I expected to get slammed in particular for not including most of the expensive lists you see in Zagat, Chowhound, etc.
Instead what I heard was ... quiet applause.
I'm still stunned; I've never written a Top 10 before that got less disagreement, and this was not a no-brainer; I played with the order until the last minute.
I think the reason is that I tapped into the zeitgeist about the way wine lists are evaluated. I'm not the only one tired of the formula "more + expensive = better."
And so I'm going to list here the standards that I used, in the hope that they will be more widely adopted.
Top 10 Wine List standards for 2012:
1) The wines should reflect the restaurant, its cuisine and its city. If there are local wines, they should be present.
2) The list should be strong in the $50-$60 range, which is a sweet spot right now for quality wines. There should be a number of good whites and reds under $40 and something drinkable at $30. There should also be at least a few splurge wines.
3) Markup matters. Wines should cost less than double the retail price, with the exception of the very cheapest wine on the list. Restaurateurs need to profit on wine, but excessive profits shouldn't be rewarded with a Top 10 ranking.
4) The list should be online, with prices listed, and updated frequently. Wine lovers like to look ahead to see what they might want to drink.
5) There should be a bare minimum of 15 whites, 15 reds, 1 pink and 2 sparkling. More is better up to about 100 wines, but raw numbers are not a substitute for diversity in either style or price.
6) The list should give a clear idea of which wines are bigger in body.
7) There should be at least 5 whites, 5 reds, 1 pink and 1 sparkling by the glass, and they should be of differing body and intensity. In cities where by-the-glass sales are small, half bottles are an acceptable alternative.
8) There should be some older wines. Particularly for the reds, not everything should be current release.
9) Bonus points for providing background information about the producers or specific wines.
10) Bonus points for a coherent philosophy, whether that's a single-country focus, sustainability, local wines, etc.
11) The list should offer some choices a wine lover might be expected to know, and some unique wines as well. Some people go out for comfort, and some go to get something they can't get at home.
What do you think? Is this how your local publication should evaluate wine lists?