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Award Winning Wine Lists

Size matters in a wine list?

Tome Wine ListsA friend who dines out frequently recently sent me an e-mail in which he referred to a local restaurant that has what he called a “Hey-Look-At-How-Many-Wines-We-Have” wine list.

He added, “You need two guys from Bekins Moving to schlep the book to the table.”

I know this type of wine list. It’s often computer-generated with literally dozens of pages and hundreds of wines, most actually spelled correctly, most with the proper vintages and appellations.

A lot of work goes into such wine lists, not to mention the investment in inventory and the security system. And as is often the case with such lists, some of the wines are so obscure you may never have heard of them. This is by design.

Large wine lists benefit the restaurant, not the diner

This may not be a direct goal of the person choosing the wines, but it clearly benefits the restaurant. The more the place can show off its “expertise” by offering totally obscure wines, the more the staff can look down their noses at you, you poor schnook who has never heard of Picpoul de Pinet.

Such wine lists often have vertical collections of every wine from certain high-image producers, like the one I saw recently that had 30+ consecutive vintages of Château Latour including the “famed” 1969.

I mention the 1969 because I have had that wine a number of times and it is one of the most memorably horrid wines I have ever tasted. One restaurant wine list had it for $450.

Thanks, but no thanks.

The only candidate to buy that 1969 Château Latour is some dolt who knows nothing about wine, but who’s on an expense account (so ultimately, it’s the boss who’s paying) and who is trying to impress a potential client – and the potential client knows even less about wine.

Snooty Waiter with Wine ListThe smirking wine waiter will take the order with a straight face (if that’s possible; he’s hoping for a fat tip from this pricey bottle) and pours the wine for the credit card exec. The guy sniffs the wine and has no idea what he’s smelling other than the fact that it’s old.

And then he nods that the wine is fine. Fine? J. Michael Broadbent, one of the greatest wine tasters in history, wrote of the 1969 Chateau Latour in his book “Vintage Wine,” subtitled, “Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wine”:

“[This wine is] stalky, tannic — and raw.” He rated the wine with one of his lowest ratings ever. Why was it on this wine list? I suspect it was there to have a “complete” vertical collection, even though some of those wines are less than interesting.

Such restaurants usually proudly display their award from some self-proclaimed wine list expert such as a magazine, which has anointed the list with its blessing. As if this is something of which to be proud.

Most such wine lists have one thing in common: They do you and me, regular diners, absolutely no good whatsoever.

In almost all cases, the exalted wines are all priced ludicrously. Finding anything less than three digits is a chore, and even then some of the stuff is Unknown bottles on Wine Listpriced at such multiples of the actual price of the wine that I’m surprised the wine waiters aren’t chuckling all the time.

And what’re they all banking on? That we’ll all be so thrilled to be ordering wine from an “award-winning wine list” that we won’t care that we are paying $122 for a wine we can buy off the retail shelf at the local package store for $45.

So what, exactly, is the meaning of the wine list award?

Rather than answer that question, allow me to ask a few questions:

–Does the publication that gives out these awards charge for the right to have wine lists evaluated? (Suggested answer: yes.)

–How much is charged? (Suggested answer: triple digits per submission.)

–How many restaurants submit their lists for a chance to get this award? (Suggested answer: hundreds.)

–Who benefits most from the issuance of these awards? (Suggested answer: not Mr. And Mrs. Average Diner.)

I would like to offer my congratulations, in person, to all those restaurant wine people who work hard to offer quality wines and keep prices to affordable levels.

But I doubt I’ll have to shake very many hands.

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