I have a fantasy, and I thought it was probably time to come clean and admit it here openly. I’ve dreamed for a while about creating a restaurant wine list. Not a mammoth tome of hundreds of bottles, mind you, just a nice compact list that would fit on a single page and might be appropriate for a neighborhood boutique restaurant with a serious interest in wine.
Anyone who works in the wine business is probably shaking their heads, wondering why in heaven’s name I’d be interested in doing this. Putting together and maintaining wine lists isn’t exactly easy, as I’ve learned from friends in the business. But that doesn’t matter to me. Besides, I’m hoping I can get away with having someone else be responsible for the real dirty work: ordering, inventorying, and resupplying the thing. I just want to choose the wines.
There are two primary reasons I want to do this. First, I’m sick and tired of sitting down in a little restaurants with decent food — places that clearly care about what they put on the plate — only to find a lackluster list of wines that could have come out of a grocery store, or a single page of their massive liquor distributor’s inventory list. I’ve muttered “I could come up with a much better list than this” enough times under my breath that I’d like to put up or shut up, if you know what I mean.
Secondly, I think I’d learn a thing or two in the process. About the kinds of constraints that restaurants face when putting together and maintaining their lists, about what the public really drinks and wants to drink, and of course, whether I ought to simply put a sock in it and let the professionals take care of such things.
I’m not naive about the nature of such an exercise. Composing a list isn’t about putting my favorite wines on a list and hoping people will buy them. There are far more pragmatic issues to be dealt with, including the cost of the wines, their availability, the price tolerance of diners (for wines by the glass and for bottles), what kinds of wines complement the cuisine, and of course, what the customers are likely to enjoy.
Even while considering all these factors, I’d try to create a list that made sense for the kind of restaurant for which I was working. Would it be a celebration of smaller producers in California? An eclectic but not radical selection of interesting international wines? A tour around America’s wine regions? A perfect selection of pleasing little Italian wines for an equally pleasing menu? A compact set of wines perfect for sushi?
Who knows? But I’m game to give it a try. I’ve got some sommelier friends that would keep me from making horrible mistakes, more than a few opinionated readers who’d no doubt also offer their opinions.
So all I’m missing is someone who’s willing to give me a shot. Know anyone with a little bistro that needs help? Send them my way. Until then. I’ll just have to swear under my breath a little, and keep fantasizing.