The restaurant wine list is often a foreign-sounding and arcane entity that I often think was created to show off the faux expertise of the restaurant.
The categories alone can be daunting: Delicate Whites; Rich, Bold Reds, and other such judgments that are more confusing than helpful. But understanding the wine list needn’t be all that complicated. Here are just a few helpful hints in deciphering some of the abstruse terms.
Wine List terms
–Bold: Usually this is a synonym for “alcoholic.” If you’d like to try such a wine, ask first to see what the alcohol is listed on the label. If it’s 15% or more, it may well not work well with the meal.
–Crisp: A word that tends to show up in many wine list copy, and often is misleading. It has been seen to reference wines that actually have a little bit of residual sugar in them (!) and is used to imply that the wine will be OK with food. I often find that such wines really are too sweet for me, and have rejected them when the word clearly is a lie.
Regions on a Wine List
Some wine list terms refer to wines from European districts. Obviously it is a good idea to know what these mean. What’s good about the following wines is that most are cheaper than more well-known wines.
Here are a few such wines to seek out:
—Beaujolais: This light red wine from the Burgundy district in France is often a great and reasonably priced alternative to more pricier reds, many of which are not good. Two things to keep in mind: Beaujolais Villages (pronounced vil-AHJ) is usually a better wine than simple Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau is best consumed very young, so no older than about a year from the vintage. Also, a wine called Cru Beaujolais is a lot more “serious” a wine than is straight Beaujolais.
—Sancerre: This is a wine district in France’s eastern Loire Valley noted for its distinctive and quite dry Sauvignon Blancs. Wine lists that have a Sancerre often offer it to pair up with seafood with no cream sauces. They can be great values – and such wines age nicely, so older vintages are often worth trying.
–Vouvray: Another Loire Valley white, made from Chenin Blanc, and usually slightly sweet. It can be a nice match for highly seasoned, spicy dishes.
–Barbera: This red wine grape from the Piemonte district of Italy is usually a lot better restaurant choice than is the more expensive, and usually harder and more tannic Barolo. It is lighter in weight than most Barolos and can be a terrific wine to match with pastas in tomato sauces.
–Chablis: This white wine from France is made entirely from Chardonnay but unlike most California versions, Chablis is more delicate and lighter, and thus works nicely with grilled seafood and other dishes that are light and not over-encumbered with heavy sauces.
—Prosecco: An Italian sparkling wine, Prosecco can be slightly sweet and thus a good choice for a large group of people, some of whom prefer a softer wine than Champagne (most of which are a lot more expensive).
Keep in mind that some wine list options are there for people who are not very knowledgeable. The more you know about wine, the better shopper you will be.