A wine magazine of some repute regularly publishes a list of restaurants to whom it gives awards for the quality of their wine lists.
The relevance of such awards tends to be lost on me since over the years I have found such lists to be ludicrously overpriced — so much so that the only people who could care are those who’ve recently won mega millions in a lottery.
Perhaps the best wine list in the country (the world?) is at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Fla., created decades ago by the late owner, Bern Laxer. Perusing the multipage book would take an expert more than an hour, and even then making a decision on what to consume for the evening becomes daunting.
But values may be found there. All that’s required is wine expertise.
Beyond price, restaurants with huge wine lists frequently list wines they do not actually have.
Twenty-odd years ago, I went to two different Los Angeles restaurants that had gotten frame-able awards for their lists and tried ordering good values. Not one of the wines I ordered at both places was in stock, but I was offered bait-and-switch alternatives that were a lot more expensive, and not nearly as good as what I had ordered.
And the pitfalls with award-winning lists are readily evident: the Chinese or Thai restaurant without a single bottle of riesling; the steakhouse with awful selections that simply do not go with steak; the trattoria with no Chianti or any other Italian wine.
Many lists clearly benefit the restaurant’s bottom line and not diners. Some places try to show off their “expertise” by offering obscure wines on the theory that obscurity also means consumers won’t know how much of a rip-off they are.
Lists that feature vertical collections of every wine from high-image producers may be impressive, but do most consumers have any interest in 1969 Château Latour?
The only candidate to buy that wine is someone who knows nothing about wine, but who’s on an expense account.
A smirking wine waiter will pour a sip. Credit card man will sniff the wine and has no idea what he’s smelling other than the fact that it’s old.
Then he nods that the wine is fine. J. Michael Broadbent, one of the greatest wine tasters in history, wrote of the 1969 Chateau Latour in his book “Vintage Wine:” “… stalky, tannic — and raw.” He rated it with one of his lowest ratings ever.
You might ask why such awards exist when they have so many pitfalls. Here are some other queries one could ask, and suggested answers:
—Does the publication that gives out these awards charge for the right to have restaurant wine lists evaluated? (Suggested answer: yes.)
—How much is charged? (Suggested answer: Between $325 and $375 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 you or me.)
A few general ideas for ordering wine in restaurants:
—Buy the most recent vintage of almost any wine, white or red.
—Wines in screwcaps cannot be ruined by a bad cork, so they are more reliable for immediate consumption.
—Don’t allow restaurants to serve whites too cold or reds too warm.
—Best all-purpose white wine: California or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. (They are usually better values than chardonnay.)
—Best all-purpose red wine: Cotes du Rhone or Beaujolais. (Rarely as over-ripe as and usually less tannic than cabernet sauvignon.)
—Best all-purpose red wine (Italian food): Chianti Classico, Barbera, or Rosso di Montalcino.
—Best all-purpose white wine (Asian food): dry riesling.
—Best all-purpose red wine (steak house): merlot.
—Best wine with salmon or tuna: Pinot noir.
—Best strategy: When in doubt about an obscure wine, Google it to find out more about it.
Wine of the Week: 2012 Poggio Apricale Rosso di Montalcino ($28): The stellar aroma of raspberry, tea, and subtle spice notes is aimed directly at pasta dishes. The wine is relatively fruit driven and more complete with excellent acidity than most Rosso wines I have tried. Imported by and available through Chigazola Merchants, Santa Rosa.