Saturday, January 7, 2017

Reliable Restaurant Wines

Restaurant Wines - A Short Story

(Cheat Sheet Below!)

Once upon a time, Rachel received a big promotion.  She took her staff to a popular new waterfront restaurant. The group gathered around the table, and the waiter presented Rachel with a long wine list.  She took the list, and realized she did not recognize a single wine.  She glanced around the table.  In the past she had asked others for advice, but she had become more confident in her choices, and she knew what to do.    Among the white wines, she found a good selection of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and for reds a list of Shiraz from Australia.  She knew both of the regions to be reliable for these wines, and between the two there would be something to accompany all types of food.  She chose a moderately priced wine from each section, and sat back to see the reaction.  Her picks were instant winners.

For Rachel, as for many people, ordering wine at restaurants used to cause anxiety.  After all, prices are far higher than at wine shops, and guests are hostages to that list.  The table is watching as you choose.  No pressure! 

But choosing wine needn’t be stressful.  

What if I don’t recognize anything on the wine list? 

Buying wines at a restaurant is the perfect opportunity to use your experience as a shortcut.  Don’t recognize specific wines?  Think of your personal favorites.  Look for wines from:
  • the same winemaker
  • the same or nearby regions
  • that same varietal (grape) - or even other varietals or blends with similar flavor profile.
  • the importer (it's on the back of the bottle)

Reliable Labels and Producers

A number of subscribers have asked for not just specific recommendations (which is what we do in each issue of the Wine Hotlist and the Wine Minute), but general guidance on reliable producers. These producers offer tasty, high quality wines for less than $15, and often less than $10 retail. Restaurant markups are often 200%, or even 300%, so a wine that costs $10 in a wine shop may well cost $20 (or more) in a restaurant. To give you a decent shot at a sure winner, here's our current "favorite" list of dependable sources. Print this page for your next trip to your local wine shop, or even better, to your favorite restaurant. You'll have a secret weapon for choosing wines (it will be our secret).
Bogle (US)
Chateau St. Michelle (US)
Columbia Crest (US)
Coppola (US)
DuBoeuf (France)
Four Sisters (Australia)
Hogue (US)
Lindemans (Australia) Louis Jadot (France)
Penfolds (Australia)
Rabbit Ridge (US)
Ravenswood (US)
Rosemount (Australia)
Ruffino (Italy)

Define a "Floral, Spicy" White Wine

"A floral, spicy white that would go well with hot or aggressively spiced foods."

Spicy Whites, or conversely whites that stand up to spice, are in a category by themselves.  Imagine a richly seasoned curry, red-hot wings, barbecued ribs, or your favorite three-pepper Thai menu item.  Your average Chardonnay or Semillon would turn into lemon water next to that dish, as would most reds.  What the food needs is something with the heft to balance it - and that's where wines like Riesling, with rich, clean flavors and “zingy” acidity, and Gewurztraminer, with its floral scents and its spicy, even musky tropical fruits come in. Wines from these grapes are often slightly “demi sec” (This translates as half dry, or “with a hint of sweetness”).  That sugar balances the spice, while the zing of acidity keeps it fresh.