Monday, July 31, 2017

Rant: Boring Restaurant Wine Lists

Ever had a Sparkling Muscadet?

Until this past weekend, I'd never tasted one and now I want to buy a case to put into my wine cellar. The Julien Braud La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20/retail), a Sparkling Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, was thoroughly impressive, captivating me from the start with its alluring nose. Where did I find this gem? On the wine list at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington.

On Saturday, I had lunch at Island Creek with Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, and we eagerly perused their extensive wine list. There were plenty of interesting choices on the list and we ultimately went with the Sparkling Muscadet. It sounded fascinating, neither of us had tasted one before and it was inexpensive, only $40/bottle. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and we even ordered a second bottle.

Laura Staley, who creates and curates their wine list, has done a fantastic job of choosing a diverse selection of wines, with plenty to intrigue any wine lover. New wines are added to the list at various times, so there is often something new and interesting to select when you dine there. It may actually take you a while to choose a wine from the list because so many selections will appeal to you.

I love dining at Island Creek for a number of reasons, from its delicious food to its excellent service, as well as the fact that they have such an interesting wine list. I am bothered by other restaurants, which might have tasty food and good service, but have boring wine lists. Frankly, I feel that a boring wine list at a restaurant is often a sign of laziness. It will hurt your business as well, as it will turn away wine lovers who might otherwise enjoy your restaurant but want some good wines with their meal. I have plenty of friends who more often than not choose to patronize a restaurant with a compelling wine list.

A boring wine list commonly contains the usual suspects, the large commercial wines that are well known to many. It is extremely easy to put together such a list, and your distributor could probably do the work for you and select such wines. There is no imagination or creativity invested in such a list. It seems to be guided more by mercenary motives, wines that you know the average consumer will easily buy. You certainly aren't designing a list that will appeal to more discerning wine lovers. You are catering to the masses, presenting plenty of safe options. Bah, what a waste!

It isn't difficult to make some changes so that your wine list will be more interesting. You can even keep many of those boring wines if you wish. You need to allocate at least part of your wine list to more intriguing and compelling wines. Yes, that takes a little more work, to find those type of wines, but it certainly isn't difficult. It does take a willingness to expand your vision, to take a chance on something different. However, it can pay off when avid wine lovers find something of interest on your list and decide to dine there because of those more interesting wines. And if your staff is well trained, they could sell those different wines to some of the average consumers too.

Restaurants will invest much time and effort into creating their food menu, selecting their decor, and choosing their employees. They should also spend some of that same time and effort in selecting a wine list too. Even if a list is small, you don't have to fill it only with the usual suspects. Don't take the lazy way out. Add some interesting wines to the list and help your restaurant. Or continue to lose potential customers who opt for restaurants with more intriguing wines on their list.

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