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WINE LIST POLL: What is the Perfect Wine List?

Posted on May 23, 2018

Wine List Poll



The budget watcher list is the list which lists the wine by price point.  The least expensive wines are at the top and the most expensive at the bottom.  I guess this sort of list is great for those people going out on a blind date, because you can watch your date’s eyes and see just how important this date to them?  If their eyes are at the top of the menu, then you know your date has no interest in a second date.  If their eyes go straight to the bottom, then “good on you”, they are interested.

The budget watcher wine list is classic, but a bit boring.  It reminds me of a wine list for a Chinese restaurant, a list where a restaurant does not put too much thought into its list. However, as a consumer, the list lets you shop by price.  And let’s be honest, wines can get ridiculously expensive.  NOTES: CLASSIC, CONSUMER FRIENDLY, LACKS INGENUITY

Budget wine list


This is similar to the wine list which lists by prices. However it is different in that there are only three price categories.  The wine is either $20/btl, $30/btl or over $40/btl.  Here the restaurant would rather get rid of all those different dollar amounts and sell the wine in groups of value. We had a restaurant with this format, it is close today. The issue was people had many options in the low end section that they did not want to upgrade. This is really meant for the value seeking people. NOTES: CONSUMER FRIENDLY, BRINGS IN THE CHEAP SCAPES



Seems pretty straight forward, but is it best to alphabetize by grape, region or producer? This makes  a lot of since especially for the servers. Listed in some sort of alphabetical order allows the server to easily find their favorite wines on the list more easily.  It is also easy for the guest especially if they now what they want.  NOTES: PRACTICAL, NOT CREATIVE


There are lists which list every detail of the wine. They tell you the region, the aspect of the vineyard, where the winemaker went to school and then they tell you how it tastes. Way too much info. This is great for IPAD wine lists, because you can get that in info by clicking on the wine of interest, but on a printed menu it is way too much. NOTE: INTERESTING, SAVE IT FOR THE LIBRARY


Not sure why I do not like these lists. I guess I don’t want people telling me how something tastes, since taste is so subjective. I just don’t like to read people’s descriptions. Many people like this, but I think it also turns off people who may not like a flavor the author writes down. Many a times I have heard people refuse a wine because the aroma descriptor said cherries, and they don’t like cherries. Come on people, wines are made of grapes!  *NOTE: WINE LISTS DON’T NEED TRAINING WHEELS

*FOOTNOTE: Maybe I would be keen on this kind of list if it read:

Sauvignon Blanc, Spy Valley, Marlborough, NZ  42

Intense aroma, High acidity, Medium Alcohol


Many lists are formatted so that you have a white wine section, then a sub section of Chardonnay with the list of Chardonnays listed by price or alphabetical order. Some lists may break it down into sections, and instead group the Chardonnays by weight or style. They may start with un-oaked, to neutral barrel all the way to 100% new oak and 100% full malo. This sort of list takes a lot work and requires a dedicated sommelier to group and regroup as new wines are added. This too, is excellent for servers. However, probably best for guests who are looking to find something new in a style they like. NOTE: DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN, EASY TO NAVIGATE



I like listing wines by region. It makes sense for people who know wine. They look at the region and know the style of wine that region produces. The only problem is when we get to new vs old world wines. If you have California wines, the region may not be as important as the grape. Listing all Napa wines in one section can get pretty confusing. However, it seems to work for the old world wines. Listing Barolo, Barbaresco, Rioja, Bordeaux etc… makes sense. But what do you do when you get to non DO/DOC/AOP wines? How do you list a Chardonnay from Vin de Pays or a Grenache from the South of France? You don’t want to put the IGT, but rather the grape, correct?  It doesn’t make sense to read a list that has Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Rioja, Priorat and Vin de Pays. NOTE: YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR WINE IS FROM, MAY NOT READ WITH CONSISTENCY


Some lists create sections based on intensity. Beginning with light bodied crisp wines of low intensity such as Muscadet and Pinot Grigio then moving to medium bodied wines with more intensity all the way to higher ABV whites with high intensity.  My main issue is when management wrongly lists wines to make way for aesthetics.  These lists require a well-trained somm to keep it organized. Many times a somm may start the list, that somm moves on to another job and the list is taken over by another manager with less experience. NOTES: AS LONG AS IT IS ACCURATE, MAKES FOR A GOOD WAY OF SELECTING YOUR WINE


What about writing the list like a beer menu?  Beer lists show producer, region, style, abv, ibus and price. It allows the guest to know what their beer is going to taste like. Why not do the same with wine list. Here is an example:

White: Chardonnay

Ferrari Carano | Sonoma | 2015 |100% New Oak | 3.4 PH | RS .5  $60

Liquid Farm | Santa Barbara | 2015 | Used/Partial New | 3.2 PH | RS .04  $65

Morgan “Steel” | Santa Lucia Highlands | 2016 | Steel | 3.3 PH | RS .15  $45

I have not tried this yet, but may be worth a try.



Let’s take the beer menu idea even further, and strip the wine list down to the bare bones. What do you think about a wine list which looks like this? Just the type of wine; red, white, sparkling. No brand name, just the grape or region. I have seen these in pubs, but not in restaurants. Maybe it would work. Take all the pretentiousness and expectations out of wine and just say what it is. Imagine a list like this I removed the name of the wineries and regions of an already bare bones list to give you an example.




Here is a fun and cool wine list for a small restaurant. You can make your list into an infographic. I borrowed the image below from Wine Folly, but imagine using something like this with the name of dishes you serve at the top and in each bottle you write the wines on your menu. Could be cool. NOTE: VERY MILLENIAL

I guess at the end of the day what really matters is what is on the list rather than how it is listed. That being said, how do you prefer to read a wine list? I’d love to hear your comments.

Mark your favorite wine list format




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Upcoming May Events Not To Be Missed

Posted on May 1, 2018

It’s getting to that time of the year where I turn my attention to hosting wine, beer and spirit events. I am fortunate to have access to many different venues to host a variety of events. You may be a wine drinker, beer drinker or spirits drinker; no matter what, I will have something for you. Here is  a quick look at what CRG has coming around the corner. Mark your calendars and get ready to have some fun!

MAY 5th:

Cinco de Mayo! Take your pick, head close to the border and have a party on the ocean next to the last pier in the western United States at Sea 180.  Or stay urban, and head for another amazing view at Coasterra’s floating event center for tequila tasting and a margarita making contest.

sea 180 cinco de mayo

Coasterra Cinco de Mayo


Join us at Vintana Wine + Dine as Chef Chris Barre, prepares a delicious meal with the wines from Fransican Estate in Napa Valley.  Leading the dinner will be winemaker Marla Carol. Menu coming soon.

Franciscan wine dinner


Join Deborah Scott as she wrangles with the wines from Australia and New Zealand. She will use her signature spice combinations to match with the exciting wines from down under.  See what she can do with spicy Barossa Sparkling  Shiraz, herbacious Sauvignon Blanc and unique whites and reds from ancient vines. Menu coming soon.

down under wine dinner


Do you know who Randall Graham is? If not, then you need to. Randall Graham is the man behind Bonny Doon Winery in Santa Cruz. He is one of California’s wine pioneers. He has led the movement for bio-dynamic wines.  His ideas are a bit nutty and it fits his personality perfectly. Join us at 333 Pacific for a dinner with Bonny Doon.  Menu to come soon.

Bonny Doon Wine Dinner

May 24th: Balboa Park’s 150 th Anniversary Botanical Garden Dinner

This is the dinner of a lifetime. Close your eyes and transport your self to Balboa Park. You are sitting on the lawn in front of the Botanical Gardens, harpists are playing and Gloria Ferrer is serving Sparkling wines. Yes, this is all true. This dinner is put on by Chef Jonathon Hale from The Prado at Balboa Park to raise money for the Balboa Park’s conservatory. We are celebrating 150 years of Balboa Park’s Botanical Garden with an elegant outdoor extravaganza.  BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!

150 yr anniversary dinner

May 25th: SEA 180 LUAU

Can you believe that summer is already here? Just in time for our yearly Luau in Imperial Beach. There will be live music, fire dancers, roasted pig and plenty of wine and cocktails from Pernod Ricard.

Sea 180 Luau


Can’t make it to the South Bay? No worries, I have something for you in North County. Join Vintana Wine + Dine for a spirit dinner featuring the organic spirits from LA’s Greenbar distillery.

Greenbar Spirits Dinner

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6 Tips to Help You Learn About Wine?

Posted on April 16, 2018

In this day in age everything comes so easy. If you want to know the capitol of Paraguay, you google it. To know when to use “capital” or “capitol” you go to  If you want to learn how to put up dry wall, you YouTube it. If you’re lost and need directions you WAZE it.  If your kid breaks out with red bumps, you go to WebMD.  No matter what you want to know the answers are at your finger tips.

Learning about wine is not quite the same. Sure you can go to Wine Folly and learn what it means when your white wine turns brown. Wikipedia will tell you the DNA of your favorite grapes. Each region has their own sophisticated web page describing in detail the history, terroir and climate of their region. Unfortunately, learning about wine is not the same as learning how to put up dry wall.  You can acquire all the textbook knowledge online, but the real magic is in tasting.  Here are my 6 tips on how to learn more about wine.

Drink French Wine


  • Drink French Wine! In order to really understand wines from the new world, you need to know where they came from. Most of the wines we see in the market today originated in France. The great thing about French wines, is that they are loaded with regulations. While conservatives might say regulations are bad for business, I say they are great for wine. It allows the consumer to know what the wine is like. French regions are subject to rules and regulations controlling grapes, viticulture and vinification.  They are held to high standards. These standards were put into place so that wines will show the best expression of its grape and  terroir.  Once you understand French wines, France’s regions and regulation, then you are on your way to mastering wine.

mikey likes it

  • You must experiment! Most wine drinkers  like a certain style of wine, and drink the same style over and over. There are thousands of styles of wines in the world, and if you narrow your selections down to your personal preferences, then you hinder yourself from learning. Try everything, you don’t have to like it, but you should try it. You never know, it might turn out to be one of those Life cereal moments; “Mikey likes it!”

the guild somm

  • Join the Guild Somm. The Guild Somm is the most comprehensive up to date wine site on the internet. It is put together by the Court of Master Sommmeliers where they have a team of sommeliers constantly updating the information. It has a vast compendium of wine information along with podcasts, videos and an excellent forum. If you want to stay in touch, the Guild Somm  is worth every little penny.

blind tasting group

  • Join a tasting group. I can honestly say that this is one of the most valuable pieces of advice. I started my tasting group in 2009 and it is still going strong, we learn something new each time. This may be difficult to find. And for some people it can be a bit intimidating. However, if you are really dedicated in learning about wine, the tasting group will push you to the next level. Learning from your peers is priceless. If you login to the Guild Somm website there are forums where you can search for a tasting group in your area. If you are not interested in joining the Guild Somm, then invite friends over to the house. Have them bring a bottle of wine in a brown bag.  Blind taste with them. Listen to how they describe the wine. Discuss the wine’s characteristics and quality. Finally reveal the wine and see what you might have learned from your blind tasting and the group’s feedback.

prime cru class

  • Go to school. Back when I got into wine, wine schools were hard to find. Today there are dozens. Many people learn better this way. I know I do. I’d much rather listen to a lecture, taste wine and ask questions than read a book.  Each course has its specialty. Find the course that works best for you. WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust or the Wine Smarties) is great if you are looking to get into retail, restaurant, wholesale or if you are just a novice. It covers the broad spectrum of wine from viticulture to describing wine. The Court of Master Sommeliers is great if you work in the restaurant industry. It focuses on theory, wine service and blind tasting. It is no so much a school but a certification entity. For everyday wine drinkers looking to get more acquainted with wine and possibly looking for a career in the wine industry, there are college classes available. In San Diego there are courses at San Diego State University where I teach 4 courses.  You can go at your own pace. Then there are numerous online schools, some have live classes. The one I am familiar with is the Fox School of Wine in Utah. You can search online for wine classes in your area and you will come up with a great list. I recommend SDSU if in San Diego, I just know what they teach there. Maybe you don’t have the time to dedicate several weeks, then look out for my Prime Cru classes where you can come for a few hours and learn about a particular subject. A Sensory Master Class is coming in June, stay put.

World of wine

  • Travel! This is the best part of learning about wine. There are wine regions all over the world. Each region has a unique approach to wine. You can smell, feel  touch, and experience wine. Travelling is all fun and dandy when we vacation in excluded beaches, but traveling to a wine region is so much more rewarding. From San Diego there are endless regions in all directions. Take a weekend and explore south of the border, Baja wine. Or drive out to Santa Barbara and do the wine trail. If you’re looking for something a bit different take a drive out to Arizona and see what Maynard Keenan from Tool is up to. Or better yet, stay home and visit a local San Diego winery. No matter where you decide to go, first hand accounts of the region, grape and wine is so much more interesting than sitting in a class and hearing an instructor babble about wine.

You thought learning about wine would be difficult. It is actually pretty fun. Think about it, study online the maps and history, take a class at an accredited program, drink French wines, try all kinds of wines, meet new friends in a tasting group and travel around the world. Who would not want to make wine their hobby? Better yet, make it your job!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

-Benjamin Franklin

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Best Spirits from the CRG Bar – Blind Tasted

Posted on April 4, 2018

Best from the bar

Cohn Restaurant Group has 22 restaurants with liquor licenses, it is my job to set up a beverage program which fits each of the individual concepts. This day in age there are so many new spirits bombarding the market. Each one comes with a unique story, production method and taste. But for most, the label and package is the most important element. This is true of most spirits in the market whether they are new or old. Branding takes time and if it sticks, can result in high sales.  The task of figuring out which spirit and which brand is best for each concept can be pretty daunting. So I decided to have the staff decide.

The secret to our success, is education. I try to keep the bar and service staff up to date and trained on the products we carry. For the past 6 weeks I hosted the CRG Spirit Academy. Each week I took one spirit, discussed the history and production methods. I then had brand ambassadors talk about the brands we serve. The staff asked questions and received more details on the individual products. We finished class by blind tasting the spirits in their perspective categories. The servers and bartenders rate each brand on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best. I then ask them to raise their hands for the spirits that received a 4 or 5. The spirit with the most votes in that category won the blind tasting and a spot on our bars.

I do it this way because labels and packages have so much control over how we expect the spirit to taste. By removing the label and package we are left with the innate virtue of the spirit.  It no longer has an extra leg to stand on and is at its purist most naked form.  The results were surprising. The spirit business is filled with big money, lots of advertising and government lobbying.  In order for my restaurants to meet guest expectations, we need to have some brand awareness, but we should also find the best brands. The brands may not do well in the blind tasting, it does not mean that they will be taken off, it just gives the staff an alternative brand to sell.

Here is the list of the brands in order of the best brand per category. See Vodka Here.


#1 Uncle Vals Botanical

#2 Hendrix

#3 Beefeaters

#4 Tanqueray

#5 Bombay Sapphire

#6 Benhams

#7 City Gin by Greenbar

#8 SipSmith

#9 Bols Genevere

#10 Old Grove


I personally liked the Uncle Vals and the SipSmith. It seems as though the staff liked the columns still gins which produce a cleaner crisp juniper forward flavor. Where as the pot still gins have a bit of funk to them, which I really enjoy.


#1 Crusoe by Greenbar

#2 Bacardi Oakheart

#3 Malahat

#4 Three Sheets

#5 Captain Morgan

RUM- Aged

#1 Diplomatico – Venezuela

#2 Havannah Club – Puerto Rico

#3 Zaya – Trinidad & Tobago

#4 Appleton – Jamaica

#5 Flor de Cana – Nicaragua


We tasted white rums on there own to compare molasses base vs agricole, barrel aged and high proof. I really wanted to blind taste the rums which were aged and spiced.  These give us a better idea of what the distillers are doing as far as ingredients. I agreed with the staff and felt that the Diplomatico was the most complex and delicious of the rums.


#1  Patron

#2 El Tesoro

#3 Don Julio

#4 Milagro

#5 Fortalezza

#6 Casa Noble

#7 Olmeca Alto

My Comments:

During this class we tasted Blanco, Repo, Anejo, Extra Anejo, Espadin Mezcal, Reposado Mezcal and Barril Mezcal. Since there was so much tasted before the blind tasting began, I thought to limit the Tequila to some of the more popular brands in the restaurants. Personally, El Tesoro was my favorite. It had bitterness, balance and complexity whereas the Don Julio and Patron tasted sweet and glycerol to me. To each his own.


#1 Michter’s American Whiskey

#2 Highwest Double Rye

#3 James Pepper 1776 100 proof

#4 Templeton Rye

#5 Highwest Prairie Bourbon

#6 Bulliet Bourbon

#7 Woodford Reserve Bourbon

#8 Knob Creek Single Barrel 120 proof

#9 Russell’s Reserve 10 yr Bourbon

#10 Slow Hand 6 woods Whiskey

#11 Jim Beam Bonded Bourbon

#12 Wild Turkey Rye 101 proof

#13 Jack Daniels & Basil Hayden

#14 Old Overholt Rye

My Comments:

15 whiskies all at once is a lot of whisky! We looked to see which were balanced with grain and oak aromas, rated their intensity levels, looked for full mouth coating and long finish. I personally really liked the James Pepper 1776. It is crazy to see how much branding is done with whiskey and how little it has to do with quality.

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Vodka Blind Tasting, Guess Which Won?

Posted on February 14, 2018

Vodka: CRG Spirit Academy

Over the next six weeks I am hosting spirit training for the employees at the Cohn  Restaurant Group, the CRG SPIRIT ACADEMY.  I love teaching, because each time I learn something new.  This past week we focused on Vodka. I discussed the difference between fermentation and distillation, how distillation began and why. And then gave a brief history of Vodka in Russia and it’s eventual success in the USA. After they sat through 45 minutes of me blabbing, some of our Vodka suppliers stood up and gave a 3 minute talk on their brand and what makes it so unique. Following their presentation we tasted 11 vodkas blind. The purpose to learn to use their own judgement on determining which vodka was best rather than seeing a label and having it influence their decision.

To condition their palates, I had them take a quick taste of rectified spirit, Everclear. This was  to show what vodka is like before it gets watered down. They then smelled the heads from the still of a local vodka. Smelling the heads they were able to pick out the methanol, ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate and all the undesirable aromas one might find in cheap vodka.  We then tasted our well Vodka, Svedka to give them an idea of why we use it and why it is one of the best values out there. Then the blind tasting began.  They were asked to rate each vodka on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best.  While tasting we were looking for the following criteria:

  • Aromas:
    • fruit / herbal / floral
    • medicinal / ethanol
  • Taste:
    • Clean / Dirty
    • Dry / Slightly Sweet
    • Smooth / Aggressive
    • Gentle / Powerful
    • Oily / Grainy / Soapy
    • Rich / Thin
    • Soft / Sharp / Burning
  • Finish:
    • short / medium / long
    • tip of tongue / mid palate / back palate

The best vodkas should have aromas of fruit, herbs or flowers or none at all, with low ethanol.  They should taste clean, dry (no glycerin), smooth, gentle, rich but not viscous, soft and round hitting all parts of the tongue with a long clean finish.

We tasted Tito’s, Ketel One, Absolut, Grey Goose, Hangar One, Belvedere, Chopin, Ciroc, Fugu, Tru and Absolut Elyx. All different price ranges. Some are made of grains, wheat, grape, potato, rye, corn and even a little pomegranate.  After tasting through each vodka and before revealing the names, I called out the number of each vodka in the order we tasted.  If they gave it a score of 4 or 5 they were asked to raise their hand. I tallied the numbers of all the vodkas scoring a 4 or 5, the results were pretty interesting.

The results out of 11 Vodkas tasted by 50 people:

Hangar One had 25 votes

Absolut 12  votes

Belvedere 11 votes

Ciroc 9 votes

Tru & Chopin 7 votes

Grey Goose 5 votes

Ketel One, Fugu and Absolut Elyx tied with 3 votes

Tito’s 2 votes

At least they all received a score of 4 or 5 from someone. 



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