Whew! We’re finished. The last of the entries to our 2009 Restaurant Awards Program have been judged. It’s a process that takes a handful of us several weeks to work through (with kudos to Nathan Wesley, who administers the program) as we comb through the several hundred new entries we receive each year.
[Note: Exact numbers, a complete listing of all winners, including new Grand Award winners and more will be released in the annual Dining Guide in the upcoming Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator.]
It’s obvious that the state of wine in restaurants has come a long way since the program’s inception in 1981. But each year, after we get through the final stack of lists, there are always some recurring themes—pet peeves, really—that seem stubbornly ingrained in the world of wine lists.
Among the smaller pet peeves are what I call "throw-away sections." These are typically wines from less heralded or emerging regions that already struggle for respect from retailers and consumers (think Loire, South Africa, etc). But on wine lists, that struggle is often magnified. I don’t understand an otherwise solid, 200-selection wine list with a strong, overriding regional focus that puts three weak South African wines on the list. I’m glad to see when a restaurant shows an interest in representing South Africa, but why don’t they do the research and make sure they’re offering good choices, rather than throw-aways? I know a place with a database of hundreds of new South African wines each year. It’s easy to use, too.
"Vintages are subject to change" is another one. I cringe whenever I see this printed on a list. Yes, vintages change, once a year for most wines if my math is correct. With laser printers in every office in America though, it should be easy to reprint a list as needed so that customers know they’re going to get what they order. Have you ever seen a menu that reads "ingredients subject to change"?
Dead wood. All too often there's a listing of a rosé from two vintages prior. An off-vintage Côtes du Rhône. A cheap Cali Chard that should've been dumped out a while ago. Past-their-prime wines that languish on a wine list don't do anybody any good. Blow them out by the glass before you're stuck with them for good, or put them in the sauce.
Repetitive producers. Nothing against Souverain, but does a list really need to offer the Merlot, Cab, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Jadot is a good producer, but if you only have five Burgundies on the list, do they all need to be Jadot? A little diversity never hurt anyone.
There are other little pet peeves for me as well. The small but steady trend of some wine lists to put the selections together in "cute" named groups: "zippy whites" or "bold and spicy reds," rather than simply by variety or geography. Listing all wines by ascending price order (rather than alphabetical) also drives me nuts.
But the killer, without a doubt, is spelling. Spelling mistakes on a wine list are as bad as a typo in a résumé. It shows a lack of attention to detail and makes you wonder what’s really going on with the wine program. Bad spelling can sink an entry of modest size, and it can hold back a larger list from getting a higher level award. In particular this year, one 500-selection wine list offered these doozies: "Sancere," "Vouray" "Stellenboech," "Cote-Rottie" and "Mertiage" among others. Ouch.
Maybe it’s a function of looking through a few hundred lists every year—I see more mistakes so they seem more prevalent. So I’m curious, what are some of the things about restaurant wine lists that drive you nuts?
Mark Warren — Biloxi, Ms — April 20, 2009 12:36pm ET
Matthew Lo — Zurich, Switzerland — April 20, 2009 1:17pm ET
James Molesworth — April 20, 2009 1:28pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — April 20, 2009 1:31pm ET
Bruce Edwards — Fredericksburg, Tx — April 20, 2009 1:59pm ET
Eric Yates — Geneve, Switzerland — April 20, 2009 3:11pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento,CA — April 20, 2009 3:32pm ET
David Greenstein — Phila,Pq — April 20, 2009 3:36pm ET
Steve Ritchie — Atlanta, GA — April 20, 2009 3:41pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — April 20, 2009 3:46pm ET
John Shuey — Carrollton, TX — April 20, 2009 3:50pm ET
Claude Kaber — Luxemburg — April 20, 2009 3:57pm ET
Dennis Graul — April 20, 2009 3:58pm ET
James Molesworth — April 20, 2009 4:06pm ET
Brandon Redman — Seattle, WA — April 20, 2009 4:38pm ET
Trevor Morris — Laguna Hills, CA — April 20, 2009 4:52pm ET
Mark Antonio — Tokyo — April 20, 2009 6:40pm ET
Jeffrey R Davis — MSP, MN — April 20, 2009 8:47pm ET
Michael Bonanno — April 21, 2009 12:01am ET
Bill Knuth — April 21, 2009 12:29am ET
George Sanders — Atlanta, GA — April 21, 2009 9:52am ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 21, 2009 11:08am ET
Marc Robillard — Montreal,Canada — April 21, 2009 1:46pm ET
Matthew Balk — April 21, 2009 10:29pm ET
Harry Graham — Solon, OH, USA — April 22, 2009 11:23am ET
Jody Smith — April 22, 2009 3:46pm ET
William Thomen — San Francisco — April 22, 2009 5:31pm ET
Jonathon Wagner — San Francisco, CA — April 23, 2009 12:42am ET
Michael Goldberg — Boca Raton, FL — April 23, 2009 2:02am ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — April 23, 2009 5:41am ET
James Molesworth — April 23, 2009 9:25am ET
Alan Vinci — springfield, n.j. — April 23, 2009 1:30pm ET
Jack Stiefel — NY/NY — April 23, 2009 3:21pm ET
James Molesworth — April 23, 2009 4:01pm ET
John Hannon — April 23, 2009 6:01pm ET
Phil Roberts — Palatine, IL — April 23, 2009 8:03pm ET
Lisa Dahl — April 24, 2009 3:00am ET
James Molesworth — April 24, 2009 9:25am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — April 25, 2009 3:11am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — April 25, 2009 3:30am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — April 25, 2009 3:43am ET
Kirk R Grant — Bangor, Maine — April 25, 2009 3:00pm ET
James Molesworth — April 26, 2009 3:56pm ET
Kenneth J Kriz — Las Vegas — April 26, 2009 9:03pm ET
A Graham Bailey — April 26, 2009 9:30pm ET
Craig Plainfield — portland oregon — April 27, 2009 5:51pm ET
Richard — St. Louis — April 27, 2009 7:38pm ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — April 28, 2009 3:03am ET
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