Swirls: rolling the dice on a restaurant wine list

Some restaurants continue to take their customers for granted when it comes to the wine end of the equation. Take the experience I had the other night at a beachfront restaurant at a  resort town that will go unnamed because the point here is to illustrate an issue rather than to point a finger at any specific establishment. This was a “family style” restaurant in a great location with  standard fare, ranging from pizzas and pastas to wine list burgers and lobster rolls, steamed mussels and various salads -- you get the idea. The wine list was standard as well, with maybe 15 bottles, most of them familiar names at somewhat inflated resort prices.

I settled on the 2008 Sycamore Lane Chardonnay. The wine caught my interest because, at $30 and with a “Santa Barbara, California” appellation listed, it seemed like a potentially good value. Or so I thought. Our friendly server appeared with the bottle and announced, “Here’s your wine.” But, in reality it wasn’t “our wine.” I noticed as she held the bottle that the vintage was 2009 not 2008. Strike one, as as a sinking feeling started to come over me. For one thing, I realized that any chance of at least a little bottle age in our chardonnay was gone. Then, as I tasted it, I noted that this was a pretty generic wine – drinkable but undistinguished. Strike two. Still, I nodded to our young server that it was okay, deciding that it wasn’t worth rocking the boat in front of our friends and children. On closer inspection, the label revealed a “California” appellation, the broadest and most generic, so the grapes really could have been from anywhere in the state. Strike three. In any event, as our food came and we settled in, the wine seemed, well, fine. And that may be the point. Most people may not realize the difference or care, but for those of us who do, is it too much to ask that the information on the wine list reflect what’s on the label and in the bottle? For $30 or potentially much more, I think not.

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