RICHARD ESLING: A wine list for the 21st century
There are wine lists and then there are wine lists.
The variety and presentation is infinite, from a simple bistro where the wine choice is red or white – one wine of each – to the super-pretentious gastronomic outfit, where the wine list is presented in more than one volume, each being the thickness of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Thankfully, most wine lists fall somewhere in- between these two extremes, with the intention of presenting the customer with some form of information, including price, on the range of wines on offer.
An intention which often falls far short of its goal, except with regard to price.
A well-constructed wine list should have a balance of types and styles of wine in relation to the establishment and its clientele, with at least a few words on each wine so that the customer may determine to some degree whether the intended choice will suit. The more information, the better – up to a point. The majority of consumers do not want to read a short novel before deciding on their wine choice and reams of information may be both unwieldy and unnecessary, with some consumers being more interested than others.
And so, enter the wine list for the twenty first century. An electronic list on a tablet mounted on a stand. By no means unique, this was the style of wine list placed on my table last week in a restaurant in the centre of Bordeaux. The restaurant is called ‘Le Quatrième Mur’ and is located inside the Grand Theatre on Place de la Comédie. The chef, Philippe Etchebest, had a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Saint Emilion, but moved here to create ‘bistronomy’ rather than gastronomy, to be accessible to a wider audience, in a chic and contemporary brasserie atmosphere. And a further innovation is the i-pad style wine list.
From the screen menu, you can choose wines by the glass or wines by the bottle and subsequently red, white, rose, sparkling or sweet, firstly having chosen your language from a choice of eight - including Greek. Each wine naturally shows the price, together with a brief description as to its provenance and style. Then click on the wine and you are taken to an in-depth description of the vineyard, it’s climate, soils, history, together with detailed tasting notes.
A further button on the menu bar concerns food and wine pairings. Thus, from your chosen food menu, you select the dish and the programme will give a selection of wines which are most appropriate. The system perhaps begs the question as to the need for a Sommelier in such circumstances. Having posed the question to the restaurant manager, I was swiftly reassured that a sommelier would always be available for consultations and advice. However, there is only one sommelier and with a full restaurant of 150 covers, if you include the terrace, he/she maybe somewhat stretched. And hence the great advantage of the electronic sommelier, which can not only provide a detailed description of each wine, but advise on which wine to drink with which dish of the restaurant’s menu.
There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘tablet’ style wine list is here to stay and that it puts a wonderful amount of information at the diner’s fingertips – all of which is brilliant for those interested enough to get to the detail. But they should always be an additional resource of sommelier input, since it is impossible to replace the years of knowledge and experience of the professional sommelier, with his insight, tasting experience and personal recommendations, so invaluable to a perfect dining experience.
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