Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tiny Type(faces)

How much time does the average person actually spend reading a wine list? Probably no more than a few minutes, unless that person is an avid wine drinker or the list is as long as that of Spruce in San Francisco or as fat as the two-volume tome at Cru in New York. But what if that wine list is just really, really hard to read?

I never gave this practical fact much thought until I was dining at the Oyster Bar last week. This Manhattan stalwart, located deep within Grand Central Terminal, has pretty good food (I love the Oysters Rockefeller) but a very good wine list. It is, however , the wine list with the smallest typeface I’ve ever (tried to) read.

Was the Oyster Bar list printed in six or eight point typeface, I asked general manager and wine director, Jonathan Young, when I got him on the phone. "It’s actually Arial ten-point," he replied, "It's the same typeface as most other restaurant lists but because we print out wines all one page it looks really small." Well, it is one of the most challenging wines lists I’ve ever read, I complained.

But surely I wasn't the only one. “Don’t other customers complain too?” I asked. Young admitted they did. “But it’s kind of a tradition. And we like to keep it all on one page,” he said. (The wine list is on the back of the menu- a very long sheet of white paper.)

But Young admitted he is thinking of making a few modifications- like removing sub appellations from the wine regions and maybe putting the cocktails on a seperate sheet altogether. And if that doesn’t work, "Our adertising firm said we should hand out magnifying glasses," said Young. He's accumulated a few samples and may start handing them out on an experimental basis.

In the meantime, a few great buys from list that I did manage to see: L’Hereu de Raventos I Blanc Reserva Brut Cava- an excellent value sparkling wine for $35; the 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc at $42 and under “Oyster Whites” the 2008 Antinori Vermentino from Bolgheri, a beautiful companion to oysters (and other shellfish) priced at $44.

My next post will be from a much higher altitude: I’ll be in Aspen, Colorado from tomorrow through Sunday at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen, where I’ll be moderating the Sommelier Challenge for the fourth year in a row and conducting a seminar on cheap versus expensive wine (tasted blind) and tasting lots of great wine. Stay tuned.


  1. "It’s actually Ariel ten-point,"

    It's actually Arial.

    I subtract 10 points from you for this misspelling, as this is one of the most popular sans-serif fonts in use today.

  2. Ouch- ten points! Well, thanks, Jack. I've corrected it.