Food and Drink 

May I see the wine list - please

By Anthony Gismondi

Long before appellations and approved viticultural areas (AVAs), single vineyard barrel fermented, critter labels and globetrotting winemakers, restaurant wine lists were a simple read. Essentially your choice boiled down to red or white wine, all of which was equally sweet.

Those days are long gone in a province where the inhabitants are mad about wine. With B.C.’s annual per capita consumption growing monthly and heading north toward 20 litres per head (similar to UK consumption), drinking quality table wine is fast becoming an integral part of the every day dining experience. Both sophisticated and thoughtful, many of today’s B.C. restaurant wine lists are as good as any you’ll find on the continent.

While I wholeheartedly endorse the notion of better and not necessarily bigger wine lists, sophistication comes with a price — and it’s more than just the cost of the bottle. There is a fine line between giving the customer the variety and depth they demand and totally confusing the person given the task of actually choosing something to go with his or her meal. Obviously a wine list that scares off as many customers as it attracts is not the goal of any restaurateur.

As someone frequently charged with reviewing and, in some cases, evaluating wine lists, I thought it might be useful to breakdown the format of the modern wine list and see just what all the shouting is about.

If you are 35 years of age or older you may remember the term “house wine” although, hopefully, you won’t remember any of the wine. House wine was never much of bargain, at least quality-wise, and its disappearance off the modern-day list can only be interpreted as a good thing. Wine-by-the-glass is where the action is today and it’s by far your best opportunity to explore new wines without “investing” in an entire bottle. For many it has become the perfect pre-dinner solution before ordering that bottle of old faithful.

Some restaurants have even instituted regularly scheduled taste programs. These are designed to offer customers a “sneak” preview of what is on the regular wine list, again without forcing you to buy the entire bottle.

From here most wine lists launch into a standard format that breaks out the white wine from the red. Many methods are used including progressing from the lightest- to the richest-textured wines, from the simplest to the most complex, or even from the youngest to the oldest. That said, today’s favoured and no doubt most successful wine list format is the one sorted by grape variety and/or blend.

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