Are You List Challenged? Seek Help

I’m sad to say that millions of people are suffering from an avoidable and curable disease brought on by their own lack of knowledge and may I say a lack of guts. Yes it’s the heart break of “second-cheapest wine syndrome”, an effort to cover their ignorance about a wine list in front of waiters and friends.

According to a recent survey it is a tactic used by one in four diners to try to give the impression they are making an informed choice from the wine list while avoiding any accusation of being a skinflint. But in reality it disguises the fact they have no idea about what type of wine goes with which food reports the survey of 1,000 restaurant-goers by the cheese brand Castello. (hmmm, What Goes With What)

More than half (56 per cent) will not ask a waiter for advice in case he recommends something expensive, leading to the diner losing face if they do not wish to pay for it. Just over half say that having to choose a wine is stressful, one in four would not know a good wine from a bad one and only a third think they know more about wine than a waiter, which really isn’t the point, what you need to do is seek help with any list over 15 or 20 bottles.

The tricky part is that you must be a judge of human nature. When the server states that…”We’re featuring blender drinks”, I usually try a casual question about a wine list or someone that might be familiar with the wine list. An even safer approach is to check out the restaurant on line before you go or to ask about their wine list when you call for reservations and possibly identify their wine person.

A really safe way to get a bottle in the price range you are considering is identifying one by pointing to it on the list and when the wine person takes a look slide your finger over to the price column, they will either confirm your selection or offer something else in the same range. Also don’t be afraid to just tell the person what you drink with what, remember you are just asking someone to do a job that they like and are suppose to be good at.

My good example of this took place at the Vivere restaurant in the Italian Village complex in the heart of Chicago’s loop. They pride themselves on a Wine Spectator Grand Award 1,000 bottle list featuring a fabulous Italian selection yet Fred, their long-serving wine captain, brings a California Pinot Noir for the duck pasta. When questioned he says simply, “It will go great with the food.” He was right.

So help fight SCWS and ask for help – especially if the response to your inquiry is “We’ve got red and white”.

That’s my whine and I could be wrong.

Let me know about your wine list experiences at

Woody’s Finds


Here’s a wine list from a recent tasting class that I hosted

Great little party wine and good for the porch this summer

A. ’NV Korbel Brut Rose’ Sparkling
Origin: California
Grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard
Rating NA 12.5% alcohol $10

A serious Rose’ for grilled Salmon and chicken

B. ’04 Roderer Estate Rose’
Origin: Anderson Valley, CA.
Grape varieties: a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.
Rating 89 – 12% alcohol $35

A pleasant, average SB

C. ’06 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc
Origin: CA.
Grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc
Rating 88 – 13.6% alcohol $12

A real treat, rich and flavorful

D. ’05 Voss Sauvignon Blanc
Origin: Napa
Grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc
Rating 91 – 12.5% alcohol $ 14.00

You get a decent product here but nothing more than wine in your glass

F. ’06 Fetzer Chardonnay Valley Oaks
Origin: California
Grape variety: 98% Chardonnay
Rating “best buy” – 13.5 % alcohol $7.00

Wine with fruit taste and no oak, what a concept

G. ’06 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay
Origin: Santa Barbara
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Rating 89 – 13.4 % alcohol $9.50

Rather nice wine from a steady producer

H. ’05 Chalk Hill Chardonnay
Origin: Santa Barbara
Grape variety: 100% Chardonnay
Rating 95 – 13.5 % alcohol $18

Nice drinking for the price

I ’06 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir
Origin: California
Grape variety: Pinot Noir
Rating 86 – 13.5 % alcohol $7.00

Good everyday Merlot

K ’05 Hahn Merlot
Origin: Monterey County
Grape varieties: 78% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon
Rating 88 – 13.5% alcohol $11

Quite a glass of wine, really good stuff

L. ’02 Robert Sinskey Merlot
Origin: Napa
Grape varieties: Merlot
Rating 91 – ?13.8% alcohol $26

One of my featured recipe wines, I like this

M. ’05 Sebastiani Cabernet
Origin: Sonoma
Grape variety: Cabernet Sauvignon blended with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Petite Syrah
Rating 88 – 13.5 % alcohol $$12.99

Entry level wine of the Rosenblum line but great for everyday

O. NV Rosenblum Vintners’ Cuvee XXIX
Origin: California
Grape varieties: Zinfandel
Rating 87 – 14.8% alcohol $$9.00

Top end of the Ravenswood line and quite a wine

P. ’05 Ravenswood Belloni
Origin: Russian River
Grape varieties: Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, and Petite Syrah
Rating 91 – 14.8% alcohol $28.00