Master Sommelier Keith Goldston wrote an article in 2001 comparing different types of wine with popular entertainers. For instance, he likened Britney Spears to the oft-derided buttery, oaky California chardonnay.
Since then, he’s found that using musical analogies to describe wines serves both as a helping talking point for sommeliers and servers, and a universal, relatable reference for guests. So Goldston decided to use this tactic when constructing the wine list at Range, Bryan Voltaggio’s 300-seat, 14,000-sq. ft. seasonal- and Mid-Atlantic-focused restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Goldston serves as wine director of Range, where the weekly changing list spans 500 bottles priced $16 to $986, with 17 wines available by the glass for $9 to $19. The menu focuses on classic wines from classic regions, along with several hundred bottles that Goldston deemed “too good to pass up.”
Eschewing the more common organizational methods—by region or varietal—Goldston categorizes wines according to musicians. The result is an abstract, often tongue in cheek menu that has guests talking.
For example, crisp, lean white wines are known as “Skinny Elvis,” while big and powerful whites are akin to “Fat Elvis.” “Poppy & Polished Reds” are like The Beatles pre-drug-period, and “Powerful & Intense But Still Poppy Reds” describe the band’s evolution after they discovered psychedelics.
Some groupings require guests to delve deeper into musical history (a lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone probably wouldn’t hurt, either.) A page devoted to Rieslings around the world touts “whites with incredible precision, power and purity, some will say the greatest ever,” comparing them to Canadian progressive rock band Rush: “Either you get it or you don’t.” And Goldston uses the “Exile on Main Street”-era of the Rolling Stones to describe earthy, funky Old World reds from Bordeaux and beyond.
He admits that occasionally he encounters some head scratching from guests, but the overall response has been positive. “Out of all the lists I have written, this is the first one where I have seen lots of people laughing, smiling and taking pictures,” Goldston says.
Range is fortunate to have three sommeliers working the floor on busy nights, who have the chance to open guests’ minds to select a wine not by its grape or area of production, but by focusing on how it’s drinking. “The list leads to a lot of discussion; it is a joy to be able to engage with the majority of our guests and help guide them through the list instead of just taking an order,” Goldston notes.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.