How to Spot a Good Wine List.

The wine list needs a little work...

Everyone has their own idea of what they deem a “good wine list” to be, but here’s what I look for…



A decent wine list should have representation from the majority of the worlds major wine producing regions. Fair enough, a French restaurant isn’t expected to carry a huge Chilean selection, if any at all; but they should at least consider a few wines from outside of France.

The main place where I encounter a problem with diversity, is in steak houses. We get it!! We really do!!! You sell steak!!! Californian Cab and Meritages’ etc.,  pair well with steak; but would it kill you to explore away from the West Coast of the United States!?!? Argentine Malbec, Tuscan Reds, Rhone Syrahs, even Lebanese Red Blends all go great with steak. Open your mind, and think outside the box!


A Mix “Old Favorites” and “Hidden Gems”

Ok, I’m not going to lie to you about this one, I really couldn’t care about “old favorites”. I’m more of a “hidden gems” kind-of-guy. Old favorites are really for the people whom either; a) don’t want to even look at a wine list, and immediately ask for a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay etc*; or b) are too afraid to try something new, and are just looking for “familiar faces” in general.

The last thing I want to see is a wine list packed full of generic-grocery-store-garbage; yet so many restaurants rely on these types of wines. I know restaurants are trying to play it safe, but if anything, it just triggers the memory of the wine list reader to recall how much they bought those bottles for the last time they were at Publix! Not good.
Just to completely contradict myself, “old favorites” are the life-blood of the baby boomer generation. For a restaurant to not carry at least a few recognizable names would be a total mistake. Even though Millenial’s seem to be the future of the wine market, boomers can’t be ignored.

*I have no problem with KJ. They make good wine, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Progressive Pricing

When I go out to a restaurant, I have no problem spending a little-bit of money on a good wine, but you probably already guessed that! With that being said, $60-$70 is about my absolute max, and it has to be at a good restaurant. The one thing I hate is being pressured into spending more than I’m comfortable with. Most often this pressure doesn’t come from cheesy used-car-salesman-type tactics employed by the restaurants’ Sommelier; but via the wine list itself! I can’t stand it when a wine list jumps from, for example, $30 a bottle up-to $70 a bottle, with nothing in between!
A good wine list should show a progression in its pricing, and very few price jumps over $10.
Now, once you get over $100 a bottle, it’s totally fine to jump in larger increments. The type of people who spend $100+ on a bottle, are more than likely not to have a problem spending in this type of pricing leaps, and don’t represent the mass wine buying market.


A Decent BTG Selection

For economical reasons, you can’t expect every wine list to offer 50 wines by the glass. Waste is a huge problem, and if a restaurant has too many wines by the glass (and aren’t doing the sales volume, or employing a wine preservation system to justify such a selection), the guest is going to end up drinking a 5+ day old glass of wine in no time at all!
What I classify as a “decent” by the glass selection, is a mix of light, medium, and full-bodied red and white wines, with all the major grape varietals being represented. I would say that 15 wines is about the minimum BTG that a list should offer.


No Spelling Mistakes!

The grammar police I am not, but a wine list littered with spelling mistakes is inexcusable.
Living in Jacksonville, Florida; I can promise you that I will find at least 3 spelling mistakes on just about 9 out of 10 independent restaurants’ wine lists around town. Seriously. The number one spelling mistake I find? Reisling. Remember, i before e, even in Riesling!
I was at last years Epcot Food and Wine show, and the number of spelling mistakes I saw was phenomenal! I’m going again this year. I’ll take photos…



Clean, simple, concise, easy to read, and with a legible layout. All restaurants should consider having their wine lists / menus professionally printed, if they aren’t already. Cost isn’t an issue, as most wine distributors will happily handle the printing (in exchange for your SOUL)! The one thing I will say is that Microsoft Publisher just isn’t cutting it anymore, and there are very few places which can make an in-house printed menu look professional!

I’m also not a huge fan of extensive tasting notes on a wine list, but sometimes a few aren’t always a bad thing if they help guide the guest toward their selection. Saying that, I’ve yet to see it done well, and with tasting notes which I agree with.
Very few restaurants are also permitted, in my opinion, to have a 20 page “wine bible” (Bern’s Steak House aside). As much as I love wine, the last thing I want to do is spend all night in a restaurant frantically flipping pages as I peruse the “Encyclopedia Wine-annica”.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of distractions. Those new iPad wine lists that a few restaurants are adopting? Not a fan. Cool gimmick, but if I wanted to spend my time staring at a nasty little computer screen, I would have gone to the Mac store.

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