Mission Impossible – The Restaurant Wine List

We have been drinking organic wine for the last seven years, or, to put it better, trying to drink organic wine. Finding a bottle at the retail level had often been a sleuthing game worthy of Agatha Christie. Years ago, in the heart of Sonoma, we went into a hip-looking wine boutique, filled with a bevy of interesting small producers and different varietals. We asked the salesperson for their organic selections, and were politely directed to a discount liquor barn five miles north “in the strip mall, next to the Laundromat.” He had heard there were some organic wines there.

Wine stores have changed a lot since then, but now the same detective skills are a part of dining out. We’ve been in high-end restaurants where every cut of beef is identified by its ranch and eating habits, and every vegetable on the plate had its grower named, but trying to find out anything about the vineyard practices of a winemaker on the wine list is impossible. If our menus can tell us which heirloom strain of yeast helped puff up our dinner rolls, then surely we should be able to know which of their wines are organic or biodynamic.

Sommeliers are sometimes helpful, but even they are not always sure how all of their wines are made. When we find one who is knowledgeable, we always ask them, why not have a labeling system on the wine list? Perhaps a little ‘o’ for organic, a ‘b’ for biodynamic, or an ‘s’ for sustainable. Even wines with an international following, like Nicholas Joly’s Coulle de Serrant, the king of biodynamics, are not identified as such. We always get the same answers: “It just confuses people,” or the much more honest “We don’t want the other wines to be perceived as lesser.”

This just doesn’t make sense. The trend in food and wine is now traceability. With Wal-mart going organic, it will not be enough to just be organic. True food lovers want to know the sources of what they are consuming, and whether it’s a local family farm or another agribusiness jumping on the bandwagon. This desire is moving from the menu to the wine list, and will give a well-deserved edge to small organic and biodynamic wine producers.

So, our simple request to restaurant owners, chefs, and sommeliers: Please show us, tell us, and let us know which of your wines are the ones we want to drink.


One response to “Mission Impossible – The Restaurant Wine List”

  1. You make a great point. I’m going to ask for organic wines whenevere I go out now.

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