Making Room for Wine in Restaurant Reviews

jamesonWine is a critical component of any great dinner. But how much does it matter in the context of a restaurant review?

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.

Comments are closed.