An assessment of the pricing of a list, an indication as to what degree there is ‘value’ in the wines listed in comparison to other restaurants and wine bars. Factors such as ‘entry price point’ are taken into consideration, as well as lists which reward going further up the list with tempting cash margins, rather than fixed percentage margins from top to bottom. Iconic wines aggressively marked up, and wines clearly priced more keenly than the majority of lists in town, will in turn show less of an inclination to offer real ‘value’. The highest scores are for selections which entice the drinker to trade up without the hard sell, which keeps everybody happy and ultimately, ensures more wine will be drunk.
A list will naturally score highly here if there is a good spread of countries and wine styles from across the world, but then so may selections which focus on wines from a single country, showing a depth and complexity within a narrower template. A particular regional focus and strength is a plus point here, as are in-depth listings of particular producers or tempting verticals of iconic domaines. Lists which show a singularity and clear stylistic choices being made, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach, will get a thumbs up here too.
Big lists don’t always make good lists, but the larger lists will start off on the front foot in this category. Small lists also can have their own charm, so a less voluminous list will still have a chance for a high score here if its size makes sense within the context of the restaurant. Is the list a small, tightly honed one with very little excess unnecessary flab? Or perhaps it’s a huge tome at the upper echelon of wine list ‘royalty’, covering every conceivable wine base know to humanity? There is scope for both of these lists to gain marks.
Top sommeliers, excellent stemware, staff who go above and beyond in the delivery of the whole wine experience in the restaurant — sometimes these elements can affect the enjoyment of wine in a massive way. Are all the staff as engaged about the wines they are pouring as the management? Do they offer to decant certain wines without prompting? Expertise in the arts of presenting, pouring, decanting, and telling the story of the juice you’re about to enjoy, while not always crucial, becomes an accepted standard once we start to walk on the Michelin starred side of life. Beautiful wine, presented beautifully, makes the experience more beautiful.
What constitutes originality? Lesser seen varieties, smaller producers, lists assembled in an innovative, brave or creative way — elements like this will score highly here. Uncompromising lists focusing on natural and biodynamic wines also get high marks, lists which are the antithesis of commercial styles and mass produced labels. Hard to find wines, a proliferation of smaller importers, unfashionable wine styles, lists formatted in an unconventional way, anything which is moving away from our accepted ‘conservatism’ of what a wine list should look and behave like. The word ‘bravery’ often seems appropriate here, lists which are more often than not, driven by a particular vision by the owners or the sommelier. Lists which make you take a step back and think, ‘what’s going on here then?’