Wines by the Glass
Now, if you live in San Francisco or New York, you might be inclined to say "Well, duh, how else would they choose their wines?" Problem is, I'm in Austin, Texas, and folks here are new to wine and tend to cling to what's familiar. The number of clingers outnumber the more adventurous by a large margin. People ask to see the wine list and scan for the safe choices, which are invariably cabs, merlots, or if they're really feeling fancy: pinot noir. White wine drinkers love their chards, of course, and many think pinot grigio is synonymous with 'white' wine. As a result, many wine lists around this town consist of all things safe and sound: couple of cabs, couple of merlots, couple of chards, a zin or two; if there's anything out of the ordinary, it's usually something very similar in style to the others: big, oaky, fruity.
The reasoning behind this is also safe and sound: give the people what they want. Those who are relatively new to wine usually identify quality and satisfaction with that big, forward, sexy new world juice, and why should we disappoint them? We shouldn't. Those should be on the list. But I have a theory: people want to try new wine, want to know more about it, but they stick to safe because they don't wanna get burned.
Scenario One: Bob and Sally sit down at the bar to wait for their table. The bartender arrives on the scene (looking very hot in her blacks):
Bob: I'll have the house cabernet. Honey, what do you want?
Sally: Oh, well, what kind of chardonnay do you have? (chardonnay = white wine)
Bartender: We've got one from Napa and one from Monterrey. They're both good.
Sally: You choose, whichever one's the best.
RESULT: Bob and Sally get what they expect and have little or no recollection of what kind of wine they drank.
Scenario Two: Bob and Sally belly up to the bar to wait on their table. The super hot bartender arrives.
Bob: Hi. I'll have a house cabernet. What do you want, hon?
Sally: Oh, well, what kind of chardonnay do you have?
Bartender: Tellya what--let me show you our wine list and tell you about a few of these you might like to try.
The bartender takes a moment to point out a few choices on the list that she thinks the couple might like. Bob tries a barbera, and Sally goes for the Au Bon Climat pinot blanc/grigio blend.
RESULT: Bob and Sally remember their wine experience. They tell their friends how the bartender (besides being so incredibly beautiful) turned them on to these two new wines, and how they should go check the restaurant out.
You get my drift. Getting what you expect at a restaurant or wine bar is nice, but forgetable. Trying something new that you like is memorable. That happens when the staff at the restaurant, from the wine buyer to the servers, know the list and have enough knowledge to guide the guests towards a new experience. And I ain't saying they need to force a bone-dry white burgundy down a Sonoma-Cutrer lover's throat; that's where knowledge comes in, where the wine buyer for the restaurant has used his palate for the people and not his own preferences. I am saying that not everyone knows how lovely a peppery gigondas pairs with a lamb shank until they're encouraged to try.