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Thoughts on Awful Wine Lists

Thoughts on Awful Wine Lists

Aaron Ayscough | Chef's Blade

Naturally, all of these concerns could be avoided if a restaurant were simply to maintain a friendly, informed staff that understand personality in wine as a virtue, and that can communicate this understanding to guests. That sounds more difficult than it is. It’s essentially just effective customer service, for which unambitious wine programs are a cheap, cynical substitute.

The solution is simply for restaurants to know – and respect – the wines they sell. We know, however, that product knowledge is simpler with widgets and ball-bearings than with the subject of wine, which encompasses chemistry, geography, botany, history, ethnography, even linguistics. Ought we then to excuse most restaurants their pitiful pokey corporate close-out wine lists as simply the result of their having appealed to the most visible (best advertised) source of wine wisdom?

Not really. Working with a small importer – days spent in a dusty non-air conditioned car in glaring sun trying to keep costly wine samples at cool temperatures for the benefit of the few bored skeptical penny-pinching wine buyers around town who even entertain the idea of varying their list and so consent to taste with me – erodes one’s sympathy somewhat. It’s a process of bothering greatly for the sake of so-called wine professionals who don’t want to be bothered. Which is to say that working for a distributor is only endurable if you are someone who genuinely loves the wines you represent. Or if you are someone who is genuinely desperate to make a buck. Small importers are not cash cows and they have no choice: They must hire the former.

Now, say you are a restaurateur: Who would you rather design your wine list?