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May we see the wine list — please?

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The evolution and interpretation of restaurant wine lists

Long before the rise of varietal wine, back labels, and globetrotting winemakers, restaurant wine lists were as simple to read as the wines that were engraved on the never changing lists, but those days are long gone in a province where the inhabitants are mad about wine.

For the unaware, B.C.’s annual per capita wine consumption is among North America’s highest, and if the measure was ever calibrated to include the consumption of "high quality table wine" we would easily lead the race.

Sophisticated and thoughtful describes many B.C. restaurant wine lists and they are as diverse as you’ll find anywhere in the world. We are not perfect but it’s fair to say we are adventurous and in some cases prepared to break the more annoying stereotypes that can plague the average run-of-the-mill list.

Still, there is a fine line between giving the customer the variety and depth they demand and totally confusing them with too many choices. A wine list that scares off as many customers as it attracts shouldn’t be the goal of any restaurateur, nor should winning wine lists competitions.

The focus should be on how your list relates to your regular clientele. That said you can't get away with just slapping anything together and calling it a wine list.

As someone frequently charged with reviewing and in some cases evaluating wine lists, I wanted to share with you some tips for interpreting the modern list with a view to helping you become an even savvier wine buyer in restaurants.

To begin, it’s fair to say the day of the ubiquitous "house" wine has ended. With so many interesting and inexpensive wines available to restaurants there is simply no reason to list the big, brand-name house wines.

Wine-by-the-glass is where the action is today. For many diners it has become the perfect pre-dinner solution before ordering that bottle of old faithful. Some restaurants have instituted a mini-taste program right on their wine list. "Tasters", as the two or three-ounce glasses are described, are a terrific way to get a sneak preview of the wine list at a minimum investment.

Another positive development of the modern-day B.C. wine list is the appearance of serious wines available by-the-glass. In the past by-the-glass selections were barely a step above the house wine, if in fact they weren’t the house wine.

Top-flight wine by-the-glass is the perfect choice if you are only going to have a glass for lunch or dinner. It’s a great opportunity to be able to experience the taste of signature wines at a fraction of their total cost. The price may seem steeped at $9 to $15 to $20 a glass but if the wine delivers and it matches the food it becomes the "experience" we all crave when dining out.

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