Ever notice that few restaurant reviews comment on a place’s wine list? That may be because the reviewer doesn’t really know a lot about wine or that lists in and of themselves are difficult to put into a few words. In general, a reviewer may mention the wine consumed with the meal under review without elaborating about the possibilities.
When I was doing restaurant reviews I usually took a stab at wine lists by describing them as “extensve, wide-ranging, or suitable for all budgets,” or, when appropriate, referring to a specific focus such as California or French or Italian in their orientation. I even attempted to reveal price ranges.
It took some time, but I finally realized that evaluating a wine list should have little to do with either size or price. It should be looked at in terms of what the restaurant is trying to do or be. The expectations of a glass of wine in a sports bar, for example, are considerably different from those in a white table-cloth, full service restaurant using Baccarat crystal. Prices should reflect those differences. In the latter establishment, there will be breakage of stemware, always difficult to clean and store, a varied inventory of wines, always bought and paid for upfront, and a staff member or members who have been trained in the use and service of wine. Typically, a sports bar will use hard-to-break glasses and treat wine as just another beverage but one not so much in demand as some of the other beverages.
Selections of wine on a list should also reflect the food served. Wines suitable for nachos, wings, and burgers will not be the same as wine for use with sizzling steaks, coq au vin, or sea food. The ideal, then, is not to try to have a long list but to have the right list.
Few diners, even experienced wine consumers, can peruse several pages of wines from around the world. Best to offer a grouping according to varietals or dryness/sweetness or region. Servers, even in a sports bar, should know enough about the wines on the list to help a client make a pleasing choice. Length of list or price per glass or bottle are insufficient to judge the quality of the wines on offer. If the offerings are compatible with the menu, the list is a good one.