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Wine Lists - What makes a good one

Wine and Restaurants

A couple of times recently I've been looking down a wine list in a restaurant and found myself inwardly tut-tutting. If a wine list doesn't compliment a restaurant's food, then it's simply not a good list. So let's a have a look at what precisely makes a list a good one.

A couple of times recently I've been looking down a wine list in a restaurant and found myself inwardly tut-tutting. If a wine list doesn't compliment a restaurant's food, then it's simply not a good list. So let's a have a look at what precisely makes a list a good one.

Mark-up. No one begrudges a restaurant a mark-up of 100% or even 150% over wholesale prices. They're giving you somewhere to sit, you get the wine served to you, they're providing the glasses and they're doing the washing up. In an ideal world the list should have less of a mark-up as the wines increase in price, so that customers can choose good wines should they so wish, without a sensation of being ripped-off. High mark-ups make a bad list.

Choice. A good list provides you with choice, not just at different price levels, but with types of wine. On a well-chosen list you should be able to find austere, dry whites; big, full whites; light-bodied reds, medium and full-bodied reds, a couple of dessert wines and perhaps a rose or two as well. In good restaurants that take their food seriously there should also be some window dressing on the list - some fine clarets and burgundies for example - that may not sell like hot cakes, but are there if someone wants to mark an occasion with something special.

House wines. There should be a couple of easy-drinking wines at the bottom end of the price scale. Not everybody wants a wine to savour and linger over, so for a quick and simple meal there should be matching wines that are easy on the pocket.

Half-bottles. No one expects to find a huge choice in half-bottles, but there ought to be at the very least one red and one white. The solo diner exists, as do tables of more than one where there's just one wine drinker, and a glass of the house wine may not properly fit the bill.

Knowledge. Someone in the restaurant should know the list well. Just as you expect an answer from a waiter when you ask about the contents of a particular dish, so you should be able to get an informed answer when you ask about a listed wine.

Specialised Shippers. In top-end restaurants the list ought to be spread between different suppliers. Some wholesalers specialise in particular areas or countries, and good wines from these regions can only be got through them. Lazily leaving the list to just one supplier to fill can leave it with weak areas. A good list will source its wines from several suppliers, seeking the best for its customers.

Suggested wine

Dom Martinho 2001

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