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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Why Wine Lists Look the Way They Do

When it comes to food and drink, Americans are a fairly predictable lot. There's a reason why hamburger, chicken and taco fast food joints congregate around the off ramps of interstate highways across this great land. We appear ready to accept an unlimited number of TGI Friday's, Chili's and Ruby Tuesday locations, but good independent restaurants struggle to make it from month to month. Even in great restaurant cities -- I just returned from one, Charleston, S.C. -- there are an abundant number of places that think just about everything must pass through the deep fryer on its way to the table.

You cannot fault the restaurateurs. We support these places by buying what they sell and we do the same thing when it comes to the selections that they offer up in the form of draught and bottled beer, wine lists and call brands for liquor. Just look at America's five favorite wine varietals according to ACNielsen: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio. Not a Riesling, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir or Syrah among the top five? That says plenty when you talk about diversity and range of flavor.

Well I've made a resolution for the New Year and plan to follow it closely. If a restaurant decides that all I should be offered to drink is a house selection of mundane wines from a single mega vintner or the five beer taps should only include three light beers and two pale lagers, I'm going to order ice water with a lemon wedge. Doing anything other than this reinforces the poor bar management of the restaurateur by rewarding them with a beverage sale. I've even tried asking a few bartenders recently why their place ties up so many taps for beer that basically all tastes fairly the same. To a barkeeper the answer I've been given is a "I don't know, I don't do the ordering." I'm not looking for these places to suddenly start exclusively selling Belgian ales, I'd just like a little variety and maybe a local product or two. I recognize there are customers who want light beer, but why do they get three taps and the rest of us zero?

So the next time you visit a restaurant and ask them what they have to drink, if the wine list or beer list sounds like a generic airport lounge look the server in the eye and say: "That's all you have? I'll take an ice water and lemon." Perhaps if they start realizing they are losing sales (and tips) because of boring beverage offerings, things might change. Our taste buds can only hope.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Rob said...

Amen. Even where I live (LA) I find it horrifying how many restaraunts have the same 5 or 6 beers on tap, with Heineken being the most exotic of the bunch, and the same overproduced wines that you can find at any large grocery store. It's expected of the crappy chain restaraunts, but if I go out of my way to patronize a local establishment, the last thing I want to do is wash down some unique cuisine with Bud Light or a glass of Kendall Jackson Cabernet. I always make a point of ordering the local brew whenever it is offered, my way of supporting the little guys. Since local microbrews have much in common with smaller, struggling restaraunts, it only seems appropriate that they would want to support one another.