A quick look through wine lists I've compiled for restaurants I've worked at and those by my fellow sommeliers reveals a few trends. The first one I put together as a newly qualified sommelier was rather ambitious, to say the least. I wanted to include all my favourite wines, with no thought of reason or cost. The maître d' soon sorted me out. It was a lesson well learned and since then I've always been conscious of the needs of the average wine drinker, whose requirements for a glass of wine are usually based on price and familiarity.
Gone, too, are the days when the only choices of wines by the glass were "red" or "white". Wine lists of the past, mine included, used to reflect what was "in", and a decade ago that would have been old-world wines, especially bordeaux. Back then, white wines by the glass would have been white bordeaux, a light white burgundy from Mâcon, a very oaky chardonnay from Australia and a sauvignon blanc from Chile. Reds consisted of the usual suspects: a simple red bordeaux; an easy-to-drink Cotes du Rhone; a big, high-alcohol Aussie shiraz; and probably a Chilean merlot. Looking back, I'd say we were not very adventurous, but we were giving customers what they expected.
Over the years, I've noticed a trend towards more new-world wines, especially those from Australia and New Zealand (which by volume now match the French wines being imported into Hong Kong). Australian chardonnays are not as oaky as they once were. New Zealand sauvignon blanc is everywhere; in fact, if you don't have a Kiwi sauvignon blanc on your list, there will be rebellion among the guests. Pinot grigio from Italy is another quaffer that is expected on a list. Reds? You've got to have a New Zealand pinot noir; a big Aussie shiraz (the only constant between the lists of yesteryear and today); and maybe an Argentinian malbec. Old-world reds? Not so much; nowadays, people order more by grape variety, rather than place, and many of the old-world producers are not able to put the names of the grapes on their labels due to regulations.
Wine lists in restaurants that have a resident sommelier are now more adventurous. Of course, you'll see most of those mentioned above, but you could also be offered more esoteric choices: perhaps Gaba do Xil, made by Telmo Rodriguez, from the godello grape in Valdeorras, Spain - a refreshing white with lots of citrusy fruit but without the "cat's pee" aroma of a Kiwi sauvignon blanc. Or how about a vin jaune (yellow wine) from the Jura? This smells faintly like sherry, is made from the savagnin grape and comes in a peculiarly shaped 620ml bottle called a clavelin. Wonderfully off-the-wall stuff, and it's only fair if your curiosity is piqued that you try it. If you don't, quirky wines will disappear and we'll all be back where we started.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers