SHOULD WHITE ZINFANDEL BE OFFERED ON THE WINE LIST OF A FINE DINING RESTAURANT?
Anyone who has ever visited my blog more than once will know my answer to that question. The purpose of this post, though, is to report on an interesting exchange on this topic that took place some time ago on a website called “Chowhound”. Incidently, Chowhound is a great source of information on restaurants in every geographical local in the world. If you are not already familiar with it, I would strongly urge you to check it out and even become a contributor.
Here is the post from Chowhound that inspired this topic. Below it are responses to the original post. It’s something to think about.
Sommelier snobbery – why do 4 star restaurants refuse to list white zinfandel?
In a snobbish tone, he said no, they don’t have it on the list, but there were French and German whites that he could suggest. He then brought her tastes of a reisling and a chenin blanc, which she refused, and then ordered a mixed drink. Then she said to her husband quietly: “I just want a smooth, simple, fruity glass of wine…that riesling tasted a bit like oil!”
When I got up to go the restroom later that night, I ran into the wine steward. I asked him about the white zin incident, to which he responded: “No doubt, white zin would sell well here, but I would rather be caught dead than to walk through my dining room and seeing Beringer White Zin all over the place. I don’t want to work in that kind of restaurant. To which I said:
“So you want to work in a restaurant where there is a possibility that your guests aren’t getting what they want because of YOUR preferences?”
He replied: “It’s not just my preferences. It’s my reputation. The wine industry is really close. Word will get out if I put white zin on my list. That is seen as a negative when I look for my next job.”
To that response, I let out a painful laugh. Because I realized that this “Sommelier Snobbery” is the standard. And that there are probably tons of guests at the nicest restaurants around the world who are doing the same thing.
Aren’t restaurants in the hospitality industry, after all?
and the replies:
“Lots of people started their wine odyssey with White Zin or, if you’re older, Mateus Rose. Nothing wrong with it, but IS kind of like ordering a Ballpark Frank at Le Bernardin. I think the issue is that restaurants can’t, and shouldn’t be all things to all people.”
“I was going to say something similar. I don’t expect Gary Danko to put fried chicken on the menu just because a few customers might prefer it.
This restaurant has a finite amount of space in their cellar. If they put a white Zin on the wine list, they would have to take off a vintage BdB, say.
Some Italian restaurants use a 100% Italian list. Would they sell CA Cabs if they were on the list? Sure. But lists reflect the restaurant.”
“No problem with what the restaurant or sommelier did here. The restaurant’s food, wine, ambience, price, etc, are all targeting a specific market or customer profile. That is their choice. Our choice as consumers is to decide whether a particular place is for us.
The sommelier acted professionally trying to find a substitute. And gave a plausible reason for not carrying white zin.”
“Just a heads up to anyone who might be taking Grandma to The French Laundry. I really thought this might be possible (given their extreme service level), so I checked. According to their head sommelier they DO NOT offer White Zin, even on request. They have had Bandol and Sancerre Rosé by-the-glass, and other sweeter wines on their bottle list. He’s not there 100% of the time, but he said he didn’t recall any requests for it either.
I personally think that White Zin is certainly a legitimate wine choice for someone who enjoys it. I also think that it would be out of context for a high-end restaurant (where dinner is $240 a person) to carry a wine that retails for $8, which is about the top end for White Zin. I don’t think they serve Bud Light either.”
One of the things I learned from the replies on Chowhound is that White Zin drinkers, in tests by many marketing firms, have been found to be the most loyal to a brand people of any product on the market. Defenders of the white zin fanatics have often said that they will soon discover other wines and white zin will be the reason they got started. Apparently, and understandably, this isn’t true. White zin is manipulated in such a way to create a sweetness that can’t be duplicated in other wines. Once they develop this need for “sweetness” in wine there is virtually nothing to take its place. The wine world offers Sauternes and certain Rieslings and other dessert wines but they just don’t have that “sugar” component that White Zin lovers desire.
Personally, I think White Zinfandel should be removed from the world of wine and redefined under a category called “other beverages made from grapes”. Then, anyone who wanted to order it could do so as long as they understood they had not ordered wine. Anyway, it makes for good controversy