Jameson Fink, a Seattle-based wine blogger and friend, recently asked me to tackle that topic on his Wine Without Worry podcast: You can find our freewheeling discussion – complete with egg nog, baseball card and noodle soup digressions — here.
Since I’m in no rush to listen to my recorded voice, I can’t quote myself precisely, but I tend to believe mentioning wine in a restaurant review is a good thing – in moderation. A wine list can reveal a great deal about a restaurant’s philosophies: You don’t need to pick up a fork to figure out the difference between a restaurant serving only California Cabernets and a restaurant showcasing three biodynamic bottles from Slovenia. And a wine list is also a good indicator of a restaurant’s thoughtfulness, since there’s nothing less guest-centric than a collection of costly, name-brand wines which have nothing to do with the food.
But in most of my reviews, wine ultimately only merits a sentence or two. That’s partly because, in contrast to food quality or service styles, a restaurant’s wine list is relatively static; easily researched online and thoroughly objective. Barring any egregious storage issues, you’ll like a 2013 Amity pinot blanc about the same whether it’s poured in a seafood shack or an upscale Korean restaurant. I don’t need to taste it for you.
That’s for the best, since the other reason I don’t devote more column inches to wine is I can’t afford it. Most newspapers don’t pay for their critics’ drinks, and my personal budget doesn’t allow for ordering wine by the bottle. So my ability to size up a sommelier is fairly limited.
Still, as I told Jameson, I try to at least order a glass of wine, since I’m interested in how well servers know the restaurant’s selections. Servers who’ve ferried enough plates of meatloaf from the kitchen can fake their way through a description of it: It’s saucy. It’s thick-cut. It’s served with potatoes. But there’s no guessing a wine’s characteristics beyond color. A server can’t confidently distinguish between a pair of Chardonnays without proper training, which is very much the concern of restaurant criticism.
For more on wine lists, restaurant reviews and TGIFriday’s (yup), lend the podcast your ear.