Wine Trader Magazine

Be Creative...But Give 'Em What They Want

The ongoing renaissance of fine dining restaurant cuisine and decor is a wonderful thing. I am the first one to applaud breaking new boundaries, old taboos and rules in general when it comes to wine and food. I also happen to appreciate a little common sense and balance when it comes to menu and wine list creation. That means leaving something for everyone to enjoy regardless of previous knowledge or experience.

I believe that chefs figured this out a long time ago. I cannot tell you the number of "fusion" menus I have seen that still have steak and potatoes there somewhere. Cellarmasters and sommeliers seem to be a bit behind the power curve. How many wine lists have you seen recently where you could not identify seventy-five percent or more of the wineries or regions listed?

I donŐt mind these types of adventures but I can tell you that a good percentage of restaurant patrons do. I remember from my floor days that there were two wines that were customer untouchables, Wente Grey Riesling and Charles Krug Chenin Blanc. The diners that ordered these wines had been enjoying them for years and were quite content to continue to do so regardless of what they were having for dinner. I was very happy to serve them and see them enjoy themselves. Give people what they want and they will be happy, what a revelation. I know that certain wine consultants and buyers believe it is their obligation to "educate" the consumer. I don't believe that is what most customers have in mind when they walk in the door. The real kicker is when you ask your waitperson about the wine you have never heard of before. "Could you tell me about the Squishy Slew Viognier/ Chardonnay/Syrah blend from the Ogden Ridge Bench in the Wildwolf AVA of the upper Alaskan Peninsula?" Do these answers sound familiar "You'll like it." "I'll get the sommelier." "I like it better than some of the other wines I never heard of that we have." Or my favorite, "No."

When I talk about balance on a wine list I mean just that. There should be representation from exciting new wineries, varieties, blends and growing regions. There should also be some wines from wineries that you may have heard of before who have a history of consistent high quality. There is still something to be said for experience. Most importantly the servers should have a working knowledge of what is on the wine list and what dishes to recommend with which wines. It sounds basic but just consider your most recent dining experience. Did you really want peach flavored grappa with your pork loin?


Five Top Sommeliers

dot Michael Rugers
1208 South Howard Avenue
Tampa, FL 33606-3197
(813) 251-2421
Perhaps the last bastion of aged wine at incredibly reasonable prices. Michael has done a great job of managing and updating this superb cellar assembled by the legendary Bern Laxer.


Henry Bishop
980 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
For wondeful Italian dining and a very creative wine list to match you can't go wrong at Spiaggia. Henry understands balance in a wine list and has done a superb job here.


John Hulihan
50 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
(415) 344-9444
Chef Bradley Ogden has created a great new restaurant that combines elements of the Lark Creek Inn and One Market. The excellent cuisine is matched by a list of many of California's finest wines.


Kurt Eckert
One Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
(212) 299-3900
The menu and wine list are finely tuned. There are many interesting directions you can go for food and wine pairing.


Kevin Vogt
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-1111
A superb selection of wines perfectly matched to the cuisine. Ask for Kevin and get a great recommendation.

Fred Dame is one of a handful of individuals in the U.S. to have earned the title Master Sommelier, and one of only about 50 in the world. For many years the Director of Wine and Cellarmaster at the famous Sardine Factory Restaurant in Monterey, California, Dame is currently Director of On-Premise Marketing for The Seagram Classics Wine Company. In addition to his wine, restaurant and marketing background, Dame has a degree in journalism and communications, is a professional wine judge, a member of too many wine societies to mention, and a syndicated columnist in Japan.

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Latest Update: October 31, 1997