The rules of a great wine list

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

The first glance at a wine list can be a flus­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Keep­ing thirst in line with bud­get while surf­ing a sea of grapes, names and years, many of them un­known, as din­ing com­pan­ions tap ur­gently at the ta­ble and de­mand you just get on and or­der (or is this just my friends?), is never re­lax­ing. This is why I am happy about the fact that restau­rant wine lists are get­ting shorter even as by-the-glass choices get longer.

“Many places that might have had 500-600 bins are now down to 200-300,” says Chris Losh, ed­i­tor of Im­bibe mag­a­zine, who has just fin­ished comb­ing through more than 300 menus when I catch up with him to do the Wine List Chat at the Im­bibe Wine List of the Year bash.

Lists are also grow­ing more cus­tomer-friendly. The help­ful fash­ion for “split-level lists” – prefacing a longer list with a sin­gle-page edit, is al­ready well-es­tab­lished but Losh alerts me to another mi­cro-trend: “The same wines, three ways.”

This isn’t like the Nineties trend for ob­long plates with a sausage, a bit of crack­ling and a dol­lop of ril­lettes, say. It’s about in­dex­ing: ar­rang­ing the same wines so they can be nav­i­gated, by coun­try, style, or food match, giv­ing dif­fer­ent wines the chance to stand out.

“Be­cause no one’s go­ing to say, ‘I think I fancy a Cypriot red, where’s that on p106?’” says Losh.

One great ex­am­ple is the wine menu at Loves Restau­rant in Birm­ing­ham, which ar­ranges wine by coun­try then by grape (so you can eas­ily com­pare, say, a De­faix ch­ablis, a Hamil­ton Rus­sell chardonnay and the Cloudy Bay chardy) and fi­nally by group­ing (lower al­co­hol/wines in­flu­enced by women/half bot­tles).

“The idea had been rat­tling around in my head for a cou­ple of years,” says Claire Love. “The idea is to go a step fur­ther, think about what my guests are con­cerned about when they look for a wine.”

Claire asks for my “dis­cre­tion” with her full list. Ap­par­ently there are list thieves about: con­sul­tants who hoover up ideas from the hard labour and re­search that goes into com­pil­ing a good list and sell them on to their clients. I’m not sur­prised. A good list is both a mag­pie-like as­sem­blage of un­usual and well-known jew­els, and a cre­ative piece of crafts­man­ship. I dived into the café at Tate St Ives over the sum­mer sim­ply to have a peek be­hind the bar. Their list, put to­gether by Hamish An­der­son ( Im­bibe’s over­all 2014 win­ner for the Rex Whistler restau­rant at Tate Bri­tain), is short but it’s per­fect, a wine haiku that clev­erly jux­ta­poses the fa­mil­iar and the un­fa­mil­iar, the very op­po­site of stale.

My restau­rant wine list bug­bears are many. I don’t like wrong vin­tages, miss­ing vin­tages, miss­ing pro­ducer names or poor spell­ing. If a list is short there must be a good rea­son to fea­ture sev­eral wines from one win­ery, oth­er­wise it feels a bit “couldn’t

Lot of bot­tle: a well thought out wine list can trans­form an en­tire din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­ally good ones can even fall prey to ‘list thieves’

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