Based on years of counseling restaurateurs on how to serve wine, I realized that consumers may not understand what they should expect from the wine service at restaurants. In light of this, I created the Wine Drinkers' Bill of Rights to guide unsuspecting imbibers as they try to enjoy wine with their meals at our nation's casual to mid-level restaurants.
#1 No person shall have to be subjected to a wine list that cannot be understood by someone other than a sommelier.
While sommeliers are becoming more common in fine-dining restaurants, they are still rare in casual ones. Customers need information to guide them through a comprehensive wine list. For a wine list to be useful, a minimum of three descriptors should be used for each wine. I like seeing 1) the body style of the wine, 2) what fruit is predominate and, 3) a descriptive word for each wine. For example, "medium-weight, blackberry, jammy" for a Zinfandel from California.
#2 The right of persons to be handed a wine list that has been updated recently shall not be infringed.
Just because Blue Nun Liebfraumilch was popular in the 70s doesn't mean that people want to drink it in 2015. And light, summer wines will taste like water when paired with rich, hearty winter faire. Wine lists should vary like menus do - twice per year at a minimum.
#3 A well-informed server who can comfortably talk and share stories about the wines on the list shall be made available at each table.
Humans connect with stories. Servers who can talk about a wine and the people who are involved in making it or the history behind it, will help customers feel emotion when they drink the wine. Wine should be so much more than just a glass of fermented grape juice.
#4 Restaurants shall serve no wine unless it is at the right temperature.
Whites that are too cold can be compared to being served your entrée with plastic wrap over the plate - the aromas will be stifled. Reds that are too hot will singe your nose with alcohol fumes. You most enjoy wines that are served following the general rule of 40-50-60: 40 degrees for sparkling, 50 degrees for whites, and 60 degrees for reds.
#5 No wine shall be quartered in glasses that aren't big enough to allow for swirling.
The enjoyment of wine is mostly about the aromas that fill your nose as you drink. The aromas become airborne in the glass IF there is room for them to lift into the bowl. Wine glasses must have enough room for guests to swirl the wine so the aromas can fill the bowl - a minimum of 10-12-ounce capacity.