Last week my wife and I dined at a fairly new restaurant which had been described as upscale with an impressive wine list. Both descriptors were true. There were close to a hundred wines listed ranging in price from $26 for some “white” Zinfandel to $290 for Opus One. There were a couple available by negotiating with the management, several in the hundred dollar range but most clustered in the $50 to $75 category.
Never mind that I’ve been looking at restaurant wine lists for decades and interacting with wine servers just as long. I still get a touch of discomfort when making a selection from an impressive list, so I reach way back in time when I first talked with Patricia Wells, then the upcoming food and wine writer for the International Herald-Tribune and New York Times.
She told me always to take time with the wine list. Ask for the wine list at the same time you get the menu. Never let yourself be hurried or pressured into making a decision. She suggested that instead of ordering an aperitif I should ask for a glass or carafe of dry white wine that would work with the meal or at least a first course. That makes the studying much more pleasant.
This restaurant, like just about every restaurant in the country, has a list comprised of wines the state wholesaler makes available. Many of the wines on this list I see regularly at other restaurants or in retail stores. What was special here was that the management investment in wine brought a wider selection from the wholesalers’ portfolios than is common in most other places, so I could see wines not generally on lists elsewhere.
Don’t be afraid to have an upper limit on what you’re willing to pay, Patricia cautioned me, and please consider the wine an essential part of the meal. A good rule of thumb is that the bill for wine should be about a third the cost of the meal. I have never forgotten that guidance and it has almost always worked out favorably.
If there’s a sommelier or dedicated wine server, it’s always a good idea to seek advice when in doubt. Those are people paid to assure you have a good meal, enjoy the wine, and hope to come back. They don’t mind being told what you’d like to pay and what style wines you most like.
By the way, with the help of the server, I found a delicious Tuscan red for dinner that cost us only $35.
Much as we’d like to recommend a bottle of Dom Perignon for your Valentine, we think you can do very well for much less. On occasions calling for a celebratory wine, and Champagne isn’t in the budget, think Alsace. Specifically, Cremant d’Alsace.
All sparkling wines, even Champagne, are Cremants; but not all Cremants are equal. There are splendid Cavas from Spain, Sekts from Germany, Spumantis from Italy, and sparklers from nearly all the states; but special occasions turn me toward Alsace where France’s top-selling sparkling wine is produced.
Made the same way as Champagne, the Alsace producers use blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Gris for a vibrant refined bubbling wine with complex flavors and joyous exuberance.
To add an even more special touch to an Alsace celebration, go for a Cremant rose, a spirited sparkler with a delightful pink hue made glorious by the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from which it’s made. (Chardonnay is authorized in Alsace for Cremant.)
Unfortunately, however, not many retailers stock Alsace Cremants, but when you find one who does, the price tag will likely be less than $20.00. You’ve got two weeks to locate one. Good luck.
In nearly nine decades of eating and drinking, I have never tasted eucalyptus nor have I been in the company of any who have, even in wine tasting rooms or with groups of tasters. Yet it is not uncommon when reading wine reviews to see them described as suggesting eucalyptus among its flavors. Makes me wonder.
I admit that occasionally a Riesling smacks of petroleum and if in a miniscule way, I don’t mind it. If it is a dominant characteristic, though, I find it distasteful. In spite of an occasional reminder of a gas station, Riesling remains one of my favorite varietals.
However, there are other common descriptors that baffle me. A columnist lucky enough to have sampled some 10-year-old Barolo recently said, among other things, it tasted of tar. Tar, I know, is considered a positive when describing some wines. I also know how tar smells, but I have never tasted it.
I have never smoked and consider myself among those who don’t want to be around tobacco; yet tobacco is another of those commonly used descriptors deemed a positive. And I don’t suppose I need to remind anyone that some wines are said to taste like cat’s pee. How, I wonder, does anyone really know that.
A long time ago, I stunned a couple of London colleagues in a blind tasting by claiming that one of our wines tasted like a Pinot Noir. They had been describing it as floral, even searching for which flowers it brought to mind. Neither of them had mentioned Pinot Noir and laughed at my conclusion. But it did lead to a lively discussion about how we should describe wines.
In attempting to describe an unfamiliar food, we often say “it tastes like chicken.” I wonder if, in the case of wine, we shouldn’t just say “it tastes like Chardonnay” or Merlot or Sangiovese. I have no objection to using general terms like mineral or red fruit or citrus, but when seeking for specificity we should avoid the esoteric.« NEWER POSTS | OLDER POSTS »