Francis Fecteau, owner of Libation, a wine distributor, knows more about wine than he usually has time or space to say. So we're giving him a forum, hereafter known as Francis Friday, to rant/chat/lecture/advise/hold forth and inform us of doings and drinking in the world of wine, which is where Francis abides.
(If you want to see what Francis looks like, pick up a copy of the Best of the Beehive issue of Salt Lake magazine. He's in there.)
So here's Francis: The average consumer takes 60 seconds or less to make a wine list selection; restaurateurs know this and play to your laziness.
It's that laziness that drives the restaurateur to torture me with abject silliness such as "I want wines with name recognition"-which begs the question in return "Is that because you are too lazy to teach them something?" I know that buying something you can't pronounce is a daunting task, but there are a few tricks of the trade that can help you find a new thrill at the wine store.
I want you all to treat the wine store like the candy store.
READ THE LABELS. There is a ridiculous amount of information that people either ignore or gloss right over-the more specific a wine label is about where it's from, the more uniquely expressive of a place that wine will be. Think-if a wine says "California Chardonnay" v "Sonoma County Chardonnay", one of these refers to a much smaller stretch of land and will usually be a better guarantor of something "different".
If it's an import and you can't pronounce anything at all on the label, pay attention to the back label too-importers are very careful about selecting wines (so you don't have to). If you try an import and like it, chances are you might like something else that importer carries. (Ed note: This is the principle of transitivity applied to wine. Remember "if a=b and b=c, then a=c? And you thought you'd never use that math stuff.)
PAY ATTENTION TO ALCOHOL. Not a hard thing to do-granted, winemakers have a percentage point or so to exaggerate, but even with that caveat, a good general rule to keep in mind is that low alcohol equals high acidity which usually creates a more food friendly wine. A higher alcohol level indicates more bang for the buck obviously, but the wine will be that much richer and fuller bodied. This varies from flavor to flavor, but it's a good general rule of thumb.
READ THE LITTLE CARDS. As a seller of wine I will deliberately play to your weakness. If a review says 90 points or better, I don't care if it came from the Pro Bowlers Quarterly. Not all 90 point scores are created equal. Two things count when reading these duplicitous little cards' specificity of language and price. The more specific the language in the note, the more accurately you can imagine the flavor. And since we are required to post the national retail, always compare the shelf price to the shelf talker price.
BTW (that stands for Buy the Wine): Sea Salt, the fab new Italian place from The Paris owners, is serious about its authenticity: It features an all-Italian wine list, a rarity in SLC. AND, if you bring your own wine, the corkage fee is less for Italian wines than other wines.