As the eight of us maneuvered on a street corner to hail two NYC yellow cabs, my son asked me why we were traveling from 66th and Central Park West to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for dinner. “Aren’t there any nice restaurants in Manhattan?” It was a fair question. I explained I had booked a table for ten at Reynard because “I wanted a shot at a restaurant wine list filled with the exact kinds of wines I like to drink.” He asked how many bottles I would pick. “Probably three different wines,” I responded. Not satisfied, my son fired back one more question. “Don’t you think you could find three bottles you would like to drink on a lot of wine lists at restaurants right here on the upper west side of Manhattan?” Of course, but…
Explaining my restaurant selection algorithm to somebody who is 19 years old and not yet enamored with the pleasures of drinking fine wine would be a challenge. So let’s explore the answer here. I pick new restaurants based on their wine lists first, food second, all the time. Any restaurant can add bratwurst, lentils, and bacon to their menu. Not just any restaurant, though, will have sparkling René Mosse Moussamoussettes rosé, magnums of Chidaine Les Tuffeaux and Clos de la Roilette, Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux, Ganevat Savagnin, and their likes on the wine list. I figure restaurants this wine astute will beat the odds and deliver a likewise special rendition of bratwurst and lentils. That system’s scorecard has worked in my favor so far, and Reynard ended up extending the winning streak.
My son’s inquisition stirred my curiosity. How do other wino/foodies value restaurant wine lists? In a study conducted by the Sommelier Journal, they found “…the two most important characteristics of a wine program were related to the wine list…restaurants should not try to cram their lists as full as possible, since only 19% agreed that bigger wine lists are almost always better…and 31% of the survey participants (and 51% of the daily wine drinkers) agreed that a serious wine program does not have a one-page list. The secret seems to be a list big enough to contain the diversity that guests want, but not so big that it’s impossible for them to navigate.”
I am always interested in what Levi Dalton has to say about great wine programs and while he recently pondered some interesting futuristic wine program tactics in one of his Eater.com pieces, he also shared reality reporting “real estate prices and sunk inventory costs associated with big cellars are unappetizing to restauranteurs….The legal setting in New York requires restaurants to pay for their wine acquisitions within 30 days of delivery…As a result, restaurants are shrinking their cellars.”
This trend towards tighter lists is the second piece of my algorithm: concentration of wines in my wheelhouse on smaller lists. Lists now have definite personalities. Domestic, natural, hard to source, Loire, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, trendy (Jura, for example), Burgundy, Spanish, etc. Tight lists with high concentrations of tough to find wines I like to drink seal the deal. These lists are anything but casual collections reliant on a convenient distributor. Some other restaurant wine lists I’ve written about here that drew me in for my first visit without giving too much thought to the kitchen include Old Major in Denver, Casa Mono in New York, and La Subida in Friuli Venezia Giulia, At these restaurants, as it turned out, attention to wine program construction was equaled by kitchen disciplines.
We all ate really well at Reyard, everything was interesting, unique and tasty like this duck/citrus/radicchio concoction:
We drank well as suspected, first from a magnum of 2008 Chidaine Les Tuffeaux Chenin Blanc that I can not recommend strongly enough:
Then a really great find from Saumur, the 2009 Fosse-Séche Eolithe, a 98% Cabernet Franc/2% Cabernet Sauvignon bottling that is bright with red fruit, crispy and crunchy with excellent acidity, and an underlying richness to add to its classiness:
The view from the rooftop bar was also amazing for after dinner festivities:
We drank some more Beaujolais and ate a bunch. At the end of the meal, I told my son that if I had to trade my 30 year old wine cellar collection for this wine list at Reynard on an equal value basis, I would. He understood that, and told me if I posted about why we trekked to dinner in Williamsburg that I should explain it just that way. There you have it.