Since none of the 334 questions that form the skeleton of Wes Marshall's incredibly useful and straightforward new wine guide directly address the Dallas scene, City of Ate this morning hit the one-time Observer music writer with a critical 335th query: What's the biggest problem with local wine lists?
"I wish we'd see more European wines, period," says Marshall, who'll be signing copies of What's a Wine Lover to Do? tonight at Legacy Books in Plano.
"That's where wine is from; that's where wine is made to go with food, not to be drunk around the pool," Marshall says of old-world wines.
European wines are so underrepresented in Dallas, Marshall says, that even restaurants serving continental cuisine devote the bulk of their lists to domestic wines.
"I was at a French restaurant last night, and 20 percent of the list was French," Marshall says. "And there are so many trillions of French wines! I saidm 'What's with this?', and they said, 'People don't know these wines. We can sell them Kenwood Cabernet.'"
Marshall suspects European wines would be more popular with rookie wine drinkers if their labels weren't so darn inscrutable. Most European wine markers, for example, don't put varietals on their labels, so drinkers who aren't familiar with a certain region don't have a clue whether a wine's dry or sweet, fruity or earthy, firm or soft. That's why Marshall's proudest of the section in his book in which he outlines how to read wine labels from various countries.
According to Marshall, it's critical for consumers to develop some degree of wine knowledge, since they can't always count on servers to steer them to the right bottle. At the unnamed French restaurant where Marshall dined last night, his server tried to persuade him the restaurant stocked the very same single-vineyard Chateauneuf-du-Pape he'd brought from France.
"We looked at the list, and there were these three Chateauneuf-du-Papes, and I said, 'Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a town. These are different wines'," he recalls. "And she said, 'Oh, I didn't know that.'"
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Still, Marshall says a few Dallas sommeliers are doing an especially good job. James Tidwell, the master sommelier at the Four Seasons, is quoted in the book: Marshall's enamored with his list, which isn't dominated by the typical heavy hitters.
"It's difficult for a restaurant here to say they're not going to chase the market when the place down the street is selling crap for hundreds of dollars," Marshall says. "It's sad for the poor sommeliers who know they have bad wines on their lists because a guy's going to drive up in a Maserati and have to have it."
Which brings us to question 336: Is there hope for serious Dallas wine drinkers?
"Oh, yes," Marshall says. "I've lived in L.A., and L.A.'s much worse."