|The "bold" red section of Sotto's wine list|
I don't know what they taste like or what foods they go with. I don't know why Syrache is $50 and Il Falcone is $125.
I don't know who makes them. I mean, I see the producer's names. But I don't know if they're biodynamic or fifth-generation vineyard owners or some brand name picked out by a corporate winery to move excess juice. Sotto has Red Car wines; are those related to Red Truck?
|Juan Rivera. Not a vintner. Yet.|
Yes, I'm stupid. I spend much of my day reading and thinking about wine, and I had to Google "Rivera" to get that fact. Had I just sat down in front of the wine list, I might have thought it was this Rivera. Or, since the restaurant is in LA, perhaps Juan Rivera.
Evan Dawson, a fine wine writer, wrote a piece for Palate Press this week about corkage, in which he uses Sotto's wine list as an example. Dawson talks to Sotto wine director Jeremy Parzen and learns that "every week, we get people who stop at the Ralph’s Supermarket across the street and buy Kendall Jackson and similar bottles."
Well, no wonder. They know what Kendall-Jackson is.
I made a comment on Dawson's post and I want to repeat it here, to hopefully spark a discussion about Sotto's wine list and many other wine lists at trendy restaurants:
That's not a wine list, that's a price list.
Without context, without descriptions, Sotto's wine list is mystifying to more than 99% of Americans.
I personally would not bring a bottle of wine to Sotto. If you read this blog regularly you know I'm a thrill-seeking drinker, always interested in unfamiliar wines. I'm also not afraid to announce my ignorance on a topic, even one I'm supposed to know well. As in this blog post.
How common is that?
The New York Times' Eric Asimov wasted his large pulpit on this topic yesterday. Asimov wrote, "The crucial point for consumers is to feel free to ask questions, and to insist on simple answers if the reply seems to verge on becoming a technical lecture." Asimov cites a sommelier who put together the list at two different restaurants, apparently not adjacent, who says she's not an absentee. That gives diners a 50% chance of being in the restaurant with her when she's on duty. In other instances, diners can ask the server. I know a few servers with excellent wine knowledge, but it's noteworthy when you meet one because they're rare.
The headline on Asimov's article, which he probably didn't write, reads, "Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You?" I'll say "educate." Where's the education, though?
If sommeliers want their customers to drink something unfamiliar, they have to explain why, without forcing their customers to ask. Few people want to appear uninformed in front of their friends. Make the case on the wine list, in writing, so they don't have to.
What say you, readers? Should a wine list educate, or is a price list sufficient?