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The Wine Palate

Zev Rovine, Record Contributing writer

We have all had the experience of sitting down in a restaurant and getting handed a wine list from a stuffy sommelier. It seems as though he/she is judging you based on your wine knowledge and you are immediately put in a defensive position.

Which bottles are a good deal and which bottles are overpriced? If you do not recognize many of the wines, which ones would you like? Which wine goes best with your food? How much money do you really want to spend? A wine list can be a very intimidating experience, but fear not, I have a few tips that can make the experience fun and cost effective.

The first thing to keep in mind is the Utah liquor laws make a wine list a little bit difficult to put together. While in other states your selection is based on the various distributors in your area, the Utah selection is simply what you will see at the liquor store. While it is possible to special order wine into the state, it can be a lengthy process, and as a result, difficult to keep in stock.

The other dilemma the state presents is that restaurants do not buy wine at a wholesale price. They pay the same amount as you, while in other states restaurants get a wholesale discount. This basically means that restaurants cannot hold the same margins on their wines as in other states. This being said, there are a few general guidelines to follow that will make your wine list experience better.

It is helpful to know a few wines and their prices so you can get a good range for how much a wine list is marking things up.

The first one I always use is Veuve Clicquot "Yellow Label." This wine is on almost every wine list and should cost around $80. If the restaurant is selling Veuve for $100, you should be wary of the list. Know the prices of a few popular bottles of wine, and expect a 100 percent mark-up.

A wine list should also be designed to pair well with the food.

A list comprised of prestigious wines that do not pair well with the menu is basically useless. If an Italian restaurant carries mostly American wines, it is a sign that the restaurant is probably not very well thought out. Many restaurateurs are afraid that people will not know the wines if they are not labeled by grape variety. If they spent a little time training their staff, the guests would have educated stewards to guide them through the menu and the wine list.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to ASK QUESTIONS! The sommelier or wine steward is trained to answer your questions and loves to do it.

They should know the menu better than anyone else and should be equipped to suggest an appropriate wine to match your food. Do not be afraid to tell them what you want to spend. If the wine list is good, there should be great wines at every price level.

Don’t be afraid to send a wine back if it tastes corked or has been stored improperly. And lastly, do not be afraid to try something new. There are a lot of great and unique wines out there.

Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at zev@spottedfrogbooks.com .


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