My birthday isn't far off, and maybe I'm just getting ornery in my old age, but I've been thinking about my wine pet peeves lately. Wine Spectator editors pondered theirs in the Jan. 31 – Feb. 28 issue of the magazine, but I left out a few of mine. Here's a fleshed-out, even crankier list.
Wine List Extremes: Eating at a restaurant that's passionate about wine is a pleasure. A good list reveals the excitement of the wine buyer or sommelier over a particular region or variety, or the right matches for the chef's cuisine. It's wine lists at extreme ends of the spectrum that get on my nerves, both the "safe" lists, stocked with the predictable restaurant favorites, and the overly precious and obscure wine menus that seem to exist solely to prove how cool the sommelier is. Yawn.
Mysteries by the Glass: Do you always feel confident that you're getting the glass of wine you ordered at a restaurant? I don't. When the server arrives at the table, just about anything could be in that glass. Instead, servers should bring the bottle and pour the glass at the table. Better still; offer the customer a taste before pouring the glass. Let them sample before they buy.
Stale Pours: I know wines by the glass are a moneymaker for restaurants, but is it too much to ask for a fresh and vibrant wine? Too often the reds are bereft of fruit and the whites smell like the cooler: Either preserve the wine or regularly open a new bottle.
Old Shelf Talkers: Shelf talkers are those small signs on retail shelves that tell you about a wine, whether it's a score or a descriptor. You have to read them carefully because sometimes the wine mentioned on the shelf talker is a vintage or two older than the actual wine on the shelf. Whether the retailer is trying to be deceptive or he's just lazy, it's hard to know.
Alcohol Level Outrage: Obsessing over the alcohol content of California wine is approaching Howard Hughes levels of paranoia. California wines don't taste like Bordeaux or Chianti or Alsace or even Mendoza. Get over it. As it matures, every wine region finds its own terroir, its own style and balance. Instead of expecting every region to fit a narrow formula, wine lovers should challenge their comfort zone, or at least give the criticism a rest and stick to the regions they prefer.
Blind Advice: A good retailer or sommelier should be more interested in pleasing the customer than educating them. Learning about new wines is part of the fun of wine, but it should never become didactic. Too often retailers or sommeliers fail to ask even the most basic idea of the sort of wine the customer enjoys before reeling off recommendations. Whenever I'm asked to recommend a wine, I play the reporter and ask a few questions. Certainly I like to turn people onto new wines and regions, but my advice is never blind.