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6 Tips for Spotting a Great Wine List

Posted: 07/25/11 04:28 PM ET

A lot gets written for restaurateurs about how to put together a great list, but very little get written for consumers regarding how they can recognize that great list. So many metrics that are frequently used to measure the quality of wine lists, number of listings, depth of listings, range of regions, can be deceptive at best and downright silly at worst.

The real key to understanding a wine list is to understand how it was put together. Was it assembled out of love and passion, pure marketing, or a combination of both? By keeping on eye out for the tricks restaurateurs employ in building wine lists, you can start to get a feel for where the owner was going with it and where you want to go with it.

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Sometimes you can tell a whole lot about a wine list without ever seeing the wine list. What's that, you say? Well there are some easy indications about the wine passion level in any restaurant.

Check out the glassware they're offering. Are the wine glasses crappy little goblets or worse? Don't go by what's behind the bar; there are reasons for using more durable glassware in a bar setting. But check out what glasses are being used for other tables, keeping in mind that some establishments break out better glasses for better wines. A policy I can believe in.

Don't forget to ask your waiter about the wine program as well. They should be able to tell you something about the wines on the lists, though recently at a rather fancy restaurant, I overheard two waiters describe a specific wine in wildly differing terms almost simultaneously, only to have the sommelier save the day. If the wait staff seems informed or even better, actually tastes the wines, someone is doing the right thing here. Wine List Win

Photo from Flickr: Phanatic
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