Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Monday, September 21, 2009

Be educated when looking at a wine list!

Few things irk me more than restaurants that mislead their patrons regarding their wine offering. Whether they do it intentionally or not is not the issue. In my opinion, wine should not be a compromise and you should get what you pay for. Unfortunately this is sometimes not the case.

Many restaurants rely on big names to appeal to wine drinkers and with good reason. A majority of these big names have amassed good reputations throughout the years and continue to produce very good wines. However, for some of them, their reputation no longer is representative of what they produce.

Restaurateurs are sometimes guilty of romanticizing, being too business minded, being ignorant, or being lazy in terms of finding out the true quality of the wine they offer. This leg work and honest evaluation should be required prior to the two to three time mark-up of a bottle. We should have the assurance that the mark-up is justified.

The objective of this article is not to blast local restaurants or restaurateurs. Although they should look at their lists closely and ask themselves, “am I offering my patrons the best possible experience by offering this wine?” Rather, this article is meant to inform the public of wines that should be avoided (in my opinion), because their lack of quality does not justify the high prices they demand. The oddity in all of this is that the wines that prove to be the main culprits are on numerous lists around the Nashua area!

Here are some wines to avoid, due to overly inflated prices in return for generally mediocre quality.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – All recent wines. Unfortunately this former giant still has a strong reputation in the general public. This is why you find their wines on many lists and this is why they still demand higher prices. Wine aficionados are aware that they have fallen-off heavily in the past decade. Their wines prior to this decade are still aging very well.

Duckhorn – Merlot. On rare occasion they have a good vintage. However, their variable quality does nothing to justify very high prices. Add to this that there are so many other options out there, why take the risk? Read about one of my Duckhorn experiences here.

Opus One – This wine demands far too much for the quality. Recently their vintages have improved, but if you are looking to shell out a week’s pay, you can do better. This is a better wine to purchase at a wine shop or liquor store and enjoy at home (that way you are only parting with a couple day’s pay). Do not pay the mark-up!

Joseph Drouhin – Burgundy Whites (trust me it makes sense). They make the list for typically being far too overpriced on wine lists. The quality is typically good, but for the price other whites are more appealing.

Michael & David Phillips – Almost all wines. They are very big in the area for some reason. Outside of their recent Petite Syrah (which was very enjoyable), I have been very underwhelmed by the wines they offer.

Here are some wines that I recommend which are readily available at local restaurants.

Justin – Isosceles. My favorite “higher-end” value wine out there. Personally, I would look for the 2005 or 2006. If you are going to get a prime-cut steak, pair this with your dinner! The best price locally: Giorgio’s in Milford & Bedford Village Inn (also available at C.R. Sparks, Michael Timothy’s & Unums).

CaymusNapa Valley Cabernet. You almost never have to worry about quality with this wine. If you are questioning which wine to get and this is within your range, it will be a safe bet. Available at: Bedford Village Inn, Michael Timothy’s & Saffron Bistro.

Robert StemmlerPinot Noir. For the price, I feel they offer some of the better Pinot Noirs available in local restaurants. Available at: Bedford Village Inn, C.R. Sparks, Michael Timothy’s & Unums.

Conundrum – White Blend. This is a fruity and crisp, food friendly wine that is typically offered at a comfortable price. Best price locally: Bedford Village Inn (also available at C.R. Sparks).

Zinfandels – Red not white! Typically, Zinfandel offers some of the best values on a wine list. They are food friendly and pair well with any red meat, as well as grilled meatier fish, poultry, pork and vegetables. Personally, I would never pay more than $65 for a bottle of Zinfandel (even at a restaurant), because you can get great deals for less. Best deals locally: Seghesio Family at Bedford Village Inn & Rosenblum at C.R. Sparks.

I hope this helps you the next time you are looking at a wine list and thinking “is this bottle worth it?” Due to the economic situation, I chose to withhold the names of the restaurants that carry these poor wines. My ego does not permit me to believe that I would have an impact on a restaurant’s bottom line, but just in case.

My intent is to help you be informed and help you avoid wasting money. To strengthen this point, I urge you to do a little research if you plan on having a bottle while dining out. Look at their menu and wine list online. If there are a couple bottles you are interested in, run them through Cellar Tracker or Cork’d to learn what others thought. You would not buy a $60 pair of jeans or a $250 suit without trying them on first would you? Then why pay $60 to $250 (or higher) for a bottle of wine without knowing if they are any good?!

Do not forget that wine is all relative to your personal taste. However, a little information and guidance can go a long way in helping you avoid a poor wine experience. When it is all said and done, we want to have the best experience possible when dining-out at a nice restaurant.


  1. With all the challenges of running a restaurant, keeping up with wines can be a real challenge for restaurateurs.

  2. RestaurantZoom, of course a restaurateur is not expected to be an expert in everything, thats why there are people like Erol and Senel Wine Consulting to help out. I think many restaurants would be surprised at how much revenue they are missing out on by not having an optimized wine list.