I frequently read'and have probably written'that average restaurant-goers are often intimidated by restaurant wine lists. It seems to be one of those clichÃ©s of the written wine word that most wine writers are guilty of perpetuating. But I’m not so certain it’s true.
Yes, wine lists can get complicated and confusing but, more and more, I find those wine lists to be merely puzzling. At least in my mind, there’s a difference between a confusing wine list and a puzzling one, although on occasion, you get both puzzling and confusing in restaurants. That really sucks.
To me, a confusing wine list is simply one that’s ill-organized, and that’s something I’m finding less and less often these days. Even though there are increasingly diverse approaches to making wine lists more consumer-friendly, I find that most restaurateurs and wine managers are essentially on the same page. That is, they truly are taking a whack at creating wine lists that make sense to folks who might not have been raised on Chateau Margaux. After all, if you can’t figure out what wine to order with your meal because the wine list is too convoluted or intimidating, you might wind up ordering Coors Light or a Coke. So it is in a restaurateur’s best interest to create a wine list that even Condoleezza Rice could negotiate.
Not to pick on one restaurant since there are many guilty parties, but eating recently at Corbin’s Grille (see Dining, p. 32) illustrates my point about puzzling wine lists. Essentially, Corbin’s is a surf-and-turf kind of place; the big draw is steak and seafood. And yet, the wine list at Corbin’s is peculiarly unsuited to steak and seafood. It’s almost as if someone on this planet created the restaurant’s menu and someone on Uranus devised the wine list. Unfortunately, that’s more the norm that you might expect. I can think of dozens of high-profile restaurants where the wine options and the food are out of synch.
That’s not to say that Corbin’s doesn’t offer a good wine selection. They do'especially for Davis County, which isn’t exactly the wine-consumption capital of North America, or even Utah. Corbin’s Grille has a nice smattering of wines I like, including Cakebread Chardonnay, Caymus Conundrum, Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Gallo Cabernet Sauvignon and the luscious Roederer Estate Brut Rose.
But what are you gonna drink with a sumptuous wood-grilled ribeye steak? The classic wine partner for a juicy steak is Bordeaux, yet the only Bordeaux on Corbin’s wine list is a young (’03) Rothschild Mouton Cadet, very reasonably priced at $26. Excuse me, but when I’m enjoying a great steak'which isn’t very often'I want to splurge on wine to go with it. Half the fun of enjoying a restaurant steak is the excuse it gives me to order up an unctuous, scarily tannic red wine, preferably Bordeaux, that will bow down to my rare-cooked bone-in ribeye. One of the great joys of matching food and wine is discovering how the fat in a juicy steak or piece of lamb cuts right through the thick tannins of a challenging bottle of Bordeaux. Now that’s worth spending your paycheck on.
Yet Corbin’s is typical insofar as it offers customers a very friendly selection of California Cabernet, but nothing with the oomph required to go toe-to-toe with its great steaks and prime rib. That leaves its beefeater customers more or less at the mercy of the Ravenswood Zinfandel or Rosemount Shiraz offered on the wine list. It’s too bad, because that rich, rare ribeye I enjoyed at Corbin’s deserved better. It’s â€¦ puzzling.