Matt Kramer at the Wine Spectator raised this issue, one that is increasingly important as wine regions in the U.S. become more prominent. As Kramer points out, many wine lists at top restaurants throughout the country have no local wines or only a few token representatives, even in cities such as San Francisco or Portland, Oregon that have important wine regions nearby. Kramer was non-committal on the issue arguing that it depends on your perspective:
As in the parable of the blind men describing the elephant, where you’re placed—as a winery owner, a restaurant owner, a chef, a sommelier, a booster of local wines, a wine importer or distributor and not least, a wine-loving restaurant patron—will powerfully color your conclusion.
That is certainly true but I think two perspectives should take precedence—diner’s preferences and the vision of the chef or owner. No restaurant is obligated to serve local wines if they do not enhance the chef’s food or fit with the vision of the restaurant. As a diner, it is that vision that I want to experience. Furthermore, in a Greek restaurant I prefer Greek wines, in an Italian restaurant, Italian wines since in these traditional wine growing regions the food has evolved with the wine and they usually pair well.
But for restaurants that advertise as farm-to-table or claim to be an authentic expression of their region’s cuisine it is a travesty if they don’t include local wines. Why are grapes any less local than other food products? Furthermore, such restaurants have an obligation to design some dishes with local wines in mind. Their advertising is creating that expectation and they should fulfill it. When I peruse a wine list, the first thing I look for is the local wine selection and almost always choose from it.
No doubt there should be sufficient diversity on the wine list to make it interesting and to give diners meaningful choices. But that diversity should include local selections if there are quality local wines available.