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Wine Lists Made Simple

Ray Isle dreams up his ideal wine list.

I've always wanted to be a sommelier. But since being one involves pouring wine for people without spilling it on them, I simply took on the fun part of the job and created a wine list. It's for the fictional Restaurant Isle, a small place with a market-driven, New American menu and entrées in the $25 zone. Then I went to top restaurant wine pros and asked them for a critique. The result is a compendium of great advice for anyone ordering wine in restaurants, or even buying at a wine shop.

Sparkling Wine | White Wine | Rosé | Red Wine

Sparkling Wine

Impressions

Ray's Wine Pick: Pierre Peters is a great maker of Blanc de Blancs, a Champagne style that's lean, crisp and very food-friendly.
Chris Blanchard, Down by Law Consulting: Since your menu is locally driven, why not offer a sparkling U.S. wine like Schramsberg? You could sell it for $55.

White Wine

Impressions

Ray's Wine Pick: Dry Riesling from Australia (or Alsace) can be great alone or with seafood.
Fred Dexheimer, Juiceman Consulting: Good wine, but maybe a little expensive at $11 a glass. With your entrée prices, I'd definitely add a white that's $10 or under.

Ray's Wine Pick: A lot of Pinot Grigio is bland. J. Hofstätter's isn't.
Jesse Becker, Périphérique: The high-acid whites by the glass here are a sommelier's dream—they pair so well with food—but I would add a richer wine like a Chardonnay for creamy dishes like risotto.

Ray's Wine Pick: Winemaker Mia Klein's Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is gorgeously aromatic; it's also one of the few oak-aged ones that isn't ungainly.
Fred Dexheimer: It's great that you have a $60 white—there's always a huge sweet spot between $50 and $75.

Ray's Wine Pick: Roulot's village wines are better than most premiers crus.
Robert Bohr, Grand Cru Wine Consulting: Roulot's wines mostly go to elite restaurants; a small, new restaurant like yours will have a hard time getting any.

Rosé

Impressions

Ray's Wine Pick: Ultra-versatile dry rosés like this are great with anything from tuna tartare to pork loin.
Jake Kosseff, Wild Ginger, Seattle: To sell an esoteric choice like this, be sure your staff tastes it, so they can convey their excitement.

Red Wine

Impressions

Ray's Wine Pick: This robust southern French red is one of my top value finds ever.
Jesse Becker: Your by-the-glass reds are all pretty hearty. I would suggest adding a lightweight choice like a Barbera, so that there's a red wine to drink with seafood.

Ray's Wine Pick: I like how Seghesio's Zin always manages to be luscious and intense, but also balanced.
Chris Blanchard: I'd kill the Zin and pour a by-the-glass Pinot like the Copain below. You'll sell more, plus Zin is a rough match for food because it's so massive.

Ray's Wine Pick: Cru Beaujolais is one of the most versatile pairing wines in existence, and Lapierre is unequalled.
Chris Blanchard: I love cru Beaujolais, too, but this could end up being the biggest dog on your list. People expect Beaujolais to be less expensive.

Ray's Wine Pick: Value can be found at any price. Hirsch is one of the greatest Pinot vineyards in California, but this special cuvée is less expensive than the estate's top bottling.

Ray's Wine Pick: Finding top-quality Napa Cabernet that can sell for under $100 on a list isn't easy. David Ramey's is a winner.
Fred Dexheimer: This is a good price for your place. At a high-end steak house, you could offer something pricier.

Ray's Wine Pick: For red Burgundy, Volnays are among the most approachable when young.
Belinda Chang, The Modern, NYC: Rossignol comes from a great small importer. That's a good thing about your list—no one supplier dominates it, so there's lots of variety.

More Wine and Spirits Tips:

Published July 2010
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