Now here is a post worthy of Matt Kramer! Wine Spectator's veteran critic dreams of a fantasy wine list in this thought provoking piece
Never Mind Fantasy Football. What About Your Fantasy Wine List?
If you owned a restaurant, what would you choose?http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/49342
I love this post for many reasons, but chiefly these two:
#1 I have an app idea for a fantasy wine cellar and this would make a great addition. (We play fantasy sports, why not fantasy wine collecting and wine list writing?) Sadly I lack any sort of technical know-how.
#2 It is much more positive than the wine list post that has been fermenting in my brain.
#1 is pretty self explanatory.
#2 probably needs some explanation...
It all started with a forced prospecting visit to a local restaurant institution. We have a visiting Greek oenologist in town helping to promote our Greek wines. She is lovely, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and green green green!!!
"What is this restaurant I see everywhere, Applebees?" She wants to know. "Why don't we approach them??" "Well," I start, at a loss to translate the many ways that approaching an Applebees with Greek wines would likely be a waste of time. It's a national chain with a national list. They sell mostly California wines. Mostly cheap wines. (On further investigation the "perfect pairings"on the Applebees corporate list boasted a stunning range of wines from Barefoot Chardonnay to Sutter Home Cab) I try for 10 miles or so-but my young guest is not convinced.
We are on our way to approach another American restaurant. A higher end, lodge style restaurant that is the fancy outpost of another American chain who shall remain anonymous-but they were really big in the 80's and 90's. This is not my idea, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
We have arrived around 2:30 and lunch is just finishing up. "Two for lunch ladies?" the smiling hostess inquires, leaning in a welcoming way.
"Actually, we are with a local wine importer and distributor. We're hoping to introduce ourselves to the person in charge of your wine program? Are they in?" With the smile vanishing and the back straightening, we are waved to a corner with a clipped promise of "I'll see if he is available" While my Greek and Green guest waits to see the wine manager and I wait to be told he is in a meeting or they are not looking to change their wine selections right now, or the decisions are made corporately (which eventually turns out to be the case) I ask to see a wine list, pretty sure before they hand it to me that I already know what is on it. I am not disappointed. With the exception of vintage changes and some nods to the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and California Pinot Noir crazes of the new millennium, these guys have likely been rockin' this wine list since the '90s. (Since I may seem like I am restaurant bashing, I should say that I am a restaurant veteran. A former hostess, server, manager and wine buyer, I am Karmically doomed to be blown off well into the next lifetime for the number of salespeople and job applicants I blew off during my tenure.)
To my great amazement, the Bar Manager is produced from within the bowels of the restaurant. He is not only willing to meet with us, he will taste with us. We take him through a number of the Greek selections we have with us that day, and he is interested, inquisitive, professional and polite. He takes notes. He tells us which wines he can see fitting with his menu and appealing to his customers. He admits that although he has no authority to change and select new wines for his list, the company is currently looking to revamp their list, and his input is sought and valued. He will seriously consider recommending these wines to his superiors. We thank him for his time and agree to follow up with an email and some more information on his favorite wines.
We decided to stay for lunch. As I sat spreading soft garlic butter onto my complementary warm rolls, another vestige of the '90s, I contemplated why so little had changed over the passing decades and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly there was comfort here, in the deep booth and the garlic butter, and the house version of a French Dip, in the turns of the large pepper mill in the able hands of a practiced server (ours had really mastered the art of rehearsed improvised performance) and there is comfort I am sure in the familiar names and categories on THE wine list. But after 20 years, isn't it time to show a little imagination and effort? How can these corporate dinosaurs survive in the vibrant independent culinary/wine bar scene of today, where as Matt Kramer points out, "More than ever before, restaurants are now ground zero for wine exposure. Partly this is due to the explosion of attractive, engaging sommeliers, most of them young and enthusiastic about the new and the different."
Maybe you hire a sommelier? Maybe you give your bar manager some buying privileges and start calling him the sommelier? He certainly seems interested in the gig. Or maybe you just keep piping compound butter into ramekins and hope that the 90's doesn't call and ask for their wine list back.