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Tag Archives: restaurant wine

Dallas’ Lucia, restaurant wine, and doing it right

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lucia restaurant wineRegular visitors here know that the Wine Curmudgeon dislikes restaurant wine almost as much as he dislikes oaky, alcoholic chardonnay. So it’s a pleasure — no, a duty — to let the world know when restaurant wine is done the right way.

That would be at Lucia in Dallas, an Italian-inspired restaurant in the city’s hip Bishop Arts neighborhood. Full disclosure: Jennifer Uygur, who owns Lucia with chef husband David, is a friend of mine. But, and she will be the first to tell you, I wouldn’t write this unless her wine list deserved high praise — almost all Italian, small but extensive, fairly priced, interesting, and missing the distributor-driven junk that even lists that get a Wine Spectator award have. It also has a Texas wine, which shows Jennifer’s commitment to doing things the right way.

Almost half the 50 wines cost around $50 or less, and the markups on most seem to be about two to one retail. This should be standard practice in the restaurant business, but it isn’t, something I have lamented many times. The list also reflects Jennifer’s wide-ranging taste, in which she wants not just quality, but something that is fun and different and a treat for her customers. What’s the point of wine otherwise?

We had two wines: First, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle ($48 restaurant, purchased, 12%), made with a grape, prié blanc, from a region called Vallee D’Aoste, neither of which I had ever heard of. It’s a white with austere white fruit and lots of minerality, but it’s about more than a clean mouth feel. There is an almost chardonnay-like richness, which adds complexity and gives the wine something that’s as enjoyable as it is difficult to describe.

Second, Nervi Bianca ($52 restaurant, purchased, 12%), a white from Piedmont made with the erbaluce grape. Yes, I’ve heard of Piedmont, but the grape was a new one, and the region is much better known for its reds than its whites. The best way to describe the Nervi? Think of an Italian pinot grigio, but one with character, fresh white fruit, crispness, and minerality, absent the fussy tonic water aftertaste of pinot grigio.

Finally, the food was stunning. It reflects David Uygur’s Italian influences, his skill as a chef, and the idea that the food should be something for customers to eat and not something to help the chef get a TV show. Know two things: We had tajarin, thin, small egg noodles, with house-cured anchovies, toasted bread crumbs, and herbs that was one of the best things I’ve had in my life even though I don’t like anchovies; and there was no tomato sauce on the menu. None. At all. In Dallas, that’s close to heresy.

Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine

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wine advice Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Jeff:
I agree with you about restaurant wine prices. Even though I want wine with my meal, I rarely order it when I eat out. First, the cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is two-thirds of the price of a bottle in a store. Second, with few exceptions, wine lists offer very little, if any, local wine, and the wines they do offer are unimaginative grocery store wines. Why don’t restaurants listen to consumers, or their consultants? The consultants tell them this, don’t they?
Frustrated in Texas

Dear Frustrated:
Ironically, I had a similar conversation with an executive at a major U.S. wine company the other day. You’d think, he said, since almost every restaurant that lowers prices sells more wine, that everyone would lower prices. Instead, he said, restaurants seem to be focused on revenue, where they don’t care if they sell less wine because they think higher prices will make up the difference in sales. This approach didn’t make much sense to either of us, but what do we know?

Dear Curmudgeon:
With all the screwcaps and synthetic corks these days, is it still necessary to store wine with the neck tilting down? And is there a period of time where traditionally corked wine can be stored standing up?
A standup wine drinker

Dear Standup:
Wines with cork closures are stored on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out. Since a screwcap or synthetic won’t dry out, you can store it anyway you want (as long as you keep the wine away from light, heat, and vibrations). Having said that, and to answer the second part of your question, most wine can be stored standing up, regardless of closure, since you’re probably going to drink it long before it matters how it was stored. One of my favorite wine statistics: as much as 90 percent of the wine that is bought is consumed with 24 hours, making storage irrelevant.

Hey Curmudge:
Enlightened wine drinkers know that white wines are at their best when poured at a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Ergo, shouldn’t the same apply to sparkling wines and Champagnes? So when people get the juice as cold as possible and then make an effort to keep things that way by shuttling the opened bottle back and forth to fridge or ice bucket, is that not counterproductive?
Love those bubbles

Dear Bubbles:
You asked something I have never thought about, figuring white wine was white wine. However, most of the sources I consulted said bubbly should be a little cooler than non-sparkling white wine — mid-40s F vs. low- to mid-50s F. No one quite knew why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the bubbles), but this gives me an opportunity for a class project in the fall when I teach at El Centro. We can do a temperature tasting.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews

Winebits 393: Meiomi sale, wine retailers, restaurant wine

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Meiomi saleWinery consolidation continues: The wine cyber-ether was full of pontificating and prognosticating last week after Constellation Brands, third on the U.S. Big Wine list, bought pinot noir maker Meiomi Wines for $351 million. Most of the commentators were baffled by the sale price, which seemed like a lot of money for the winery, especially since it didn’t include any vineyard land. Still, it wasn’t that surprising, given that Constellation paid $160 million for Mark West, the $10 pinot noir, in 2012, in a deal that also didn’t include vineyards. Meiomi is on track to sell three-quarters of a million cases in 2015, making it the $20 version of Mark West (marked down to $17.99), and as such seems like a perfect fit for the strategy that most Big Wine companies are following. They’ll sell you an entry level product, and then they’ll sell you the next wine when you trade up, and they’ll make sure you will be able to buy both wines in a grocery store. In this, it’s no different than E&J Gallo buying J and The Wine Group buying Benziger — business as usual for Big Wine in the 21st century.

Retailers and grocers: This otherwise run-of-the-mill post about a Florida liquor chain adding a couple of stores explained the expansion thusly: “[I]n a bid to keep the ever-expanding grocery store channel at bay.” Which means the owners behind Florida’s ABC Fine Wine & Spirits understand what’s going on, even if most wine writers don’t. Interestingly the chain is up to 140 stores, which is still 60 less than it had 15 years ago, and speaks to the power supermarkets have today in selling wine. One national wine retailer told me that grocers thrive on competition, which explains much of their success, and aren’t scared of it the way so many regional and local liquor chains are.

Restaurant price gouging: One would not expect the New York Post, home to the legendary Page Six gossip extravaganza and headlines like “Four sex scandals rock one hanky-panky high school” to commiserate with anyone who buys restaurant wine. But reviewer Steve Cuozzo, in a story headlined “Restaurants overprice wine because they know you have no idea the pain” spared no punches. Restaurant prices “… can drive you to drink — anything but wine, that is.” He does an excellent job of explaining the contradictions and discrepancies in restaurant prices, and you can almost hear a bit of sympathy. Almost, of course, because the piece ends with a restaurant charging $100 for a very ordinary $25 retail Bordeaux.

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