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Plat du Jour: How Should We Write a Wine List Label?

Of all the contentious wine list debates, there is one subject that I’ve almost never heard approached, yet almost always think about without realizing it. We often discuss how you should order wines on a list (Light to dark? By varietal? By region? Alphabetically?) and what is a fair mark-up percentage (Three times wholesale value? Four times?). We consider whether a list is better on an iPad or old fashioned book style. We ponder how much of a description we want for a wine compared to how much we want the sommelier to explain to us. Do we want appellation maps? Do we want suggested food pairings or is that far too detailed information?IMG_0935

Last night at a popular San Francisco bar/lounge known more for its beautiful setting and beautiful people in that setting compared to the decent wine, beer, and cocktail list, I was a bit flustered by the wine list.

Most people have probably never heard of the Blaufrankisch grape, commonly found in Austria. Repeat that again? The closest comparison I could give you is Mourvèdre, where it’s pleasantly light in tannins, light to medium bodied, and full of earth and spice. The listing on the wine list said:

blaufrankisch zantho 2010 burgenland austria

The entire wine list followed that same Varietal, Winemaker, Optional Vineyard addition such as Juvenile Vineyard for the 2011 Turley Zinfandel, Optional region like Toro, State or Country like California or Italy.By the way, all of the listings were also completely in lower case letters. I know how much wine writers just love that.

I sat back and looked at the blaufrankisch zantho perplexed. Then I asked the bartender if he could describe the “Austrian red,” to which I received the lovely vague reply of “it’s not too light and not too heavy.” Well, we can eliminate a lot there.

Despite my decently extensive and growing wine education, I couldn’t even figure out what the grape was. Blaufrankisch ? or is it a Zantho? Or is Burgenland the winery name? I could piece the puzzle together from the Turley listing that varietal would come first since Zinfandel doesn’t make Turley and Chardonnay doesn’t make Cannonball. IMG_1163

The Blaufrankisch from Zantho in Burgenland turned out to be a fragrant, beautifully slightly tense wine that needed some time really grow open. It also got me thinking how sommeliers should order wines in a list. Vintage first? Grape varietal first? Winery name first for those who immediately gravitate to Turley or Round Pond or Sandhi? Region first if you’re a passionate Marlborough fan?

In my database, I go by the order of Winery Name, Location, Vintage year, Wine’s Name, Grape Varietal(s), Vineyard Name if applicable.

Example: Domaine Maestracci Raoust, Calvi, Corsica, 2011, Red Clos Reginu

Example: Ryme Cellars, Carneros, CA, 2012 Her’s Vermentino, Las Brisas Vineyard

There isn’t any right or wrong answer necessarily as long as the formula is easy to figure out. But please, please don’t have everything lower cased and no commas to separate anything. Let’s keep the dining room stylish, but the wines can speak for themselves on the wine list without a designer look.

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