Friday, July 27, 2012
New York Post vs. New York wine lists
But Dr. Vino tipped me and many others off yesterday to an interesting column by Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo, who complains that he doesn't want to drink anything exotic: he just wants a "nice, affordable Bordeaux to go with chicken and summer greens."
I hope he meant white Bordeaux; he doesn't say, but that's a great value and great chicken/greens pairing. What he doesn't want is anything he hasn't heard of. He doesn't want Sicilian wine in a Sicilian restaurant, or Greek wine in a Greek restaurant.
It's easy to mock Cuozzo: he's supposed to be a professional food critic, yet he's uninterested in discovery?
What he's doing, though, is representing a certain mindset, and that's what any publication's columnist should try to do.
Think about who reads the New York Post. Not well-employed or well-educated people. And, significantly, not young people.
Cuozzo's attitude is a typically aggressive Post-like distillation of a huge generational gap. Older US diners didn't experiment with wine in their 20s and they're set in their ways today. Cognitive research shows that people become less open to new ideas as they age.
I urge wine producers and importers to read his column not to be amused or outraged, but to imagine what many people in their mid-50s and up are thinking, so you can better allocate your marketing budget. I adore Assyrtiko, but if these people aren't going to buy it, I don't know how you can make them.
(By the way, here's the wine list in question. There are some things on here I'd look forward to trying. But it's almost all French and mostly obscure.)
Sommeliers too: if you want customers like Cuozzo and his readers, you need to have some recognizable wine brands for them. I'm sure hip Brooklyn restaurants are perfectly happy to have these customers walk away in disgust. But in other towns, with larger seating areas to fill, the strategy might not be the soundest.
I completely agree with an important point Cuozzo made when he visited Dr. Vino's blog to comment on the piece: it's often not possible to talk to the sommelier. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and something I wrote about last year for Sommelier Journal.
Unlike Cuozzo, I love wines I haven't heard of, but it's not enough to put them on the list, leaving the server to say, "People really like that one." I always ask for the sommelier, I live in a city that has them, and I'd say the somm gets there within 15 minutes of my request about 20% of the time.
A good wine list should have an explanation of some kind of every unfamiliar wine.
Cuozzo also complains on Dr. Vino's site about high markups, and of course I'm with him on that. Double retail price is too old school and too steep for the wine-savvy urban crowd this restaurant seems to be trying to attract.
It's easy to mock Cuozzo. But I won't. Certain truths aren't pleasant to the ears, and the fact that many people still hold his point of view is one of them.
See you again in October, New York Post. Hopefully, early October.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM