Ratings and Snobbery

Restaurant wine lists, wine ratings and wine snobbery are all topics I love to yammer about. Wine is no longer a quaint cottage industry—it has morphed into big business (unfortunately). This is even more apparent with the increased attention it gets from all types of media. I wrote an article in August 2009 lamenting that lack of attention restaurant reviewers (besides Pulse’s) gave to wine lists and service. Now we have Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post going back and forth with Eric Asimov of The New York Times and various blogging celebrities weighing in (and ranting).

Of all the rants I could do on restaurant wine lists, the most important one is balance. A wine list that only has esoteric wine selections is just as unbalanced as one that only has big, branded commercial wines. Recent online chatter claimed that a restaurant’s wine list and program should educate. Nope, a wine list is meant to offer wines for sale to diners. Diners are there to eat, drink and enjoy, not attend a seminar. This attitude of “I’m gonna teach you something with my wine list” is related to two things: Snobbery and ratings.

The wine industry jumped on the ratings bandwagon in the late 80s and is beginning to have some regrets. One of the backlashes is the increase of esoteric wine lists at hip restaurants. I think an esoteric wine list is a form of wine snobbery—the wine director has designed a list that only a small percentage of wine drinkers understand. The attitude seems to be: “Look at how much more I know about wine than that other wine director down the street.” And, worse: “See how much more I know than you.” Wine drinkers (buyers) should be made to feel comfortable and be guided into more interesting wine adventures, not shamed into it.

My passion for wine has to do with adventure and discovery. I like to learn about new wine regions, styles and producers. But I don’t like to be told what to do. I like to make my own choices. There are times when I’m in the mood to learn about something new and there are other times that I want the comfort of a wine I’ve previously enjoyed. For this very reason, I prefer to drink wine by place (region). When I drink by place, I don’t worry about ratings or the fame of the producers. And I don’t worry about somebody telling me what to drink. I decide for myself and surprisingly economics get to play a role. There are long-established regions like Chambertin in Burgundy that are wickedly expensive and less-established places like Willamette Valley or Alto-Adige; a Pinot Noir could cost from $500+ for Chambertin down to $70+ for Willamette and $30 for Alto-Adige (all estimated restaurant prices). Therefore I can choose my grape and my price all around the places I want.

2009 Vintages Ready for Adventure:
2009 Domaine Perrot-Minot Charmes Chambertin
Grand Cru, Burgundy $350
2009 Saint Innocent Justice Pinot Noir $50
2009 J. Hofstatter Pinot Nero, Alto-Adige $26
2009 Alois Lageder Pinot Nero, Alto-Adige $26