How To Put Up With Wine Lists (Wined Down)

Vinted on August 1, 2012 binned in Wined Down (

Last week I was interviewed by the folks (these are the same folks who engendered a great deal of controversy in the wine world when they released their first annual list of  the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry“). was (overly) kind in their introduction of me at the start of the piece (thanks, guys!), but otherwise you might find it readable so I’m mentioning it here. I’m not sure why I was so frank and edgy in my responses, maybe the gig is rubbing off (ha! sorry, couldn’t resist that) on me.

Speaking of the gig, my latest article in the Wined Down series posted last week, an interview with Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer on how to successfully navigate a restaurant wine list (for more on Fred, check out the video interview I did with him a few weeks ago).

I mention the latest PB column not only because it gives you an excuse to go look at pictures of beautiful, scantily-clad women for a few minutes, but also because I happened to pen it and PB happened to launch it the same day that a minor sh*t storm broke out on Tyler Colman’s excellent, around the comments made about modern wine lists by NY Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo. If you think my take on retailers, distributors and importers was harsh in the interview, wait until you see Cuozzo’s remarks in the comments of Tyler’s post

Those comments include a stab at the state of wine writing today: “writing on the subject is dominated by wine wonks who are out of touch with the real world of dining and drinking. They are out to show off their knowledge of what in the cabaret world is called the obscure repertory, which fascinates a tiny academic elite but puts paying audiences to sleep.” I think some of that rings true, actually.

They also include a stab at sommeliers: “As often as not, the sommelier (or whoever’s supposed to know the list) isn’t even in the house — he or she is off junketing, doing TV or otherwise MIA. Usually in such cases, whoever’s on the floor doesn’t have a clue. Take if from a critic who’s witnessed the drill for 12 years.” That’s a comment with which I patently disagree (I’d submit last week’s PB column with Fred as Exhibit A); I’ve yet to encounter a somm who was that out of touch, at least not at any half-decent restaurant at which I’ve dined anytime in the last… well, several years. Have you?

My favorite comment gem from Cuozzo’s remarks might be this one: “I LOL over those who mocked my notion of Bordeaux with chicken. They proved that ignorant snobbism based on an antiquated catechism of what’s permissible endures.”

I’d tell you whether or not I agree with that, but first I have to figure out what it actually means…






  • MyrddinGwin

    My favourite bit of M. Cuozzo's piece was when he wrote, "Seasoned diners can cope". It brings to mind several ideas. First is of a grizzled old man, with numerous facial scars, one leg, a gravelly, raspy voice, and an eyepatch who survived the "Great Dinner of '94". Second is of a group of people who've never dined out before and live in infomercials, and after a few incidences of jamming spoons in their ears and breadrolls into their trousers, they work themselves into such a panicked frenzy, they start believing that their dessert forks are the only viable exit strategy. And third is of restaurant staff generously sprinkling salt and pepper on guests occasionally to keep the guests calm, which is funny in its own special way.

    • 1WineDude

      MyrddinGwin- HA! Brings a whole new level to “seasoned” there. Maybe I don't get out enough, and maybe when I do I'm just very lucky, but most of the time for me the wine list either is small enough and easy enough to navigate that I don't need assistance, or the somm / wait staff generally know their stuff. But I should add this: for 90% of the places that I go to eat, I don't expect the staff to help with a wine selection, it's only at the better/fancier places that I expect it.

  • Greg

    I might not be an expert but I know my girlfriend makes an excellent chicken dish with Bordeaux. I never depend on the waiters or waitresses to help me select a wine. We like to be adventurous and experience different flavors. Wine tastings are our favorite way to discover new ones.

    • 1WineDude

      Greg – glad to hear it; wish more people were that vinously adventurous!

  • gabe

    It seemed like Cuozzo is just unhappy with the way the world of wine has changed, and is laying blame at the feet of Sommeliers. I always hear older people talking about buying first-growth Bordeaux in the 70's for $8 a bottle. While this is probably an exaggeration, I understand his frustration. I wish I could buy a nice Margaux for a reasonable price…unfortunately, those days are over. While I don't mock him for drinking Bordeaux with Chicken, I do have to laugh at someone who thinks they can get quality Bordeaux for the same price as a good bottle from Beaujolais or the Southern Rhone.
    Som's understand this, so they stock their wine list with good wines from odd regions, rather than overpriced or overproduced bottles from Bordeaux and Napa. It is easy to blame the Som for the wine list, rather than look at the way the world has changed, and use that info to understand how that affects the world of wine and fine dining.
    I think the shitstorm is caused because, as a food-critic in one of the worlds most important cities, he should know better. But since he is a writer for the New York Post, I'm actually surprised anyone read the article at all. He should send Tyler a thank-you note.

    • 1WineDude

      gabe – thanks. That is a great and well-stated observation about the world changing, and Somms needing o stock up on wines from lesser-known regions to help keep prices reasonable. Cheers!

  • gabe

    Thanks Joe!
    I noticed that your article also suggested picking wine from lesser-known regions. With the expansion of Bordeaux and Burgundy into China, the lesser-known wines will only continue to deliver the best QPR.
    On a non-sequetor: Are you going to be in Oregon for the Wine Bloggers Conference? I saw your name on the list. I would love to host you at the winery while you are in town so we can sip some wines and nerd-out about lesser-known wine regions in person

    • 1WineDude

      gabe – We can try, anyway! Email me and let's see what we can work out. Cheers!

  • talkavino

    Great Post, Joe! First, congratulations on been listed among 100 most influential wine people!
    And as far as that Cuozzo character goes, I think he misses a simple paradigm of business logic and economics – if the wine is not selling on the list, it will be replaced by something which is actually selling. People do want to try new things, this is why all those "unknown" wines are there…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, tv! Agreed that your point is an important one he might have missed – that's also one I and others raised at DLW 2012 this year when discussing if local restaurants and local wine producers in general should be working more together (ideally yes, but quality has to be there and the ones have to be economically viable to sell for them, too). Cheers!

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