert on wine and food and write one paragraph in those select reviews.

                                                              I come at the original question as a restaurateur. Most of the commentary here is from the technical viewpoint of wine consumers. Well, most diners are not wine aficionados, and expecting restaurant reviews to speak to them about wine is rather unrealistic IMO.

                                                              I regret that certain of my remarks as a restaurateur were arbitrarily deleted. I wish they could be resurrected.

                                                              1. re: collioure
                                                                law_doc89 Jun 27, 2013 04:46 AM

                                                                "Well, most diners are not wine aficionados, and expecting restaurant reviews to speak to them about wine is rather unrealistic IMO."

                                                                Perhaps this is a problem in that there is cross talk here. I am a consumer and want the product. The mechanics of obtaining the product can be of use to me, but that is not my ultimate interest.

                                                                That said, it is of use to me to have a sense that a wine list is actually coupled to the cuisine of a particular restaurant.

                                                              2. re: maria lorraine
                                                                Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:04 PM

                                                                That difference is something that I look for, in restaurant reviews. I more often want to know what I will encounter, when going to a restaurant - how serious their wine program is, do they go beyond the "usual suspects," do they know how to serve the wines, and do they pour those into "jelly jars?"

                                                                For a full critique of the actual wines, viewed as wines, and not as an accompaniment to the food, I will go elsewhere.

                                                                Just me,

                                                                Hunt

                                                        2. re: collioure
                                                          z
                                                          zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 06:54 AM

                                                          >>> I have trouble imaging someone who has perfected a tasting menu not having good wine matches. <<<

                                                          a) Yes, that assumes a lot.

                                                          b) Where/How does "perfection" fit into the equation? What does "perfected a tasting menu" even mean?

                                                          1. re: zin1953
                                                            ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 06:56 AM

                                                            zin1953,

                                                            I'm curious as to your thoughts. I read your post up above about how essentially there would be no audience (like yelling into the wind) for a dedicated wine review of a restaurant's wine list and service.

                                                            Do you share the same belief as to tasting menus and wine pairings (that are often fixed, and not really open to customer selection)?

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                              z
                                                              zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 07:12 AM

                                                              I know of very few restaurant reviewers/critics* that review tasting menus. For one thing, tasting menus typically change more frequently than the "regular" menu, which also changes more frequently today than in decades past. Tasting menus, I find, are often mentioned, but rarely tasted UNLESS that's all the restaurant has (think Chez Panisse downstairs for example).

                                                              As a patron, I often partake of tasting menus in restaurants of a certain (anticipated) quality level. But I rarely participate in the wine pairings. I find the price of the pairings is often out-of-proportion to the quality/amount of wines served. Also, for me personally, some of the pairings don't work as well as someone else thinks they do. I find it much better to order a couple of 375ml bottles of wine and "do my own" wine pairing, if you will.

                                                              Cheers,
                                                              Jason

                                                              * Reviewers and critics are, IMHO, two different things, despite the fact the two terms are often used interchangeably.

                                                              1. re: zin1953
                                                                ipsedixit Jun 26, 2013 07:39 AM

                                                                I know of very few restaurant reviewers/critics* that review tasting menus. For one thing, tasting menus typically change more frequently than the "regular" menu, which also changes more frequently today than in decades past. Tasting menus, I find, are often mentioned, but rarely tasted UNLESS that's all the restaurant has (think Chez Panisse downstairs for example).
                                                                ______________________

                                                                Well, EMP would be another exception. It is only tasting menus.

                                                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                  ChefJune Jun 26, 2013 11:13 AM

                                                                  <Well, EMP would be another exception. It is only tasting menus.>
                                                                  Unless you sit at the bar.

                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                    z
                                                                    zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 08:40 PM

                                                                    There are many specific exceptions -- é and Minibar, for example; Atelier Cren, and others, to be sure -- but these ARE the exceptions.

                                                                  2. re: zin1953
                                                                    law_doc89 Jun 26, 2013 07:58 AM

                                                                    I go back and forth on this. Some pairings reflect some real thought and expertise, others seem ultimately slap dash. For me, I like wine lists with lots of half bottles which becomes the ultimate solution.

                                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                                      maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:26 AM

                                                                      <<I know of very few restaurant reviewers/critics* that review tasting menus.>>

                                                                      I agree. A reviewer is asked to review the regular menu items, not items that might be found on a tasting menu or one-night specials. This is so the reader can say, That sounds good, and can head to the restaurant and order it.

                                                                  3. re: zin1953
                                                                    c
                                                                    collioure Jun 26, 2013 07:04 AM

                                                                    1. I don't think there's enough of an audience for dedicated reviews of a restaurant's wine list and service. You're talking about valuable space in a newspaper/magazine that most diners don't relate to. Not enough bang for the buck, so to speak.

                                                                    2. In general restaurateurs put their best foot forward in a tasting menu. It is for their best customers and carries a premium price.

                                                                    Once again I can't imagine a restaurant of this quality screwing up the wine pairings.

                                                                    I know I didn't when we were doing monthly 5-course regional French dinners. I spent a lot of time working on the wine matches for those courses.

                                                              2. re: collioure
                                                                z
                                                                zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 06:52 AM

                                                                >>> Bill, these folks are trained to taste and evaluate food and service. Generally they are allowed to order one glass of wine. <<<

                                                                Who trains them? Who restricts the number of glasses ordered?

                                                                >>> Allow me to explain how some restaurateurs "develop" a wine list. They turn it over to a sole vendor who even prints it for them. This is an opportunity for the vendor to sell the secondary wines he has to take from a winery in order to get their best wines. <<<

                                                                Emphasis on the word SOME. Though not exactly the way it worked, this was far more common in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. The PC and ink-jet printer changed all that. Aside from uncaring corporate chains (Olive Garden, Outback, etc.), a single wholesaler-dominated wine list in a restaurant of any size or quality is a rare thing today.

                                                                >>> I assure you that few restaurant critics will be able to recognize the difference. <<<

                                                                In what, a wholesaler-dominated wine list? Or simply a good (versus a bad) list? Either way, once again the emphasis is on the word FEW . . . but it's not their job!

                                                                1. re: zin1953
                                                                  Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:20 PM

                                                                  Oh I agree. Some restaurants might invite a distributor to create a wine list, but after the "middle of the pack," that is just not how it works.

                                                                  At higher-end restaurants, there are normally two paths:

                                                                  They have a sommelier/cellar master on staff, and that person dictates their wine program.

                                                                  Next, they hire a consultant, like Jason, or similar, to develop their wine list.

                                                                  I have known many in that second tier, and often, I can tell who the consultant was, who did develop the restaurant's wine list, and stocked their cellar.

                                                                  Hunt

                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                    maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:33 AM

                                                                    I've never heard of a one-glass limit. I've heard of budget limits, but there's far more than one glass involved.

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                      Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:08 PM

                                                                      <<One-glass limit[s]>>

                                                                      Sorry, but you lost me here. Did I have a typo, that I am just not seeing, or is there something that I am just missing?

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                        c
                                                                        collioure Jun 27, 2013 09:24 PM

                                                                        The foremost and most serious reviewers in Chicago - Chicago Magazine - who maintain a huge set of reviews and whose annual awards are coveted - limit reviewers to a glass of house wine. I cannot imagine that such budgetary restrictions do not exist elsewhere.

                                                                        1. re: collioure
                                                                          Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 09:39 PM

                                                                          I am sorry to hear that, and it's a reason that I am glad that I do not review restaurants for a living.

                                                                          I enjoy my dining, and shortly after breakfast, that includes wine - heck, depending on what I am doing, breakfast might even have wine.

                                                                          "A glass of house wine?" Not for this boy, unless it's a great "house wine," say like the Domaine Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet, Les Charmes, or similar. Many nice Champagnes will serve well too.

                                                                          Hunt

                                                                          1. re: collioure
                                                                            z
                                                                            zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 09:44 PM

                                                                            Certainly not at the SF Chronicle . . . doesn't appear to be the case at the New York or Los Angeles Times . . . .

                                                                            1. re: zin1953
                                                                              maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 10:08 PM

                                                                              ...or most places.

                                                                              The many reviewers I know (across the US and in the UK) always order at least a bottle, and often it's two, or a bottle and a half-bottle, or a bottle and two half-bottles, or all half-bottles. But you can definitely have several glasses of wine.

                                                                              How do I know they do this? They invite me along, and I help them drink it!

                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                c
                                                                                collioure Jun 27, 2013 10:33 PM

                                                                                Yes, but how many restaurant reviews are they maintaining?

                                                                                How often are they returning to the same fine establishment? Once a year or once every ten years?

                                                                                If they write one review a month or even one a week, that's one thing or if they are looking for the best spots in one city, that's another, but if their publication maintains an extensive set of reviews, they are probably going to be on a budget.

                                                                                1. re: collioure
                                                                                  maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 11:53 PM

                                                                                  This is the third or fourth time I've said my experience is different!

                                                                                  Yes, major US and UK publications, mostly mags but some newspapers.
                                                                                  Yes, 6-8 restaurant reviews monthly.
                                                                                  Yes, each restaurant is visited 3 times.
                                                                                  Yes, AMPLE budget.
                                                                                  Yes, BOTTLES of wine allowed. Already described.

                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                    c
                                                                                    collioure Jun 28, 2013 12:34 AM

                                                                                    Once more with feeling - how often do they return to the same establishment?

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                      law_doc89 Jun 28, 2013 04:54 AM

                                                                                      Maybe you need to use ALL CAPS!!!!

                                                                                      1. re: law_doc89
                                                                                        c
                                                                                        collioure Jun 28, 2013 02:06 PM

                                                                                        I just think we need to distinguish between reviews that are essentially feature articles in a publication that does not follow the restaurant regularly and reviews in a publication that updates its reviews reguarly.

                                                                                        I'm more interested in the latter.

                                                                    2. re: collioure
                                                                      j
                                                                      john gonzales Jun 26, 2013 09:38 AM

                                                                      C- I only WISH the develpoment of a list happened as you describe. My wife is in the distribution biz. Over the past 15 years with the general public educated about wines (esp lesser regions), the greater attention of establishments in having a noteworthy list (incl the hiring of people, even consultants to help), and the general shortening of lists, what you describe rarely occurs in a restaurant of any note. At least here in L.A.

                                                                      On a general note, I would point to someone like S. Irene Virbila. She is a food writer that clearly knows wine. Certainly enough to make the type of evaluations that are discussed here. I can think of a few others. I really don't think it is that hard (as far as basic knowledge required) to come up with expanded analysis of a wine program. One does not have to know the utmost about wine to write a paragraph about the wine. What one might not know, such as mark-up, one can do in 15 minutes with wine-searcher. I think the point is, since we know that some writers DO possess wine knowledge, that the inclusion is not deemed worthy of the space. At least in a general publication.

                                                                      1. re: john gonzales
                                                                        c
                                                                        collioure Jun 26, 2013 10:05 AM

                                                                        Yes, what I described rarely or less often happens in a restaurant of note, but it still happens there and it happens more frequently in lesser establishments. My point was not that it happens often in good restaurants; it was that the restaurant critic probably wouldn't know the difference between such a list and one carefully assembled.

                                                                        In my experience critics usually write one sentence about the wines.
                                                                        That is even the case here in France in the very best and most verbose guide (Gault et Millau). And in France 45% drink wine; in the US I believe the figure is between 16% and 20%.

                                                                        In my case once it was a negative remark about my wine prices. At the time I had the lowest mark-up of all the restaurants in our category.

                                                                        1. re: collioure
                                                                          Robert Lauriston Jun 26, 2013 11:30 AM

                                                                          Spotting a single-distributor list is easier than judging whether the list is any good.

                                                                          The wine list at a French restaurant I ate at regularly a dozen years ago was from a single importer, but since that importer was Robert Chadderdon, it was one of the better lists in the area.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                            c
                                                                            collioure Jun 26, 2013 11:38 AM

                                                                            "Spotting a single-distributor list is easier than judging whether the list is any good."

                                                                            Easy for us; not easy for a restaurant critic.

                                                                            FYI the problem isn't the single-distributor; it's the single-distributor listing the wines he has trouble moving otherwise.

                                                                            1. re: collioure
                                                                              z
                                                                              zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 12:32 PM

                                                                              But isn't that what Olive Garden is for???

                                                                              1. re: collioure
                                                                                Robert Lauriston Jun 26, 2013 12:37 PM

                                                                                Spotting a single-distributor list can be as easy as noticing that the back label's the same on all the bottles.

                                                                                1. re: collioure
                                                                                  j
                                                                                  john gonzales Jun 26, 2013 03:36 PM

                                                                                  What does it matter who distributes wine. Being able to spot a single distributor list might be more difficult for some than others (and I still maintain that almost no good restaurants here in L.A. have such a list) but why does the source matter? The list is the list. Either one recognizes the wines/vintages/prices or not. The large diestributors here carry so many wines that you could have millions of permutations on a wine list made up only of one's brands. It could be a perectly fine list. I am not saying that one could develop one of the greatest 30 lists in the country that way, but for the purposes of almost any diner the list would be perfectly fine. The big houses are obviously not going to the most obscure of small production producers, but which wine is present from with supplier and at what price is much more import than what percentage might come form what supplier.
                                                                                  Even IF one were to try and task the reviewer with dedicating a paragraph to the wine program, the source of the wines would not be among the top five things I'd care to hear about.

                                                                                  1. re: john gonzales
                                                                                    Robert Lauriston Jun 26, 2013 04:28 PM

                                                                                    Sometimes distributors stock restaurant lists with junk they're trying to get rid of. Otherwise it's not necessarily a problem.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                      z
                                                                                      zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 05:40 PM

                                                                                      But Robert, doesn't the restaurant's wine buyer have to agree to buy it?

                                                                                      And seriously -- outside of corporate chains like the Olive Garden and Outback, and other establishments of their ilk -- when was the last time you saw a single distributor wine list?

                                                                                      It certainly wasn't the case at Locanda. It's not the case at either location of A16, or Build. Not true of Five, Hopscotch, Plum, Boot and Shoe, Duende, A Coté, Baywolf, Pican, Pizzaolio, Wood Tavern, Yoshi's, Oliveto, Absinthe, Haven, Ame, Perbacco, Piperade, Quince, Gary Danko . . . in other words, places large and small; high-end and more modest. Not even at Chez Panisse, despite being known to carry a fair number of Kermit's wines.

                                                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                                                        Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:31 PM

                                                                                        Jason,

                                                                                        Unfortunately, I have seen such too often.

                                                                                        The restaurants are usually "corporate," as you mention, though higher up the scale, or indicate (to me, at least) a lazy restauranteur/food-beverage manager.

                                                                                        It shows quickly, and not in a good way. That is when I invoke the "Shun Ray," and go elsewhere.

                                                                                        Hunt

                                                                                        1. re: zin1953
                                                                                          Robert Lauriston Jun 27, 2013 09:00 AM

                                                                                          I see single-distributor lists regularly at Chinese, Asian, and other restaurants where wine isn't a part of the cuisine.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                            z
                                                                                            zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 09:25 AM

                                                                                            True. I'll admit I wasn't thinking of non-wine cultures when I posted the above.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                              Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:15 PM

                                                                                              I have observed similar. We had a great Pan-Asian restaurant in Aurora, CO, that had wonderful food, and a fair wine list. However, they were top-heavy in bigger, Cal-Cabs, that did not pair well with their cuisine. However, they priced the wines very fairly. I was known to stop by, grab a dish of X, and then order a Jos. Phelps Insignia at US $ 65/btl. I was paying US $ 85 via the club-price, at the time!

                                                                                              I do see some "odd" wine lists at various Indian, and Pan-Asian restaurants, but then many of our forays into that cuisine will be in London, and often at such a restaurant with at least one Michelin star, so their wine lists are much fuller, an better suited for the cuisine. In the US, mom-n-pops will let the distributor fill the list, and it often does not even come close.

                                                                                              Just my observations,

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                            Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:28 PM

                                                                                            Robert,

                                                                                            That is the problem with the restaurant.

                                                                                            They got lazy. They got kickbacks. They could care less. Lots of reasons WHY, and none is good.

                                                                                            It happens, and is indicative, at least to me, of a restaurant, that is not worthy of my time, my calories or my $.

                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                        2. re: collioure
                                                                                          Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:26 PM

                                                                                          If the critic is worth the 1's and 0's in their computer, it should be.

                                                                                          If not, then why read the tripe of such a person?

                                                                                          I think that you need to follow different critics.

                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                        3. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                          Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:24 PM

                                                                                          Robert,

                                                                                          I agree completely, and at the mid-level, see it all too often.

                                                                                          I negatively review such a list, as I do not appreciate a list of "the usual suspects."

                                                                                          Luckily, we more often dine at establishments, that actually work on their wine lists, and it shows.

                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                        4. re: collioure
                                                                                          c
                                                                                          collioure Jun 27, 2013 10:44 PM

                                                                                          And one facet of a wine list that I never read about is whether the wines are ready to drink!

                                                                                          If you do not inventory certain wines for a couple of years, you are going to have big Chardonnays that still need a few years in the cellar plus Cabernets, Zins, Cote-Roties and even red Burgundies from the Cote-de-Nuits especially that should not be served upon release.

                                                                                          What restaurant critic will even know about this?

                                                                                          1. re: collioure
                                                                                            z
                                                                                            zin1953 Jun 28, 2013 06:33 AM

                                                                                            In point of fact, many . . . but it's also moot.

                                                                                            I've been in restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic that have expensive lists of properly cellared vintages ready for drinking (and an extensive volume of cases of too young vintages patiently aging away, waiting for the day when they, too, will be deemed worthy of appearing on the restaurant's "carte du vin"). But I've also been in numerous restaurants with NO aged vintages, where nearly every wine may be considered too young for drinking.

                                                                                            The 1950s ended some time ago, and gone are the days where restaurants have deep pockets and can buy wines today and "hide" them in the cellar for 5-10 years -- or more! -- before they appear on the pages of a wine list. the number of places that can still afford to do this are few and far between.

                                                                                            And since approximately 96-97 percent of all wine purchased in the United States is consumed within seven days (with the rest of the world not far behind, if they're behind at all), perhaps a better question would be "What [percentage of] consumers will even know about this?" about wines not being ready to drink upon release?

                                                                                            1. re: zin1953
                                                                                              c
                                                                                              collioure Jun 28, 2013 02:13 PM

                                                                                              If we're trying to distinguish between wine programs, there are restaurants that buy ahead or at auction for older vintages and they need to be recognized. FYI I did it.

                                                                                              As a consumer I'm really not interested in inside-the-boardroom excuses such as you provided. Wines offered SHOULD be ready to drink.

                                                                                              Who wants to order last year's la Landonne or Batard-Montrachet? I have witnessed such atrocities at neighboring tables in my travels.

                                                                                              I often ask about drinkability in restaurants myself - seems to assure that we will choose something pleasurable.

                                                                                              1. re: collioure
                                                                                                p
                                                                                                plaidbowtie Jun 28, 2013 02:26 PM

                                                                                                "Ready to Drink" is subjective when you add Asia into the equation, and their affinity to drink current release first growth Bordeaux.

                                                                                                1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                                                  c
                                                                                                  collioure Jun 28, 2013 02:36 PM

                                                                                                  Hey, I don't even think they should be drinking red wine with their cuisines.

                                                                                                  Anyhow that's conspicuous consumption behavior. Not really about wine and food.

                                                                                                  1. re: collioure
                                                                                                    z
                                                                                                    zin1953 Jun 29, 2013 08:40 AM

                                                                                                    >>> I don't even think they should be drinking red wine with their cuisines. <<<

                                                                                                    And that is NOT something for you to judge . . . no one is asking you to drink something you don't want to, and if someone enjoys Wine X with Entrée Y, that's *their* palate, and their choice -- no one is asking for you to agree . . .

                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                      c
                                                                                                      collioure Jun 29, 2013 08:50 AM

                                                                                                      Do you know what conspicuous consmption is, Jason?

                                                                                                      They're not drinking it for enjoyment.

                                                                                                      1. re: collioure
                                                                                                        Bill Hunt Jun 29, 2013 09:30 PM

                                                                                                        Sorry, but how are you to know the motivations?

                                                                                                        Why ARE they drinking red wines with X?

                                                                                                        I fail to see where you are coming from, or going to. Color me daft.

                                                                                                        Hunt

                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                          p
                                                                                                          plaidbowtie Jun 29, 2013 09:43 PM

                                                                                                          All the while dodging that restaurant wine programs are there to make money for the restaurant. If a substantial portion of your clientele prefers a certain style of wine, it would be naive to not supply it, especially if it happens to be blue chip, high dollar wines.

                                                                                                          Ready to drink means different things to different people. A good wine program offers a range to all of those, and if they don't- the buyer is simply not doing a crucial aspect of their job.

                                                                                                          1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                                                            Bill Hunt Jun 29, 2013 09:57 PM

                                                                                                            Well, I have known restaurant owners who kept their wine list, because it matched their food very well, and others, who dropped most wines, for White Zinfandel, as that is what their average clients wanted.

                                                                                                            In most cases, the first group is still around, and highly successful, where many (most?) of the second group are now doing something else, and usually not food-related.

                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                2. re: collioure
                                                                                                  z
                                                                                                  zin1953 Jun 29, 2013 08:38 AM

                                                                                                  And who is to "judge"?

                                                                                                  Nothing I spoke of is "inside the boardroom,"as you put it. Do you think the average restaurant has the financial wherewithal to cellar wines for 5-10 years? Places like La Tour d'Argent are the exception, not the rule. The average "life expectancy" of restaurants in the States is something like five years -- you know that most restaurants cannot afford to buy wine strictly for cellaring! (Even if you want to pretend you don't.)

                                                                                                  You can be the judge with your pocketbook -- by ordering wine (or not) depending upon whether or not you find something worth drinking. You may also choose, should you wish (and should local regulations permit), to bring in your own wine from home . . .

                                                                                                  BUT -- let me ask you a question: do you explain to the manager / waiter / sommelier / owner exactly why you've opted to bring your own wine, rather than making a selection from the wine list? Do you tell them that there is nothing on their list that's ready to drink? or that their prices are ludicrously high? or that very little on their list is interesting, or matches their cuisine? or . . . or . . . or . . . . ?

                                                                                                  Or do you simply keep quiet and pay the corkage?

                                                                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                    c
                                                                                                    collioure Jun 29, 2013 08:58 AM

                                                                                                    1. I never bring wine where I live. In my lifetime I have only brought wine to a few Indian restaurants that did not have the wines to match their cuisine and to restaurants without liquor licenses.

                                                                                                    2. Once again I'm not interested in your inside-the-boardroom/inside baseball excuses for restaurants serving wine well before its time.

                                                                                                    We - you, I, and all those who post here - should support those good practices which produce favorable wine experiences with drinkable wines.

                                                                                                    1. re: collioure
                                                                                                      z
                                                                                                      zin1953 Jun 29, 2013 10:51 AM

                                                                                                      Thank you for failing to answer the questions.

                                                                                        5. re: collioure
                                                                                          Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:17 PM

                                                                                          <<Generally, they are allowed to order one glass of wine.>>

                                                                                          I am not sure where you are getting that info.

                                                                                          I review a lot of restaurants over the course of a year. As I love food, and wine, and especially food & wine, I order what I want, and review every aspect.

                                                                                          I cannot help but think that you and I are talking about totally different things.

                                                                                          Please help me understand. Who limits a reviewer to "one glass of wine?"

                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                            z
                                                                                            zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 08:32 PM

                                                                                            Yeah, well . . .

                                                                                            1. re: zin1953
                                                                                              Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 09:09 PM

                                                                                              Jason,

                                                                                              Must be too late, or too much Domaine Mugneret, Nuits-Saint-George, Les Fleurières," 2008, but I cannot understand what you are saying.

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                            2. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                              c
                                                                                              collioure Jun 26, 2013 08:57 PM

                                                                                              The publication that pays for his meal and his salary.

                                                                                              1. re: collioure
                                                                                                Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 09:07 PM

                                                                                                Well, in that case, how much faith can we place on that reviewer's report?

                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                  c
                                                                                                  collioure Jun 27, 2013 12:42 AM

                                                                                                  Well, in my experience that's how independent critics work incognito. They have a meal with perhaps a glass of wine. They independently review the food, service, ambiance . . . and perhaps the glass of wine too.

                                                                                                  You only know they've been there when you read the review and try to match their report to someone who had such food and asked a few too many questions.

                                                                                                  Of course, in smaller markets you may know what the few critic look like. In larger markets with many more reviewers you probably won't.

                                                                                                  1. re: collioure
                                                                                                    Bill Hunt Jun 27, 2013 08:16 PM

                                                                                                    How good is such a reviewer?

                                                                                                    Hunt

                                                                                                2. re: collioure
                                                                                                  z
                                                                                                  zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 09:33 PM

                                                                                                  And as I asked before, how do you know that?

                                                                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                    maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:37 AM

                                                                                                    Yeah, I don't get it. There's always plenty of wine and a mass of dishes when reviewing, if not on one visit then on several dining visits.

                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                                      ipsedixit Jun 27, 2013 09:11 AM

                                                                                                      I've talked to a few reviewers (some from major metro newspapers) and they generally did not have a spending cap, a budget maybe, but no hard cap.

                                                                                                      Not sure where collioure is coming from on this point.

                                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                        c
                                                                                                        collioure Jun 27, 2013 10:48 AM

                                                                                                        FYI I did use the word "budget" here.

                                                                                                        The point is that they are spending money, and these are tight times, esp for print media which are folding right and left.

                                                                                                        So they are going to order a meal, maybe two, and not splurge.

                                                                                          2. j
                                                                                            Julian Teoh Jun 26, 2013 01:47 AM

                                                                                            I think the reason is that you cannot visit the restaurant without eating its food, but you can quite easily go into the restaurant without ordering its wine or talking to its sommelier.

                                                                                            As said upthread, a lot of people bring their own wine. Some people do not drink wine with their meals, while others order wine just to have an alcoholic beverage on their table. Together, that's a fair proportion of the dining public whose care factor is negligible. The critic has a limited amount of ink to spill, so why not serve the essential purpose?

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Julian Teoh
                                                                                              Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:32 PM

                                                                                              Well, I cannot. I will review ALL aspects, and the wine is a big part of that.

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                j
                                                                                                Julian Teoh Jul 1, 2013 11:35 PM

                                                                                                Bill,

                                                                                                I suspect you are a minority in that respect. As are a lot of us on this forum to some varying degree, myself included.

                                                                                                In my part of the world, where mark-ups are aggravated by wanton greed, I find myself conducting my own due diligence on wine lists before selecting a venue. And I do this because I accept that reviewers aren't catering to people liek you and me. Firstly. restaurant reviews are fundamentally about food (any points scores, etc. are typically heavily weighted in favour of food), and parameters for criteria such as "value" are a lot more subjective and pliable when it comes to wine.

                                                                                                Also, unless the critic is going to go to the lengths of ordering numerous different bottles of wine and seeing how the sommelier prepares each bottle, his critique of wine service will be more based on generalisation and overarching comment.

                                                                                                1. re: Julian Teoh
                                                                                                  Bill Hunt Jul 2, 2013 06:56 PM

                                                                                                  Julian,

                                                                                                  I often find myself in one "minority," or another.

                                                                                                  I agree that finding full reviews, including wines, can be tough to come by.

                                                                                                  Once, I thought that I could rely on the "Wine Spectator," regarding wines at restaurants. It did not take too long, for me to realize that, though "wine" was in their name, they seemed to know nothing of it, related to many restaurants. I was amazed, and greatly saddened. I realized that they were not a good source of information, as they were handing out Grand Awards to restaurants, that served US$ 300 Cabs in "jelly jars," and refusing to decant younger reds, even at very high price-points. The concept of caraffing a young Montrachet was totally alien to most. Nothing to recommend those restaurants' wine programs, regardless of the awards.

                                                                                                  I found that coming to CH, and being specific about what we wanted, when visiting new areas, was MUCH better, and yielded very useful recommendations.

                                                                                                  For us, wine IS part of nearly every meal - whether at home, or away.

                                                                                                  Reading "Travel+Leisure," "Food & Wine," "Southern Living," "Departures," et al, I seldom get a true feel for great restaurants, with great wine programs.

                                                                                                  I have also found that Yelp is not of much use, as it seems that few there even know what wine is, and seldom relate it to pairing with food.

                                                                                                  You are correct. I am in a minority.

                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                            2. law_doc89 Jun 26, 2013 07:54 AM

                                                                                              There was a time no too long ago when wine was a narrow affair. Although there have been numerous wine regions around the world for thousands of years, what passed for wine knowledge was narrow, and, as a result, something many could master. Now, there has been an explosion of wine technologies, increased quality, and expansion of styles. I would say that very few people really have true expertise anymore, and the number of poseurs has always been larger than the number with true knowledge anyway, so it is just worse now than ever in reviews.

                                                                                              Anyone remember the N Y Tines blind tasting that caught most “experts” with their pants down?

                                                                                              Furthermore, there seems to more emphasis on size and diversity of wine lists in reviews than on whether the wine list makes sense for a particular restaurant or cuisine. A small, but focused list reflecting actual knowledge is much better than some blunderbuss. It is like the restaurants with huge menus of all sorts of different kinds f cuisine; you can bet that it is mediocre if not down right awful.

                                                                                              11 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: law_doc89
                                                                                                Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:35 PM

                                                                                                "Expertise?" Well maybe not. "Knowledge," however is a different thing, at least to me.

                                                                                                I will never know everything about wine. I will never know everything about even a small sub-Region, or maybe even a vineyard (think Burgundy here), but I do know wine, as I know food, predicated on MY palate, and my preferences.

                                                                                                That is how I grade a restaurant.

                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                                1. re: law_doc89
                                                                                                  z
                                                                                                  zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 09:30 PM

                                                                                                  I would disagree to a considerable extent with what you said, but not completely by any means.

                                                                                                  >>> There was a time no too long ago when wine was a narrow affair. Although there have been numerous wine regions around the world for thousands of years, what passed for wine knowledge was narrow, and, as a result, something many could master. Now, there has been an explosion of wine technologies, increased quality, and expansion of styles. I would say that very few people really have true expertise anymore, and the number of poseurs has always been larger than the number with true knowledge anyway, so it is just worse now than ever in reviews. <<<

                                                                                                  When I entered the wine trade in 1969 -- well, that's when I started getting paid, at least -- it is true I didn't need to learn/know about South America, for example, or South Africa. But, at the same time, I didn't need to have an advances WSET degree, an MW or an MS diploma. either.

                                                                                                  Now, I admit that there are vast areas of the wine world that I know little or next-to-nothing about. I know very little about the wines of Turkey, for example, or of North Africa. Nor do I know much about the wines of China, India, Thailand, etc. I know a little more about the wines of Chile and Argentina, but very little about the wines of Brazil and Uruguay. I know something about Chateau Musar, but very little about other wines of Lebanon or of Israel.

                                                                                                  I know much more about the wines of Oregon and Washington than I do the other states, with some exceptions for specific wineries in Missouri, Virginia, New England, and New York.

                                                                                                  And for whatever it's worth, I know less about Italian and German wines today than I did in the 1970s and 1980s, whereas I know a lot more today about Spanish and Portuguese wines than I did back then.

                                                                                                  So, yes, it's true that most people do "specialize" to a certain extent, but by no means it that true for everyone.

                                                                                                  >>> Anyone remember the N Y Tines blind tasting that caught most “experts” with their pants down? <<<

                                                                                                  Yes, and as Harry Waugh replied, when asked if he'd ever mistaken a Burgundy for a Bordeaux, "Not since lunch."

                                                                                                  Wine tasting is *not* scientific. It is not objective. It is subjective. This is precisely why judges are given a flight of 3-100 wines (depending upon the competition) with the instructions, "Go forth and evaluate." Rather, we are given anywhere from 3-10 glasses of wine at a time and told, "These are [e.g.] Cabernets; go forth and evaluate."

                                                                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                    law_doc89 Jun 27, 2013 04:58 AM

                                                                                                    We're not really disagreeing at all. There is a growth of what is now routinely expected to be main stream, and it is probably beyond the ability to be truly experienced broadly.

                                                                                                    On the other hand there are more poseurs out there than those who truly know. The trick for me is always trying to discern between the two groups.

                                                                                                  2. re: law_doc89
                                                                                                    j
                                                                                                    john gonzales Jun 27, 2013 09:19 AM

                                                                                                    Now see here is perhaps an example of why this wine topic (like most about wine) is so subjective. I tend to disagree with both of your premises.

                                                                                                    First off, yes the entire range of wine information has expanded. But the main wine regions of the world and typical varietals have not changed dramtically. More importantly, even if one accepts the premise that the totality of information has grown, I believe that the number of people possessing a moderate range of wine knowledge has grown at even a larger clip. I would guess that the average knowledge of American food critics has grown because our food culture has become more closely tied to wine AND there are just many more sources of information for EVERYONE.
                                                                                                    Evaluating most current wine programs for a paragraph is going to rely much more on general knowledge than specific knowledge. I.e. if one knows stems, temp, pouring practice, prices, and a general region; it is probably not a deal-breaker that one does not know a particular Slovenian white from another. So IMO, for this discussion, the proliferation of basic knowledge among people is more important than the proliferation of esoteric information that many "experts" have not kept up with.

                                                                                                    I also question the value of a small focused list as opposed to a much larger list. I definitely agree that there are wines that match certain foods well and there can be wines that are regionally tied to foods. Where I differ from many of the list designers and somms these days is whether EVERYONE wants to drink the pairings that they feel are best. In the end the diner should be able to find a wine that THEY are satisfied with and want to drink. A list or somm might promote an esoteric wine that indeed is a decent suggestion for someone that has a proclivity toward a mainstream style. But that is often not a success and often people do not want to experiment, especially at restaurant mark-ups. There is a new LA Italian place that is a good example of the problem IMO. They have a small list of esoteric selections with a disproportionate number of very lean Italian whites and also the oxidative whites. I like the somm.. He's passionate and knowledgeable. Though I will say that many of this young breed seem like very similar "Raj Parr disciples". Anyhow we had a decent discussion about wine and he suggested a white for me. I did not like it at all, even though it was a decent match for the food. I know my share about wine and certainly know what I like. People are different and a list needs to be broad enough to account for that. In my case, I'm happy to drink a Barolo or Tuscan red with a meat dish from Sicily even though I realize those are not classically correct regional pairings. Honestly, I do not really care much that the families in an obscure region of Europe have been drinking a wine of indeginous grapes with a food for centuries. That might indeed make it a decent pairing, but it does not result in most people believing that it is their preferred pairing.

                                                                                                    This particular place got some postive reviews for having the small, esoteric, interesting list. At the same time they weren't selling a lot of wine, especially repeats. They also saw a large number of byobers. The corkage did not start off as cheap, but they have chosen to make it more restrictive twice. My opinion is that a restaurant can and should promote interesting selections. At the same time they should have selection geared toward the mainstream drinkers. In the end the idea is for the diner to enjoy what they pay for. Not necessarily to be educated as to the somm's philosophy, adventure, or be broken of their inappropriate wine preferences. Some might appreciate those things, but not all.

                                                                                                    1. re: john gonzales
                                                                                                      z
                                                                                                      zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 10:10 AM

                                                                                                      And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why there's more than one winery, more than one restaurant, on the planet!

                                                                                                      Permit me a story, if you will . . .

                                                                                                      / / / / /

                                                                                                      John, in my formative years (and keep in mind that I started out in retail), I was watching my uncle on the sales floor -- he owning a fine wine shop in the days that everyone else had liquor stores; back then, there were FIVE great wine stores in LA, from Hermosa Beach to Pasadena -- and someone came up to him and (basically) said, "I'm having steak for dinner tonight; what should I serve?" After having sold him some wine (let's say it was a 1968 BV Private Reserve Cab), another customer who was waiting for him to finish with the first one, said, "I'm have steak tonight; what should I serve?" When my uncle recommended another wine (let's say it was a '66 Châteauneuf-du-Pape), the customer was irate, and couldn't understand why he was getting a different recommendation than the previous customer!

                                                                                                      Now, my uncle tried to explain the differences in the cuts of meat, and in preparation, but eventually said something along the lines of "Take the BV, you'll love it!" Only then, was the customer satisfied.

                                                                                                      My uncle then walked over to me and said, You know, someday they'll have a supermarket full of wine, and instead of the aisle markers saying "Pet Food / "Picnic Supplies" or "Breakfast Cereal / Snacks," they'll read "Aisle 1 - Beef," "Aisle 2 - Lamb" and so on. And ALL the wines that go with beef, that go with lamb, will be in those aisles -- there will be bottles labeled "Château Lamb Chop" and "Domaine Rack of Lamb"; "Leg o'Lamb Vineyards" and "Butterflied Leg Cellars" . . .

                                                                                                      / / / / /

                                                                                                      >>> I also question the value of a small focused list as opposed to a much larger list. <<<

                                                                                                      Some of us *prefer* a small, well-thought out wine list, rather than the OED. To me, the OED-type of wine list is actually thoughtless, and lazy. It's more thee "let's throw everything against the wall, and see what sticks!" approach. It's "if we carry everything under the sun, then everyone will be able to fine what they want." The wine buyer doesn't need to know anything; he/she just needs the restaurant owner to have deep pockets. And at some point, the large wine list becomes its own reason for being; it justifies itself by being itself. ("We have everything." Uh-oh, something else just came out, better buy it!)

                                                                                                      >>> I definitely agree that there are wines that match certain foods well and there can be wines that are regionally tied to foods. Where I differ from many of the list designers and somms these days is whether EVERYONE wants to drink the pairings that they feel are best. In the end the diner should be able to find a wine that THEY are satisfied with and want to drink. <<<

                                                                                                      I agree. And that's the point of my story above. There is ALWAYS more than one wine to go with a particular food or dish, and what you may think it the perfect match may not appeal to me in the slightest! (And vice-versa.)

                                                                                                      >>> In my case, I'm happy to drink a Barolo or Tuscan red with a meat dish from Sicily even though I realize those are not classically correct regional pairings. <<<

                                                                                                      At least here in the US, a small, well-thought out list doesn't have to (for example) *only* be Italian. (And who gives a damn about "classically correct"? Am *I* -- the dining patron -- going to like it? That's the only thing that matters.) But if all you make (I'm making it easy) is a variety of savory pizzas, do you need to have a Sauternes or a Vin Santo on the list? (Presuming you don't sell desserts or coffee.) Probably not, you want a variety of wines that will compliment your cuisine. But that doesn't mean you *have* to only carry Italian wines, or Italian and Californian . . . Oliveto's in Oakland, and Valentino's in LA certainly sells non-Italian wines, including Burgundies or even wines from Argentina.

                                                                                                      But at some point the larger lists become unwieldy if not overwhelming to the customer . . . you don't need that many wines. Turn-over is a b*tch, and too much cash is tied up in non-selling inventory.

                                                                                                      Just my 2¢, and worth far less, I'm sure.

                                                                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                        j
                                                                                                        john gonzales Jun 27, 2013 12:20 PM

                                                                                                        I don't think we are that far apart in opinion.
                                                                                                        The particular list I am referring to does not have 20 wines on it and they are concentrated as I describe. I went to another highly regarded Italian place last week with more wines, maybe 40. Only two non-italian producers. One was Donkey and Goat (the other Liocco). Conspicuously absent were Italian reds that most people know. I could probably navigate it and find something acceptable, though I actually doubt there was anything there that I would have enjoyed more than the aged Tig and Valdicava Brunello we brought.

                                                                                                        I see your point, but many (incl myself more than you) don't really care much how much the somm knows or whether wines are mainstream. I actually tend to not like to experiment with wines at restaurants. Here in L.A., with access to the trade, I can find just about any wine I'd look for. Someone like Roberto at Wine Expo, or the guys at Wine House have a lot of Italian. I can buy an unkown $40 Italian red to try. The odds are much greater that I will not like or really like it than with things I already know. But one does have to explore so it's worth it. I guess I am cheap, but I am much more likely to be dissatisfied if I pay $125 for that wine on a winelist.
                                                                                                        But all that aside, I just don't get what is necessarily wrong with having a list of forty wines that you or a somm might find thoughtful and unique, but also ten others that are more mainstream. If you to a retail shop that has ome ncool stuff, does it matter if they have a stack of Yellowtail and Castle Rock next to it?The main reason would be cost/inventory and whether those ten displace a different selection. But those ten will sell and the people that want them will enjoy them. There is a limit to how much people want to drink outside their box at restaurant prices. That's in part why many lists are mainstream. It sells. There's some value to trying to sell someone on something new, but there's also an arrogance involved in thinking one knows what is better for the customer and a big risk in predicting how something will taste to another. A lot of times we do paired wine dinners at home. I might pair a lean chablis with an early seafood course. If I gather that someone doesn't love the chablis or loves a buttery Cal chard, I'll get them a glass. I want them to have what they will enjoy the most if they feel through trying the chablis or having had it in the past that it is not their choice, I'll get them something else. At a restaurant, unlike my house, the patron is paying. You don't like chard, but they love it. Sell it to them, make them happy, and make your money. It's not an offense to the cuisine or the list makers expertise to have someone drink a glass of Cal chardonnay.

                                                                                                        In the end we may be talking about the same thing. I have no problem with fifty+ selection list that concetrates on a particular slant but has some options.

                                                                                                        1. re: john gonzales
                                                                                                          z
                                                                                                          zin1953 Jun 27, 2013 02:35 PM

                                                                                                          Danger! Danger! Warning, Will Robinson . . . Thread Drift Approaching!

                                                                                                          (Sorry, I'm having a flashback due, no doubt, to my Beverly Hills upbringing!)

                                                                                                          >>> Someone like Roberto at Wine Expo, or the guys at Wine House have a lot of Italian. I can buy an unkown $40 Italian red to try. The odds are much greater that I will not like or really like it than with things I already know . . . <<<

                                                                                                          Leaving Roberto's eccentricities out of the discussion for the moment, I would be VERY surprised -- not to mention highly disappointed -- if you did not like than unknown $40 Italian red, period! I would hope that you would like that $20 Italian red at least as much as things you already know; that $40 bottle *should* be better . . . unless all you're drinking are single cru Barbarescos, in which case -- yes -- that $40 bottle may be something of a disappointment.

                                                                                                          Any decent retailer should be taking the time to ASK you questions re: the wines you know you already like, and what sort of thing you're looking for now, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, they should be asking you for feedback on their recommendations.

                                                                                                          The more you can tell them, and the more feedback you can provide, means the better (my) recommendations will be to you in the future. In other words, the more I get to know *your* palate, the closer to the center target of that bull's-eye my suggestions will/should be.

                                                                                                          I *always* asked my customers for feedback on my recommendations; on the types of wines -- specifically -- they like (i.e.: not just Cabernet, not just Napa Valley Cabernet, but Mayacamas Cabernet [as opposed to Caymus, for example]); AND, if they have a particular occasion in mind, what's being served, how is it being prepared, etc., etc.

                                                                                                          1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                            j
                                                                                                            john gonzales Jun 27, 2013 03:30 PM

                                                                                                            What I meant is that experimenting is a crapshoot. I like Roberto (eg) he knows his stuff, but I am just not that likely to really love his Italian suggestions as I am with things I know. Even if we have a long drawn out discussion of what I like. A part of that is that I just do not love some of tendencies of many Italian reds, even those that might lean toward my style. But I will ocasionally find something that I do like. However the return/cost equation for that experimenting is not typically as good as the return/cost I get buying one of a thousand wines I have more familiarity with.
                                                                                                            The points are that: A) the somm with a 40 wine list does not really have as much time to discuss my preferences with me and with 40 wines he is not as likely to have many wines that fit a niche preference that is not the same as his. B) experimenting at 4x wholesale is by nature going to have a lesser return/cost ratio. Those $125+ bottle misses sting. I experiment at retail, at tastings, and with friendsa nd will try everything. I just would rather chose not to do so on the occasion of my most costly expenditures mark-up wise.

                                                                                                          2. re: john gonzales
                                                                                                            c
                                                                                                            condiment Jun 28, 2013 01:06 AM

                                                                                                            I know exactly what restaurants you're referring to. And part of their appeal is the smallish, focused lists concentrating on wines that the somms specifically find exciting, and that go well with the food. (There are a couple of Venice places, and probably Manfred Krankl's original list at Campanile back in the late '80s, that follow those guidelines too.) Most people won't have heard of the wines, most likely, they will probably be biodynamic or made from varietals that don't even make it onto MW exams, and they add to the dining experience in a way that no Gaja/Antinori list ever will. They are also exactly the kind of wine lists restaurant critics do tend to write about.

                                                                                                            1. re: condiment
                                                                                                              j
                                                                                                              john gonzales Jun 28, 2013 09:56 AM

                                                                                                              Here's what I can say about those lists. The wine people don't GENERALLY appreciate them that much. They get a LOT of byo and they aren't corkage friendly as far as price and stemware. So why is that? They also do not sell as much wine as they'd like and get a lot of people that just pass. Luckily for them they have bars so the revenue is not necessarily lost. I also think that the part of the appeal that is their list is VERY small, especially for the one with the shorter list. They have great food and scene. There are three people that don't like those lists for every person that does.

                                                                                                              I don't disagree that some of the selections "add excitment". But again question what placing an (eg Antinori) wine on a list that a somm does not find "exciting" does to destroy the benefit of having the same exciting wines on a list? Note, since you know these places, that they are not shallow pocket Mom-Pop operations. Also, I did not necessarily say Antinori. There are less commercial producers all through Tuscany and Piedmont

                                                                                                              My belief is that it does not have to be an either or. The reason lists are crafted like this is in part the ego of the creator. Plus the fact that it is much easier to charge max mark-up on wines that no one knows about. I can't exactly recall Manfred's list in the late 80s, but went there qyite a bit from opening onward. His list was not as obscure as I am talking about. Btw, if you want "evidence" about ego search for the somm quote to Eaterla. To paraphrase he recounted a woman bringing a bottle into the restaurant. She commented to him that he must recognize the wine. A Valdicava. He recounted that he wanted to tell her that it was a modern-styled piece of shit. He said that he opened it with a not so genuine smile. Who says that in a publication?

                                                                                                              What's funny, and I didn't realize it until afterward, is that one of my group brought a 99 Valdicava Brunello. Maybe that's why he ignored us. It blew the socks of the white he suggested to us, and IMO there wasn't a better wine on the list. Ditto the 07 Tig. We were seven people; all serious winos, including a chef and all agreed. Yes it's a broader framed wine, but if one thinks it clashes with the likes of lardo, pork chop, lamb ragu, I'd say one is quite limited in their understanding of how people pair.

                                                                                                              1. re: john gonzales
                                                                                                                c
                                                                                                                condiment Jun 29, 2013 12:37 PM

                                                                                                                You make an interesting point. For the kind of new Italian restaurants we're talking about, a wine director could 1. stock up on the great names, which will probably be too expensive for the crowd and definitely be too young; 2. stock up on the usual suspects; or 3. concentrate on the funky end of things, where he or she can put together an extremely interesting list that goes with the food and excites wine geeks, probably youngish, who are excited by the world of esoteric wines. I wouldn't turn down a Valdicava, of the international style and high Parker scores, but it probably wouldn't rock my world, either.

                                                                                                                You did help me understand why the tables of older wine geeks I see at those places always seem to bring their own stash, though. I thank you for that.

                                                                                                    2. Robert Lauriston Jun 26, 2013 08:34 AM

                                                                                                      Some restaurant critics know enough about food to judge a menu, some enough about wine to judge a list, some both, some neither. Who belongs to which category is debatable.

                                                                                                      The main restaurant critic in San Francisco, Michael Bauer, knows little enough about wine that he outsourced that part of his job to a Texas wine writer.

                                                                                                      Except for Michelin inspectors, few restaurant critics have any relevant formal training. Two of the critics I know went to culinary school, but that's not entirely on point for reviewing things from the customer's perspective.

                                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                        z
                                                                                                        zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 12:31 PM

                                                                                                        >>> The main restaurant critic in San Francisco, Michael Bauer, knows little enough about wine that he outsourced that part of his job to a Texas wine writer. <<<

                                                                                                        Does he like Viognier? (Sorry.)

                                                                                                        Well, this does explain, in part, why Bauer described a barrel-fermented Chardonnay with a lot of new oak as "Chablis-like."

                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                          p
                                                                                                          plaidbowtie Jun 26, 2013 02:39 PM

                                                                                                          I went to a seminar once where John Kongsgaard referred to "The Judge" as Chablis-like. Maybe he and Michael are buddies. hah.

                                                                                                          1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                                                            j
                                                                                                            john gonzales Jun 26, 2013 03:38 PM

                                                                                                            In the vast ocean of Cal Chard, the comparison would slightly apply to The Judge more than most. Sometimes comments like that are way off the mark for a person of good knowledge. For someone that really didn't know the nuances of different Chard based wines, it probably has some value.

                                                                                                            1. re: john gonzales
                                                                                                              p
                                                                                                              plaidbowtie Jun 26, 2013 03:46 PM

                                                                                                              I would agree with the notion that The Judge is in the top tiers of quality for Cali Chard, and that despite some vintages having literal 200% new oak (1 year in all new barrels, then transferred to a new set of new barrels for another year), it holds it well. Comparing that to even the richer oaked styles of Chablis though, is still a huge stretch. Maybe 09 Chablis, but those have been so ripe they aren't typical of the region.

                                                                                                          2. re: zin1953
                                                                                                            Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:37 PM

                                                                                                            Um-m-m "mistake" there, but then I do not get the "big bucks," from the local media.

                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                        2. cowboyardee Jun 26, 2013 03:35 PM

                                                                                                          Another factor:

                                                                                                          If you want to see a detailed review of the food a restaurant makes, you must read a reviewer who ate there.

                                                                                                          But if you want to see a review of the wine a restaurant sells, in far more cases than not, you can just look up their wine list and then look up reviews of those wines separately. Wines aren't often made in house.

                                                                                                          (course I'm overlooking the 'pairing' aspect. But to be honest, I'm not convinced you need a wine expert to tell you whether a pairing worked well)

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                                                            Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:40 PM

                                                                                                            To me, the most useful review is of the restaurant, its food, the wine list, and how that works with the food offered - the pairings available.

                                                                                                            That is a fine line, but shows (to me, at least), the focus of the restaurant, or the chef.

                                                                                                            Does the wine list match, or is it filled with the "usual suspects," regardless of how well, or how poorly, the wines work with the food.

                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                              maria lorraine Jun 27, 2013 12:44 AM

                                                                                                              Precisely.

                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                                                ipsedixit Jun 27, 2013 09:12 AM

                                                                                                                Yes, indeed.

                                                                                                          2. p
                                                                                                            plasticanimal Jun 26, 2013 03:45 PM

                                                                                                            A close friend of mine is a music critic, and he let me in on the dirty secret of lifestyle journalism: Your only qualification as a writer is to be able to quickly hand in copy. Expertise is nice, but almost beside the point.

                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: plasticanimal
                                                                                                              Robert Lauriston Jun 26, 2013 04:30 PM

                                                                                                              Depends on the publication.

                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
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                                                                                                                zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 05:30 PM

                                                                                                                Robert, you too are correct. It *does* depend upon the publication. The New York Times hired Ruth Reichl after she worked for the Los Angeles Times, which hired her after she wrote for New West. But before that, she was a chef (or cook, as she describes herself) at Swallow restaurant here in Berkeley.

                                                                                                                Now in her case, she turned out to be an excellent writer, but not all chefs/cooks can write . . . and in many cases, the restaurant critic (or wine writer) did indeed come off the Sports desk.

                                                                                                                Michael Bauer has been at the San Francisco Chronicle for 25+ years, but what he wrote about at the Kansas City Star or the Dallas Times-Herald, I have no idea.

                                                                                                                Dan Berger started at the San Diego Union as a sports writer. Then he wrote about business, and eventually gave the wine column a try . . .

                                                                                                                1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                                  w
                                                                                                                  wewwew Jun 29, 2013 05:19 PM

                                                                                                                  Walking through the PFA passageway was a trial for the nose and eating at the Swallow was a punishment. If anybody cooked that stuff they weren't a cook, just a broken food processor.

                                                                                                                  1. re: wewwew
                                                                                                                    Robert Lauriston Jun 30, 2013 09:54 AM

                                                                                                                    I heard the Swallow Collective Cafe was good in the mid-70s when Reichl was cooking there. There were no chefs, it wasn't a conventional restaurant.

                                                                                                                    http://www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeley...

                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                      w
                                                                                                                      wewwew Jun 30, 2013 10:52 AM

                                                                                                                      I was there in the mid-70's, that is when I am referring to. It was then the smell in the PFA corridor reminded a whole lot of people of their dreaded high school. The food was widely and wisely avoided by the multitude. Calling it unconventional might address the lack of a chef title but does not get around the fact that the food from memorably dead bread to mystery soup was to be avoided in spite of the convenience of the location.

                                                                                                              2. re: plasticanimal
                                                                                                                z
                                                                                                                zin1953 Jun 26, 2013 05:20 PM

                                                                                                                Agreed. Far too often, the restaurant critic (or wine columnist) is the sports writer or even the intern who has a passing interest in dining (or wines), and is told by the "Lifestyles" editor, or the "Food" section editor, or whomever is responsible for these sorts of things, "Hey, kid -- go review that new place over on 6th . . . yeah, we'll reimburse you, but DON'T GET THE LOBSTER!"

                                                                                                                1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                                  Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:45 PM

                                                                                                                  A food, and/or wine critic needs to establish themselves. Some know, and some do not. Still, it's like a secretary, handed a copy of Adobe InDesign, and tasked with producing ads, it is not easy, and "templates" cannot make up for expertise.

                                                                                                                  Some know, but many do not - the job is thrust upon them, and they struggle though.

                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                                2. re: plasticanimal
                                                                                                                  Bill Hunt Jun 26, 2013 08:41 PM

                                                                                                                  In too many cases, that is true.

                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                                3. w
                                                                                                                  wewwew Jul 8, 2013 05:40 PM

                                                                                                                  Many interesting turns, well stated ideas, worth following.
                                                                                                                  Some base lines for wine service would be welcome, if a wine reviewer could help with this that would be fine. Restaurant service could use some common expectations, what happens first then next and how might these be done well. Boards are replete with complaints that stem from different conceptions of what should be.

                                                                                                                  1. law_doc89 Jul 9, 2013 07:37 PM

                                                                                                                    Ate, last week, at a very nice, ambitious restaurant in Maine. The Somm was off for the night and there was no back up. What do you make of that?

                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: law_doc89
                                                                                                                      z
                                                                                                                      zin1953 Jul 9, 2013 09:55 PM

                                                                                                                      Bad restaurant management . . . then again, this presumes the "sommelier" was, in fact, good at his/her job, and not merely a waiter that likes wine and took on the added responsibility.

                                                                                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                                                                                        law_doc89 Jul 10, 2013 04:39 AM

                                                                                                                        My point, exactly.

                                                                                                                        But wine drinkers should do better than that!

                                                                                                                        http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/t...

                                                                                                                    2. Bill Hunt Jul 10, 2013 08:54 PM

                                                                                                                      Following this thread, I have changed my mind.

                                                                                                                      Yes, MOST food critics ARE ill-equipped to review any restaurants' wine list.

                                                                                                                      OTOH, it also seems that too many patrons are too dumb to use any wine list info, so it's a wash. Dumb reviewers, and dumb readers. Works out well.

                                                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                                                      15 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
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                                                                                                                        collioure Jul 11, 2013 05:26 AM

                                                                                                                        Yes, Bill, but what about those of us who would like a few words in advance on the wine scene/list before we arrive?

                                                                                                                        FYI it's coming some day as a smart phone app to our special audience.

                                                                                                                        1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                          Bill Hunt Jul 12, 2013 08:42 PM

                                                                                                                          If a restaurant reviewer has not covered the "wine scene," then it is the responsibility of the inquiring poster to ask about that too.

                                                                                                                          I try to cover all bases, as I care about all bases.

                                                                                                                          Good luck,

                                                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                                            c
                                                                                                                            collioure Jul 12, 2013 09:12 PM

                                                                                                                            Bill, the kind of info we'd like in advance just won't be in a restaurant review.

                                                                                                                            1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                              Bill Hunt Jul 12, 2013 09:16 PM

                                                                                                                              Then that is the problem with the reviewer. I'd just never look to them, for viable input.

                                                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                                                c
                                                                                                                                collioure Jul 12, 2013 09:21 PM

                                                                                                                                No, that's our problem. We're going to have to find another resource for restaurant wine reviews.

                                                                                                                                1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                                  Bill Hunt Jul 12, 2013 09:35 PM

                                                                                                                                  See, if you were to read one of my reviews, and not be able to tell about the wine program there, then I would have failed.

                                                                                                                                  Others? Well, they do not answer to me.

                                                                                                                                  Enjoy,

                                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                                                  1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                                    Fowler Jul 12, 2013 09:42 PM

                                                                                                                                    >>>No, that's our problem<<<

                                                                                                                                    "Our" problem or your problem? There is a significant difference.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Fowler
                                                                                                                                      c
                                                                                                                                      collioure Jul 12, 2013 09:47 PM

                                                                                                                                      No, OUR problem. We, a distinct minority, want to read more in restaurant reviews about a restaurant's wine program.

                                                                                                                                      And it just isn't going to be there.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                                        Fowler Jul 12, 2013 09:51 PM

                                                                                                                                        Sounds like YOUR problem.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Fowler
                                                                                                                                          c
                                                                                                                                          collioure Jul 12, 2013 09:54 PM

                                                                                                                                          Not a problem for me here in France or anywhere for that matter. I navigate wine lists very well, thank you.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                                            Fowler Jul 12, 2013 10:01 PM

                                                                                                                                            Then why waste Bill's time by saying "that's our problem" and turn around and say it is not a problem.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Fowler
                                                                                                                                              c
                                                                                                                                              collioure Jul 12, 2013 10:16 PM

                                                                                                                                              As wine consumers it's our problem to figure out how to get good info to wine-consuming restaurant clients. In the US it's just not going to come from your everyday restaurant reviewers and their editors.

                                                                                                                                              Personally it's not a problem for me here in France.

                                                                                                                            2. re: collioure
                                                                                                                              c
                                                                                                                              collioure Apr 14, 2014 01:47 AM

                                                                                                                              Collioure may not know nearly as much as you do about wine, but he is a visionary.

                                                                                                                              Here for your iPhone is Wine Spectator WineRatings+ https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vinta...
                                                                                                                              300,000 references from Wine Spectator.
                                                                                                                              (Yes, I know, but better wine reference apps will follow in time).

                                                                                                                              No, it's not reviews of restaurant wine programs, but it's the best you're going to get in this venue.

                                                                                                                              1. re: collioure
                                                                                                                                Robert Lauriston Apr 14, 2014 08:31 AM

                                                                                                                                If your phone is online, you can access lots of tasting notes on cellartracker.com.

                                                                                                                            3. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                                                                              b
                                                                                                                              BoneAppetite Apr 14, 2014 07:30 PM

                                                                                                                              Just as they are ill-equipped to comment on the food the restaurant's kitchen has put on the place, . . . because unless you can cook half as well as the kitchen you are reviewing, you are clueless, a tosser, a wanker, and worse . . .

                                                                                                                              Mr. Hint, you have a head for math . . .

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