Monday, October 25, 2010

Rant: Dumbing Down Wine Lists

For an upcoming article, I have been researching local restaurants and bars with good sherry and/or sherry cocktail lists.  I began with Spanish restaurants, believing they would be the ones most likely to carry sherry, but my research has been disappointing.  I have found a couple restaurants with good lists, including Toro and Taberna de Haro, and will be visiting those places soon. 

But I also found restaurants carrying Alvear wines, yet calling them sherry. Last month, I explained why the Alvear wines are not actually sherry, akin to how sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region of France cannot be called Champagne.  The worst offender was Tapeo, located on Newbury Street, whose wine list has four "sherries," yet none of those four are actual sherries.  I emailed them about this situation but have not yet received a response.

I have spoken with a couple restaurants which carry Alvear under the "sherry" designation and their explanation is that it is less confusing to consumers, who know little about sherry. I am not sure I accept this as a valid explanation, especially from a Spanish restaurant.  I think they should use it as an educational opportunity, to teach consumers about sherry.  It would be very easy to refer to the Alvear as a "sherry-style" wine rather than as a "sherry" itself. 

These same restaurants don't dumb down their food menus, by classifying a food wrongly so as to not confuse consumers.  The food menus often list ingredients which may be unfamiliar to their patrons, yet they allow the servers to educate diners about such ingredients. So why should their wine lists be any different?

This raises a larger issue of whether wine lists in general should be dumbed down for consumers.  Should sparkling wine made outside of France be listed as "Champagne?" Should port-style wines made outside of Portugal be designated as "Ports?"  Or should protected names, such as Champagne, Port and Sherry, be respected?  Should consumers at restaurants be taught the difference, or is that too confusing and unnecessary?

I believe the protected wine names are worthy of respect, and wine lists should present the truth, using it as an opportunity to enlighten and educate their customers.

What do you think?               


Jason Phelps said...

This has to be be pretty frustrating. Those designations are meaningful and should be respected. The problem is likely two-fold, many consumers don't know enough for the distinction to matter to them, and the majority of restaurants don't know their customers nor take the time to educate them.

I'm glad you've reached out to establishments. Hopefully they see you as being helpful with your free advice which if used should improve their bottom line!


Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Jason for your comments. It is a tough situation, and I just hope that my words and actions can spur at least a little positive change.

Emilia said...

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