WINE & DINE COLUMN: What Do You Expect From a Wine List?


Chris Parente

By Chris Parente

There is quite a kerfuffle going on right now in the world of wine. At it’s core, the debate is about what kind of wine list a restaurant should provide for its diners.

The debate was started by a column entitled “Sour Grapes,” by New York Post critic Steve Cuozzo. It the column Cuozzo decries wine lists with no familiar names, and lists that force the diner into a geographic wine selection that matches the cuisine. For example, he cites a Seventh Avenue Greek restaurant with a list of 400 choices, all Greek. Cuozzo also took a shot at a French restaurant which offers a list of “natural” made wines only, which to Cuozzo is code for small, obscure producers.

Not so fast, said wine critic Eric Asimov in the New York Times. In a piece entitled “Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter,” Asimov takes Cuozzo to task. He does admit that Cuozzo’s column asked a “crucial” question about a restaurant’s responsibility to patrons. However, he then basically positions the question as mass market expectations versus restaurants having the right “to stay uncompromisingly true to a vision that may strike some as arcane.”

Cuozzo also gets pummeled pretty harshly in the Dr. Vino blog, where author Tyler Colman criticizes him for being unwilling to learn about new wines. (Cuozzo punches back in the comments thread, scroll about half way down).

Cuozzo clearly wrote his column in a way to ensure reaction. When I counsel clients in content marketing strategies I call these “angry man” posts, writing with a very strong point of view likely to be challenged. But there are some interesting points being raised here, once you get past the shouting. What does a restaurant “owe” its diners in a wine list?

Like a lot of things in life, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of the extremes. I appreciate Cuozzo’s defense of diner choice. A wine list should not be shoehorned into a single region to match the cuisine, with quality probably suffering as well as variety. I’m also not particularly interested in the often intense “natural wine” debate, whatever that means exactly.

On the other hand, it does make for a better experience when a wine list introduces an excellent new wine. The enjoyment of the discovery enhances the meal and takes some of the sting out of the restaurant markup. Of course if the list selections are well off the beaten path, the staff must be trained to help diners better understand the wines being offered.

The key issue to me is helping more people enjoy wine. An old favorite or a new discovery could be the perfect choice any given evening. A wine list shouldn’t make it an either or proposition.

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Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a global top 500K web site as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.






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