The last two decades have seen major innovations in the way restaurants prepare and present food. Not only is the tasting menu ubiquitous, but research-driven chefs work hard in their labs to find dishes that play with all the senses. By contrast, we have seen almost no innovation in the way restaurants enhance our experience of wine. True, there is the wine pairing for the tasting menu where you can benefit from an experienced sommelier’s knowledge of which flavours best complement or contrast with those of the associated dishes. However well this is done, there is still the question of whether you will like the wines the sommelier has chosen.
The only chance to exercise choice is to order the wine yourself; and here, the script is always the same. You are given the wine list, asked to select a bottle, which is then brought to the table for you to taste. This is not so that you can say whether or not you like it. It is an invitation to confirm that the wine in this bottle is free from faults.
For many diners, this is an intimidating procedure and wine lists with the well-intentioned but almost meaningless categories of “Light and Fragrant,” “Bold and Fruity,” do little to help.
Even for those who know and love wine, is there really an opportunity to make an informed choice? A quick scan of the wine list will tell you the countries of origin, regions and grapes represented and the vintages on offer. After that, you may spot producers you know and trust. This helps, of course; and if you’re lucky, you may even spot a wine you’ve had before. Only then can you be reasonably certain about the quality of the bottle you choose for the table. In all other cases, it is a case of hit or miss.
Perhaps you opt for Burgundy—a Côte de Nuits, maybe? You choose a Gevrey Chambertin, premier cru. It’s 2008. Not a bad year, and somehow more typically Burgundian than the super ripe wines of 2009. But you don’t know the producer, so how good are your expectations? Is it made in the modern style or is it a more traditional wine? The sommelier can help. But still, do you have even a remote knowledge of how the wine will taste? You begin to feel doubtful. Remember, this is one of the larger…