Would you like whine with that? Our critic is sick of pretentious vino that expects you to do all the work
- Last Updated: 10:43 AM, July 25, 2012
- Posted: 11:24 PM, July 24, 2012
Wine is one of dining’s, and life’s, great pleasures. Yet it can seem anything but when an esoteric or pretentious list leaves you stumped over what to order. You’re at the mercy of a sommelier determined to teach you a thing or two, when all you want is a nice, affordable Bordeaux to go with chicken and summer greens.
Must we experiment with a near-extinct grape of Savoie in Williamsburg? Or two dozen examples of Greece’s Agiorgitiko fruit in a Midtown taverna?
Yes, folks — it’s your Free Range wine rant. Isn’t it unfair to kvetch when the town’s loaded with wonderful wine lists and savvy sommeliers who are well attuned not only to what they’re selling but also to customers’ tastes?
Well, who cares about unfair when a wine list in its entirety leaves you stumped?
Ordering wine can be a nuisance even in the easiest case. You’re making a pricey decision that will affect everyone’s meal. You poke through the list under guns of time and noise in an under-lit room while thirsty friends beg you to get on with it.
Seasoned diners can cope. What’s tougher is when a restaurant sets out to prove a point with its “wine program,” a strategy that results in a list that’s 100-percent inscrutable.
A few places with Sicilian-themed menus opened with all-Sicilian wine lists before customers complained. At least, some New Yorkers are familiar with some Sicilian wines, especially those from Etna.
Not so the wines of Greece, which I’m sure can be dandy if you happen to know which ones. But I don’t. Neither do the dining millions. I enjoy Greek cuisine enormously. But the wine usually strikes me as acidic, alkaline, tannic or an unpleasant combination thereof.
Yet, many Greek eateries force you to order it, as if to drink from anywhere else on Earth would somehow ruin your bakaliaros tiganitos.
Yefsi, a new place on York Avenue, is typical of places that offer a list that’s 90 percent unfamiliar Greek. “New World” choices are so few, you feel like you’re insulting the house if you choose one.
I’m a longtime fan of Molyvos on Seventh Avenue. But the all-Greek list of 400 bottles, however skillfully “curated,” isn’t my cup of tea.
Staff at many Greek places try relating choices to wines you know from other lands — “Do you enjoy Willamette pinot noir?” That’s as useful as iTunes suggestions to buy a song based on something else you liked. Music doesn’t work that way; neither does wine.
Then there’s new, Reynards in Williamsburg. The all-French list is comprised of “all-natural” wines made “without intervention” by small (i.e., obscure) producers. I grumped about it in a review last week. Bloggers wrote that maybe I don’t like French wine. Dummies: The choices are a mystery to 99.9 percent of customers. We didn’t recognize a single bottle among nearly 200 available.
Even eater.com wine editor Talia Baiocchi, who praised Reynards for “raising the Brooklyn wine bar,” admitted, “Without guidance, the list will be hard to navigate for the average diner.”
Well, then what good is it? Or are Reynards’ customers, many of whom go there for hamburgers, somehow above-average?
You want a “concept” list that works? At Cafe Boulud, you can spend $6,000 for Chateau Petrus 1970. But there’s also a three-page section of specially chosen selections from France, the US, Italy and nine more countries. What do they have in common? They’re all $60 or less — and mostly marvelous. That’s my idea of a “wine program.” No special training needed.