Eric Asimov doesn’t like the
wine list at Cafe du Soleil:
It’s not that the wine list is too small. It offers several dozen bottles
– mostly French but some Italian, American and Spanish, too –
befitting the size of this small bistro.
But the list shows both a complete lack of imagination, and total indifference
to wine. It’s as if the restaurant abdicated responsibility for the
list and allowed the first wine salesman in the door to put it together from
the dreariest of his selections. Almost every last bottle is from a mediocre
producer from a predictable region who is simply churning out product. It’s
a complete bore, and it’s enough to keep me from going back.
Now Eric Asimov writes about wine for a living, so he’s in the tiny minority
of people who knows a mediocre producer when he sees one. He’s like the gin
rummy player who not only remembers everything his opponent picked up, but also
remembers everything his opponent discarded.
Most of us, however, find it hard enough to remember good producers, let alone
try to remember wines which turned out to be mediocre.
So, Mr Asimov (or anybody else): Is there any way that a non-professional can
recognise a bad wine list? It seems unfair to extrapolate from one bottle: if
you’re disappointed once, that doesn’t mean the entire list is weak. So when
and how does one come to the conclusion that the list is bad enough to keep
one from going back?
In my case, this has only happened at Alias, on Clinton Street, and only because
that restaurant is so excited about its wines. It has lots of them by the glass,
and everybody there seems extremely enthusiastic about them. So if you go with
a group of people a couple of times and order wine by the glass rather than
the bottle, it’s relatively easy to get through most of the list. And come to
the conclusion that none of it is particularly great.
But if a restaurant doesn’t push its wines like that, and just has a list of
a few dozen bottles which aren’t available by the glass, are there any telltale
signs of mediocrity?