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Wine Lists Are Evolving Into Broader Beverage Lists
Remember the wine lists of the 20th century? It was as if an invisible hand created the lists of every Italian neighborhood restaurant, every French bistro and every American steakhouse.
This monotonous uniformity fit the moment in Americans’ wine education: offer them that with which they are comfortable. Don’t undermine their selections with wines contrary to their preconceptions and fixed mindset.
I am pleased to report this is no longer the landscape for many restaurant lists, whether presented on a printed sheet or a QR coded card. The focus of the lists has changed dramatically in this first quarter of the 21st century. More and more frequently, restaurant patrons are presented with a “beverage” list that is far-ranging. I am seeing lists expanded to include wines from far-flung lands and wines with stratospheric prices, including escalating markups.
More revolutionary is the expansion into other alcoholic beverages. Today’s beverage list increasingly includes cocktails, craft beers and global whiskeys.
Many patrons find it difficult to navigate these new lists. Understanding the nuances of the choices presents an additional dilemma. In this evolving era, restaurants are employing a new strategy. More than ever, they are hiring certified, deeply knowledgeable sommeliers.
This new generation of “somms” is infusing new life into restaurants. By personally crafting and curating beverage lists, this new breed offers diners the opportunity to experiment and seek out their next favorite wine.
Baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials alike are becoming more wine savvy, resulting in more sophisticated wine and food palates. They are willing to spend more for the right wine to accompany a special meal, and they are not hesitant to seek guidance. Why fumble through a list of unrecognizable and unpronounceable names when your friendly somm can be your personal guide through the maze of today’s restaurant fare?
A wine and spirits bar is also an excellent venue to expand your epicurean palate. Look for the grand opening in the next few weeks of Westchester’s newest, Raconteur Bar & Kitchen in Pleasantville.
A new wave of expanded beverage lists is creating quite a buzz for many restaurant-goers.
- Pre-dinner cocktails, both traditional and those concocted by the new wave of highly inventive mixologists. Combining exotic ingredients (herbs, spices, fruit nectars), they can set up one’s palate for the dinner course or be enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif. If you’ve brushed past this section of a beverage list, take a moment to pause and peruse the offerings.
- Artisanal beer selections were generally non-existent on past lists. Today, with the proliferation of highly crafted beers, somms are pairing them with food menus. My personal experiences have validated the compatibility of a number of dishes with finely crafted beers. My current favorite: Platinum Dragon on tap at Soul Brewing in Pleasantville, paired with Ma Betts Old Clothes shredded brisket tacos from Falafel Taco across the street.
- Whiskeys are gaining a foothold on restaurants’ beverage lists. Scotch offerings are increasing, while small-batch American bourbons are growing in popularity for pre-dinner imbibing. In a surprising move toward throwback spirits, small-batch Tennessee whiskeys are gaining traction. (I recently enjoyed George Dickel Barrel Select – with one ice cube.)
Along with expanded and upgraded lists come higher-priced wines. Curated lists may focus on European fine wines not available in wine shops, with prices in the three-digit stratosphere. For those seeking a higher level of dining, wine prices may not be a constricting factor. However, there are far more consumers who can’t (or won’t) open their wallets for more than three or four Andrew Jacksons. And relief is not on the way.
Over the years, I’ve learned to budget my disposable income for restaurant dining toward higher priced wines without sacrificing my family’s nutritional needs or wardrobe expansion. However, I do object to the high markups on many of the wines I see on today’s wine lists.
The goal of every restaurant should be to find the perfect fit for your palate and your wallet. After all, a contented customer is a returning customer.
Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.