Monday, November 24, 2014

Rant: There's No California Chardonnay On The Menu?

What do you mean there's no California Chardonnay on the wine list?

Must a restaurant wine list cater to all tastes, or can it specialize, ignoring some very popular choices? Is such specialization a good thing, or does it spite customers who want something different? How much choice should there be on a restaurant wine list?

Consider Taberna de Haro, an excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline and one of my favorite restaurants in the area. I think they have a superb wine list, with over 325 choices, and it is unique because all of their wines are from Spain. You won't find a California Chardonnay or an Oregon Pinot Noir on their list. However, you will find Albarino, Tempranillo, Mencia, and much more. You'll find wines from all across Spain, including the Canary Islands and Mallorca. You'll find Sparkling wine, Rosé, Sherry, Dessert wines and even Spanish cider. You'll find incredible diversity on their wine list, even though it is limited to Spanish wines.

I respect Chef//Owner Deborah Hansen for having the bravery to limit her wine list to only Spanish wines. Obviously her decision might have turned away some customers, people unwilling to expand their horizons and drink something different from their usual choices. It would have been easy for her to stock a selection of California Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot, but she took a more difficult stance, wanting her Spanish cuisine to be paired only with Spanish wines. In doing so, she has compiled an amazing Spanish wine list, one which must be one of the best in the country.

Most other local restaurants are unwilling to limit their wine list in this manner, trying to cater to all customers. One other brave restaurant is Erbaluce, which serves Italian cuisine and has a nearly total wine list of Italian wines, with a few French Champagnes thrown into the mix. However, restaurants like Taberna de Haro and Erbaluce are the rarity. I don't believe that should be the case, and I would like to see far more restaurants taking a stand, and offering more limited wine lists, lists which are appropriate for their cuisine. And more customers should support these restaurants.

If you dine at an Italian restaurant you don't expect to be able to order Fajitas or Kung Pao Chicken so why should you expect to find non-Italian wines? You should immerse yourself in their cuisine, which includes the wines of that region. To many Europeans, wine is food, and is an integral part of their meals. Sometimes it is much better to have less choice than more. If you want authenticity in your cuisine, that should extend to the wine as well.

Sure, non-Spanish wines can pair with Spanish food, and non-Italian wines can pair with Italian cuisine, but that doesn't mean a restaurant needs to provide those options. We should respect the decision of any restaurant which choose to carry only regional wines appropriate to their cuisine. We should not complain about it, or refuse to dine there because we can't find something like a California Chardonnay. We should be open to trying new wines, just as we would a new dish of food. We shouldn't expect every restaurant to cater to all our wine whims.

Embrace restaurants which take a stand with their wine lists.

Addendum (11/24): Erbaluce only has Italian wines on their list now.

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