After a flurry of criticism from all corners of the winosphere following his rant about obscure wine lists, New York Post critic/professional curmudgeon Steve Cuozzo responded over the weekend in a new piece "Wine & Cheesed." Last week the New York Times' Eric Asimov, in his article "Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You?," responded by arguing for a wine list's right to be as adventurous as the food menu.
"Must a restaurant offer bottles that even the most timid diner will recognize? Or can a wine list reflect a restaurant's best conception of itself, no matter how unconventional? The world is dominated by the ordinary and the mass-market. Most restaurants, even in New York City, conform to a mainstream vision of food and wine. For that reason alone we should celebrate the departures, not feel threatened by them."
Asimov is asking why, if a wine list reflects a restaurant's "best conception of itself" and it has the staff to support it—and in the case of Reynard, it offers great value because it steps outside the box—should we not support that? A good question, and one that Cuozzo does not respond to.
Over on the left coast, Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle frames Cuozzo's rant as anachronistically "conservative" amidst a new era wherein "wine, like food, is having a flourishing of liberal thought." Hit it Bonné:
There's room for conservatism on the wine list, just as there is in the kitchen. That's why, on days that you don't feel like being immersed in the new, the steakhouses and corner bistros of the world keep their lights on to serve. But modern, forward-thinking wine lists are simply an outgrowth of modern, forward-thinking restaurants. They operate under a bold, and liberal, prospect: that cooks should make the food they believe is delicious and contemporary, and that wine directors should serve wines that are the same. That isn't to dismiss fine Cabernet, or great Chardonnay, or any other classic wines that are made with balance and finesse? But it does rule out the presence of uninspired wines just to ensure a comfort zone.
Cuozzo calls all of this "politically tainted, anti-mainstream wine wonkery." It couldn't possibly be about diversity, or progress, or supporting smaller wine producers in less-trodden regions who are making great wine. No. In fact, Cuozzo suggests that all of this is really just about, wait for it ... NATURAL WINE. And, according to him, natural wine is no good:
Making wine the "natural" way usually yields a clunky product — at their worst, as rough-edged as the eerie, grape-based beverage my paternal grandfather and uncles once made in their Brooklyn back yards and cellars.
He goes on to directly respond to Asimov by reiterating his dislike for the wine list at Brooklyn's Reynard, which features small producers from France:
A restaurant has the "right" to sell whatever it wants. But Reynard's list isn't just "unconventional." It is in service of a very particular philosophy of winemaking, the fruit of which tastes even worse than it sounds.
Looks like Cuozzo is finding out just what gets the wine world in a twist. In true New York Post fashion, Cuozzo launches yet another grenade—in the form of a sweeping statement about a very controversial topic—in the direction of the winosphere. Stay tuned for Cuozzo's next column on how Two Buck Chuck is better than all of the Grand Cru Burgundy in the world, ever.
[Photo: New York Post]