Worst Wine List Trends: #DinersChoice Award-Winning Sommeliers Speak

iStock 000022788693Small Worst Wine List Trends: #DinersChoice Award Winning Sommeliers SpeakThis week, we celebrated the 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Wine Lists in America. Like snowflakes, no wine list is exactly like another. Each is a reflection of a sommelier’s unique perspective on the wines that will shine alongside a restaurant’s menu. Similar to menus, however, wine lists can fall prey to bad trends that diminish a diner’s experience. We asked this year’s award winners to share their thoughts on the worst wine list trends. Read on for their, ahem, juicy responses.

Lack of smaller pours. AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar proprietor Joe Barbera bristles at restaurants offering glass or bottles only with no option to try a taste with a two or three ounce pour, for example. “This also doesn’t provide the customer the ability to create their own flight.”

Too few wines by the glass. “For my personal taste, it is the lack of wine available by the glass. At Amelie, we offer more than 100 wines by the glass and we try to cover many terroirs, geographic areas, and various winemaking techniques. Our prices give our customers a chance to try new wines and see all the differences. Many wine lists have extensive options of wine by the bottle, but the high prices make it difficult for the guests to try these amazing wines. I think a wine list can be made with exceptional wines at affordable prices,” says Germain Michel of Amelie.

Showcasing only large production wines. “Everybody sells wine these days: Amazon, grocery stores, gas stations – you name it. And they all seem to be carrying the same mass-produced wines. This is the trend I am noticing in some restaurants. The wine lists are offering the same wines as a gas station. Maybe it’s because they think people will recognize the wine names,” says Tom Bush, retail wine manager, at Balaban’s.

Poor organization. As Dan Sachs of Bin 36 points out, “It’s difficult for typical diners to know how to navigate a wine list, and, often, lists can be organized by price or regions. While these may make sense from the restaurant’s perspective, if the diner is not familiar with, say, Italian reds, organizing the list by region is not very helpful. In the end, we want our guests to make a selection that will be enjoyed and enhance the rest of the dining experience – and it shouldn’t be stressful.  A wine list can be a tool to reduce or ramp up the stress level.”

Having a big list merely for the sake of having a big list. Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant winemaker Rob Warren says, “The worst trend that I see is overcomplicating the wine list for the sake of having a big list. Most customers choose wine based on familiarity and price. It is important to have the popular varietals on the wine list, and even some more obscure ones, but within those varietals there are often too many choices at or near the same price point. Pick a $20, $40, and $60 Cabernet Sauvignon that go well with the food you produce. Do the same for the other varietals on your list, and your customers will be much less intimidated.”

High prices and low quality. Amer Hawatmeh, owner of Copia Restaurant and Wine Garden, isn’t a fan of wine lists that feature low quality and high price or high quality with even higher prices and limited choices. “We strive to resolve all of this at Copia by offering a great selection of more than 1,100 varieties of wine that represent the world, at retail prices.”

Tired wines by the glass. “Exploring wines by the glass is a great way to learn more about the endless world of wine. But one of the disturbing trends we see is that of restaurants offering only predictable wines by the glass,” says Domaine Hudson proprietor, Mike Ross. “We offer a range of distinctive wines by the glass. We take pride in helping patrons expand their horizons. Very often, these discoveries become customers’ bottle favorites.”

A lack of cohesion. Elaia wine director and advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov states, “Too often I find a wine list without a sense of purpose or theme. Whether it is regional, style-driven, whatever the tie that binds, a list should tell a story. It is a look into the creative mind of the person who put it together: what they enjoy, what they are passionate about, and how they choose to communicate that passion to their guests. Guests rely on the beverage professional to guide them through the sometimes-nebulous world of wine; this is our craft, this is our passion, this is our contribution. At the end of the day, without proper context, it is still just rotten grape juice.”

Refusing to evolve. Matt Roberts, wine director for Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro, says, “There are wonderful, established wineries, wines, varietals, and producers that have stood the test of time because they are consistent with their quality and are a MUST to be represented on any wine list. One thing that we try to do at Eno Vino is not only have these constants represented on our list, but always save room and space for the unique, the ‘boutiquey,’ and the small producer. It’s essential to always keep your list revolving and evolving! It’s not necessary to change everything; switch a few things up here and there. There is no greater feeling than someone trying something new and loving it!”

Focusing solely on arcane wines. Fearrington House Restaurant wine director Maximilian Kast reveals, “I find it troubling that some wine buyers are creating lists that focus only on esoteric wines. Don’t get me wrong; I love esoteric wines, and we have them on our list, but when a guest comes in to your restaurant and does not recognize a single wine on your wine list, you have set an uncomfortable tone for their evening. Having a list which has some ‘mainstream’ wines from good producers balanced with some more esoteric wines will actually make guests more prone to choose the esoteric wines, because they feel like they have a choice, as opposed to having it forced upon them.”

Lists driven by wine sales reps. “I have seen that, at least in our area, a lot of restaurants pay very little attention to their wine lists and leave it to their ‘liquor’ sales rep — not even a wine sales rep — with total disregard to the link between food and wine, offering what the reps need to sell and not what would be best with the food they are preparing. You can find the very same wines in seafood restaurant, pizzerias, grill, and barbecue places. To us, wine is as important as food to make it a complete experience,” says Griffin Market owner Riccardo Bonino.

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Food + Fashion Meet at The New Potato ‘Pay with OpenTable’ Party in NYC — with Slideshow

Foodies and fashionistas gathered with The New Potato founders Danielle and Laura Kosann at Il Buco Alimentari in New York City to help us celebrate the recent launch of OpenTable mobile payments. Attendees, including restaurateur David Rabin, Eater photographer Daniel Krieger,  Momofuku beverage director Jordan Salcito, and VICE Munchies Editor-in-Chief Helen Hollyman, sipped wines and cocktails curated by Merchants of Beverage and munched on a menu that included crispy artichokes, octopus a la plancha, gnocchi with artichokes and chanterelles (SO GOOD!), salt-baked whole fish, roasted short ribs, and more. Take a peak at some pictures — and try out OpenTable payments in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.!

PS: Don’t miss these stylish suggestions for dining out this weekend from The New Potato – here and here.

OpenTable Reviews Reveal #DinersChoice Top 100 Wine Lists in America — with Slideshow

As we look forward to toasting the holidays in the coming months,we are pleased to honor the 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Wine Lists in America. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Highlighting restaurants with deep-yet-accessible wine lists that include the affordable and the extravagant, the complete list of award winners spans 28 states and includes, Acquerello in San Francisco, Marche Bacchus in Las Vegas, and Vino Vino in Austin. While California, home to more than a thousand vineyards, has the greatest number of winners with 16, the list indicates that wine appreciation isn’t limited to the country’s wine-producing regions, with Ohio boasting 12 winners, followed by Illinois with nine, and Maryland with eight. Texas has six honorees, while Missouri, New York, and Virginia all have five; Michigan and Washington each have four. States with three winning restaurants apiece include Florida and Wisconsin. Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, and South Carolina, respectively, have two award winners. Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee are also represented.

The Diners’ Choice Awards for the Top 100 Wine Lists in America are generated from more than 5 million restaurant reviews collected from verified OpenTable diners between October 1, 2013, and September 30, 2014. All restaurants with a minimum “overall” score and number of qualifying reviews were included for consideration. Qualifying restaurants were then scored and sorted according to the percentage of qualifying reviews for which “notable wine list” was selected as a special feature. The complete list may also be viewed at http://www.opentable.com/m/best-wine-list-restaurants-in-america/.

Did your favorite wine list win an award this year? Let us know here or over on Facebook!

OpenTable Mobile Payments March into Washington

blog dc payments1 OpenTable Mobile Payments March into WashingtonWe are pleased to announce that Pay with OpenTable is now available in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

In addition to Washington, D.C., Pay with OpenTable is currently available in New York City and San Francisco. OpenTable plans to roll out the feature across the nation by introducing it to a total of 20 cities before year end.

To pay with OpenTable, diners who book at participating restaurants simply add a credit card in the OpenTable iPhone app before they dine and can then view and pay their check with a few taps. There’s no separate app to download; no codes to enter; and no scanning or barcodes involved. Diners who Pay with OpenTable simply get up and go whenever they’re ready.

Inaugural Pay with OpenTable restaurants in the D.C. metro area include: Continue reading…

OpenTable’s New Experience

As some of you may have noticed, we’ve been rolling out and testing an updated version of our website. The redesigned site has been completely rebuilt on a nimble platform that is rich with imagery and grounded in simplicity to make OpenTable even better at helping you plan the perfect night out, discover your next favorite spot, or revisit an old favorite.

In the coming weeks, as we continue test and iterate the new site, it will be unveiled to more and more of you. We hope you’ll enjoy the new OpenTable and we welcome your feedback.  You can connect with us at redesignsupport@opentable.com.

Oh… and if you can’t wait for a look, you can take a sneak peek below.

Epic Dupe OpenTable’s New Experience

October Restaurant Weeks: Dine at a Discount

Screen Shot 2014 10 06 at 4.09.23 PM October Restaurant Weeks: Dine at a DiscountThe leaves are starting to fall — and so are restaurant prices during restaurant weeks around North America. Find a way to save in a city near you.

* Mpls.St. Paul Restaurant Week has fabulous $10-$20 lunches and $15-$30 dinners for you, October 19-24. Book now.

* MTL à TABLE offers divine three-course dinners for three prices – $19, $29, and $39 dinners, October 30-November 9. Book now.

* Richmond Restaurant Week features mouthwatering multi-course dinners for just $25.14, October 20-26. Book now.

* Santa Cruz Restaurant Week serves up amazing three-course dinners for $25 and $35, October 22-29. Book now.

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New York City 2015 Michelin Starred Restaurants: Book a Table Today!

EMP blog New York City 2015 Michelin Starred Restaurants: Book a Table Today! OpenTable is pleased to highlight the honorees in the MICHELIN Guide New York City 2015. Seventy-three restaurants are included, with six New York restaurants receiving the Michelin three-star level, the highest recognition in the culinary world, and nine achieving two Michelin stars. Fifty-eight restaurants earned one Michelin star. There were nineteen new additions overall, including Betony, Juni, and Meadowsweet.

Being included in the respected MICHELIN Guide is a sign of excellence and quality. In the U.S., New York is one of only three cities where Michelin publishes an annual guide. The others are San Francisco and Chicago. The MICHELIN Guide San Francisco 2015, the city’s seventh edition, will be introduced October 22, and the MICHELIN Guide Chicago 2014 will be published on November 12.

Congratulations to all the recipients, including:

Three Stars: Eleven Madison ParkJean GeorgesLe Bernardin, and Per Se.

Two Stars: Aquavit, Atera, Daniel, Ichimura, JungsikMarea, and Soto.

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It’s the Great Pumpkin: 15 Rave Reviews for Gourmet Gourd

pumpkin blog Its the Great Pumpkin: 15 Rave Reviews for Gourmet GourdForget artificially flavored pumpkin spice lattes (and don’t get me started on pumpkin ales!); this fall, it’s all about fresh pumpkin. A true superfood, pumpkin has almost everything an eater could want in a single ingredient — protein, fiber, carotenoids, flavor, versatility, and much more. It’s a variety of squash and it can be used dozens — if not hundreds! — of ways when placed in the hands of a creative chef. Diners who are partaking of the real thing are encountering deeply satisfying dishes that capture the essence of autumn in every bite. Find out what they’re sharing in recent OpenTable restaurant reviews. And, ICYMI, here is a picture of the world’s largest pumpkin.

* Dettera Restaurant & Wine Bar, Ambler, Pennsylvania: “My dessert was pumpkin stuffed doughnuts with salted caramel ice cream. The doughnuts were light, the pumpkin smooth with just the right amount of sweetness, and the ice cream was sweet and very caramel-y.”

* Eddie Papa’s American Hangout, Pleasanton, California: “We also shared the seasonal pumpkin egg rolls and would definitely order them again!”

* Floriana, Washington, D.C.: “The pumpkin jalapeno beignets were out of this world!”

* Grove, Grand Rapids, Michigan: “Dessert was pumpkin puree, graham cracker, cinnamon ice cream, and toasted marshmallows. Grove never disappoints!”

The Helmand Restaurant, Baltimore, Maryland: “Delicious starters, the kaddo bowrani baked pumpkin is not to be missed — perfect with the entree as a side for a contrast to the savory spices in the entree.”

Indaco, Charleston, South Carolina: ”The pumpkin semifreddo were as tasty as anything we’ve ever eaten in Charleston.”

Mark’s American Cuisine, Houston, Texas: ”Munchkin pumpkins made their seasonal debut this past weekend — which was great news for me as I have been a big fan of these lobster-stuffed goodies over the years that they have appeared on Mark’s menu.”

Pamir Restaurant, Morristown, New Jersey: ”Wonderful eggplant stew, and delicious pumpkin kadu soup. A real treat from the Middle East. Kabobs were tasty, but the best were the pumpkin-filled turnovers.”

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Vote for Canada’s Best New Restaurant

Screen Shot 2014 09 29 at 12.39.05 PM Vote for Canadas Best New RestaurantAirCanada’s enRoute invites you to choose the 2014 People’s Choice Award for Canada’s Best New Restaurant. Cast your vote and enter for your chance to win a trip to the gala event in November. Food writer Andrew Braithwaite will narrow down the list to his top 10 in the November issue of AirCanada enRoute magazine. Eligible restaurants must have opened between June 2013 and June 2014 to be considered for this year’s list, with intelligence gathered from a panel of the country’s leading food professionals.

The 30 nominees for Canada’s best new restaurants 2014 include:

Ayden Kitchen & Bar

Bar Buca

Black Pig Bistro

The Blacktail Florist

Byblos

The Chase

Cinara

Farmer’s Apprentice

Fat Pasha

Le Serpent

Luckee

Wolf in the Fog

Woodwork

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Watch It: Pay with OpenTable Demo

Diners can now use OpenTable mobile payments to settle their check at participating restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and, soon, in 18 additional cities before the year’s end. Can’t wait to try it out? See the app in action in our new video.

For additional information about mobile payments and to view the current list of participating restaurants, visit http://pay.opentable.com/. If you have a restaurant and are interested in providing your guests with our mobile payments experience, you can learn more at http://pay.opentable.com/restaurants.