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Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You?

PICTURE yourself on a first visit to a new restaurant. It could be French, Greek, Spanish, even American, specializing in the cuisine of any country with a wide-ranging wine industry.


You place your order, maybe asking a waiter to describe some dishes to help decide. Then you look at the wine list, dozens of choices all consistent with the restaurant’s ethnicity. Not one bottle seems familiar. What do you do?


“尝尝这个!” 布鲁克林“罗马人”餐厅的酒水总管丽·坎贝尔倒了一杯瓦尔波利塞拉葡萄酒。

A) Close your eyes, point randomly to a bottle and order it.

A. 闭上眼睛,手指到哪个,就点哪个。

B) Throw up your hands and order a beer (assuming you recognize any of those choices).

B. 摊开双手,表示放弃,点了一瓶啤酒(前提是你认识其中一款啤酒)。

C) Ask for advice from the sommelier or a server familiar with the list.

C. 询问酒侍或者熟悉酒单的服务生。

D) Rant about pretentious sommeliers who create lists of esoteric wines under the deluded notion that their mission is to educate customers. Dummies!

D. 大骂自命不凡的酒侍,谁让他做了这么一个叫人看不懂的酒单,好像他的使命就是教育顾客。笨蛋!

If you are Steve Cuozzo, the restaurant critic at The New York Post, you chose option D. In a recent column headlined “Sour Grapes,” Mr. Cuozzo railed against restaurants with wine lists that he described as “100 percent inscrutable.” He mentioned a couple of Greek restaurants with lists that were almost all Greek. (Surprise: he doesn’t care for Greek wines.)

如果你是《纽约邮报》的餐厅评论员史蒂夫·库左(Steve Cuozzo),你肯定会选D。在他最近一个名叫“酸葡萄”的专栏里,他对那些有着“完全看不懂”的酒水单的餐厅大发牢骚。他提到两家希腊餐厅,其酒水单几乎全是希腊语。(你想不到吧:他不喜欢希腊葡萄酒。)

He reserved particular scorn for the entirely French list at Reynard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where, he wrote, he didn’t recognize a single bottle among almost 200 choices.


By contrast, he cited the wine list at Café Boulud as admirable for offering, among hundreds of very expensive bottles, a section of 60 or so wines from a dozen countries, all $60 and under.

相比之下,他对布鲁咖啡馆(Café Boulud)的酒单大加赞赏:在几百种非常昂贵的酒中,有来自十几个国家的大约60种酒,售价仅60美元,甚至更低。

Mr. Cuozzo’s tirade landed like a fat bug in a glass of fine Irouléguy blanc. Bloggers and readers from coast to coast debated his stand, many denouncing him for know-nothingism and ignorance. One blogger, possibly sincerely, praised Mr. Cuozzo for expressing the view of those who are “not well employed or well educated.”


Regardless, Mr. Cuozzo’s diatribe raised crucial questions that go to the core of a restaurant’s identity. Are restaurants obliged to offer something for everybody? Or do they have the right to stay uncompromisingly true to a vision that may strike some as arcane?


Ordinarily this question is addressed to the food. Most restaurants, no matter how it might affront a chef’s creative bent, offer a few safe landing places for less adventurous customers, like steak or salmon. But most have their limits.


Many good Italian restaurants refuse, for example, to allow customers to mix and match pastas and sauces, no matter how they may entreat. David Chang advises vegetarians not to risk his pork- and duck-centric menus. Father’s Office, a Los Angeles pub, famously permits “no substitutions, modifications, alterations or deletions” to its hamburgers. That includes ketchup.

例如,很多优秀的意大利餐厅不允许顾客将面条和酱料随意混搭,不管顾客怎样恳求。张戴维(David Chang, 韩裔美籍名厨)建议素食者不要轻易尝试他的菜,因为它们以猪肉和鸭肉为主。“父亲的办公室”(Father’s Office)是一家洛杉矶的小餐馆,它以禁止“替换、更改或减少”其汉堡包的配料(包括番茄酱)而闻名。

Restaurants are not intent on annoying people. Even the proudest, most rigid chef wants you to share a vision, not walk away unhappy. I treasure restaurants that do not pander as long as they succeed on their own terms.


The same questions apply to wine. Must a restaurant offer bottles that even the most timid diner will recognize? Or can a wine list reflect a restaurant’s best conception of itself, no matter how unconventional?


The world is dominated by the ordinary and the mass-market. Most restaurants, even in New York City, conform to a mainstream vision of food and wine. For that reason alone we should celebrate the departures, not feel threatened by them. If a restaurant is so unorthodox that you feel discomfited, plenty of more conventional choices beckon.


Even restaurants with wine lists that appear to be esoteric are, on closer examination, tethered to the familiar. Roman’s, an Italianesque sibling of Reynard in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, offers a list with many unusual Italian choices.


You can order a rosé from Frank Cornelissen, who makes wine on Mount Etna in Sicily, that may shock you. It may also delight you. It’s polarizing. If it seems risky, a nebbiolo rosé from Burlotto in the Piedmont might be just the thing. It’s by no means an ordinary wine, but not unrecognizable.

你可以点一杯弗兰克·康纳利森(Frank Cornelissen)在西西里岛埃特纳火山的酒庄酿造的玫瑰葡萄酒。它一定会让你大吃一惊,但也会让你倍感愉悦,因为它能带来极致体验。如果这太冒险,也许一杯来自皮埃蒙特大区的巴洛特(Burlotto)内比奥罗(nebbiolo)黑红葡萄酒适合你。它绝不是普通的葡萄酒,但也并非无人知晓。

The entire list is like that. You most likely won’t find any of the wines in a supermarket, but it has far better versions of those supermarket wines, even if from little-known producers.


The list was put together by Lee Campbell, who also did the French list at Reynard. She has worked all over the wine business, in retail and for importers, pouring wine in East Hampton and in Harlem. She’s the last person who would ever seek to belittle customers, and certainly isn’t “off junketing, doing TV or otherwise M.I.A.” as Mr. Cuozzo put it, discussing absentee sommeliers in his comments on one blog.

这个酒单的制作者是丽·坎贝尔(Lee Campbell)。雷纳德餐厅的法语酒单也是她制作的。她对红酒业了如指掌:她干过零售,也做过进口,在东汉普顿区和哈莱姆区都倒过酒。她绝不是那种藐视顾客的人。库左在评论一篇博客时,谈到“缺席的酒侍”,说当时酒侍“也许外出赴宴了,也许上电视做节目了,要不就是人间蒸发了”。丽绝对没有那样做。

“I’m always going to try to introduce people to obscure wines that are good values,” she said. “To be fair, we have an adventurous demographic.”


Demanding mainstream wines at a restaurant with a new wave Brooklyn ambience is like expressing shock that the waitress is tattooed. Should a Greek restaurant in Yorkville offer Bordeaux and Napa sauvignon blanc? On one condition, in my opinion: if the wine director believed that these wines expressed the ethos of the restaurant, not because they were recognizable to the mainstream customer. I have no problem with an entirely Greek list at a Greek restaurant, as long as somebody can answer questions intelligently.


Even the list at Reynard is more familiar than it might seem at first. It has Champagne and Muscadet, Vouvray and Chablis, red Burgundy and Beaujolais. Are these really obscure wines? No Bordeaux, though, which perhaps was Mr. Cuozzo’s real objection.


He did make one good point. Restaurants with a list of unfamiliar wines must be able to discuss and explain the list in simple terms. He thinks those restaurants are rare, but in my experience wine service has improved exponentially in the last 20 years. Most restaurants that offer unconventional lists do so because they love the wines and love to talk about them, sometimes too much.


The crucial point for consumers is to feel free to ask questions, and to insist on simple answers if the reply seems to verge on becoming a technical lecture.


It’s not just wines from obscure places that can arouse uncertainty. Even all-American lists can be puzzling. I love the American list at Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Yet if you were to order Scholium Project’s 2009 Prince in His Caves expecting a typical California sauvignon blanc, you would be shocked by the cloudy, orange-tinged wine in the glass.

不只是鲜为人知的地方产的葡萄酒会引起这样的不确定性。全是美国酒的酒水单有时也让人迷惑。我喜欢布鲁克林卡罗尔花园(Carroll Gardens)的“酪乳海峡”(Buttermilk Channel)餐厅的美国酒水单。但是如果你点了斯科列姆(Scholium Project)葡萄园2009年产的“酒窖中的王子”(Prince in His Caves),本以为端上来的是一杯典型的加利福尼亚苏维浓白葡萄酒,可实际上端上来的酒浑浊而略带橙色,你一定深感意外。

Just as many people will hate that wine as like it, and that’s great. I’m not crazy about it, but I far prefer a world and a list that embrace Scholium Project. The enemy isn’t obscure wines or challenging lists. It’s fear of wine.

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