The Wine Coach: Demystifying Wine Lists

The Book of Lists did a survey in 1977 that had people rank their top fears. Public speaking ranked number one—above death, disease or even bankruptcy. I think if there was a similar survey done among wine lovers today, ordering from a wine list might make the top ten.

The good news is that understanding the three main ways wine lists are organized allows us to navigate a wine list of any size! Here are key points to know about the three primary types of wine lists:

Grape Varietal. Organized by the main grape variety used to produce the wine, this type of list definitely appeals to our varietally conscious culture. It may be further organized by country or state. Thinking of the grape varietal first and the origin second is an American trend. Many European countries are trying to focus on the grape varieties despite regulations that ban the top rated wine from listing them on the label. Sections for the popular varietals, e.g., Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, are usually listed, as well as an “other varietals” category for white and red. These lesser known varietal sections can often be more interesting, and are where many bargains can be found!

Geography. This wine list is organized by countries of origin and often has more specific subcategories, such as region or state, which is the traditional type of wine list. If you love French wines, this type of list makes it easy. The grape varietal used may (or may not) be listed next to the wines in this type of list. This is not an issue for most wine from the US since the wine is usually labeled by grape varietal. The European wine industry, however, tends to focus on the region and assume we know what grapes are grown there. Even though the principal grapes of Burgundy are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they won’t appear on the bottle of Burgundy’s finest wines.

Progressive. This type of list is a relatively new approach that is organized by the flavor and body profile. A typical category might be dry, light-bodied whites and the wines in that category may be ordered from mildest to fullest. This allows diners to look for the type of wine they enjoy and then order options in the same flavor and body category. Your favorite grapes or countries may be located in many different categories. These lists don’t require any special knowledge of geography or grapes—just a knowledge of what you like.

So, there are three primary examples in which wine lists may be organized. The geographic and grape varietal lists will account for 80% of the lists encountered, but the progressive list may be a growing trend for the future. Hopefully this knowledge will make ordering the next bottle of wine a fun and stress-free activity.

As The Wine Coach TM, Laurie Forster combines her experience as a life coach with her extensive knowledge of wine. Ms. Forster began her wine career in Manhattan where she studied with the American Sommelier Association to obtain her certificate in Viticulture and Vinification. As The Wine Coach she creates unique wine events for public, private and corporate events. Her goal is to help people de-mystify wine one glass at a time! For more information or weekly wine tips go to


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