Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:04 am

Random sampling and reviews of the most inexpensive whites and reds from five NYC high-end restaurant online wine lists

This is an idea I've had for a while---see if restaurants are doing anything to actively help out their customers in this terrible recession. I have seen many restaurants promoting deals, but what I would like to see is a permanent cut in the prices on restaurant wine lists. Get into a new paradigm where 300% is not the normal markup. It would be nice. If Wall Street CEO's have to take a pay cut, so should restaurant owners. So here goes a random sampling . .

FYI: The prices correspond to the wines being described in the order they appear.

Craft - White Inexpensive - $40

2007 Telmo Rodriguez Basa, Rueda, Spain – Good, solid, if unexciting, wine. But not horrible. Probably dull with the food too, as I find this to be a better aperitif wine. Crisp and minerally, but if I wanted something at this price point a Txakolina (sp) would make more sense, and be more vibrant and exciting.

2007 Hiedler Gruner Veltliner "Loess", Kamptal, Austria - Gruner is a great food wine. 2007 is a nifty, crisp vintage, and this is always a dependable bottling. Good, yet unexciting, as I would rather drink something from Thermenregion, Wagram or Traisental. Higher quality wines even though from out of the way places. And maybe not GV either. Zierfandler? Rotgipfler? Roter Veltliner?

2006 Bisson "U Pastine" Bianchetta Genovese - Good wine. I am familiar with this as I have had every vintage from '99 on. Very minerally wine with a humid/seashell minerality and nice acidity. In hotter vintages it can become fat and lose focus. Good wine, but should be drunk with shellfish or seafood.

So the cheapest price point is $40, which is good. The selections are interesting, although it would have been nice to see a Riesling at $40. The three whites are geared towards seafood and shellfish. Maybe one more with a little bit of richness. Maybe an Austrian or White Burg from a fat vintage? No White Burg for $40, which I see as a mistake. Also lack of a single natural style wine or even something biodynamic. Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect here.

Craft - Red Inexpensive - $40, $42

2005 Matteo Corregia Roero - Decent wine but so many other interesting things to pick at this price point. Chewy, extracted, new wave, inexpensive Piedmont. Produttori anybody? But a good wine at the price point that will satisfy an audience and, since it is Nebbiolo, be a nice match for the rustic food of Craft.

2006 Artazu, Artazuri, Navarra - For $2 more you get some spoof. Big sloppy Spanish Grenache fruit. Probably with a dose of heat too, based on my previous vintage experience. Cocktail wine and would not want this with the food at Craft at all. So far, Neb all the way.

They could have done much better here. Two semi-slick new wave wines when there is a great selection of natural wines and flavorful things from France, Italy and even Germany that could do justice at these price points. Pepiere Cot, Clos Roche Blanche Gamay, Breton Trinch!, Cousin "Pur Breton," numerous Sablonettes cuvees, some interesting stuff from southern Italy, etc. Expansion is needed in this category. Two is not very good.

So I'd be drinking white if I went to Craft on a budget to drink the cheapest thing on the wine list. I would drink the GV or seriously consider the $35 corkage fee and bring my own. Craft needs some work on the budget front. Also a little more thought on the low end can do wonders for your business.

Bar Boulud - White Inexpensive - $32, $40, $45, $50

2007 Domaine des Blanes, Vin des Pays Cotes Catalanes, Muscat Sec - First of all, applause for the price. $32 is solid for a white wine of character. I have had Muscat Sec from the Cotes Catalanes before and it can be very exciting. Aromatic stuff, dry and nicely structured on the palate. This producer I have not had, but 2007 is a very agreeable vintage for European whites. This would be a no-brainer to try, and cheap enough to try another bottle (or two)!

2007 Chateau Revelette, Coteaux'aix En Provence - Not a wine I have heard of either, and not something I would take a risk on. White Provencal wines I don't know I will not take a risk on, no matter how cheap. It probably is interesting and the vintage is right to take a risk on, but I'd stick with the Muscat at this point or go up a nudge.

2006 Chateau Miraval, Coteaux du Varois - Another wine I have never heard of. I vaguely have some sense of where the Coteaux Au Varois is. Similar to the wine above would be my best guess. On the bubble for this one . . .that is until I saw the next wine.

2007 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis - This is lovely wine. Weird blend of Provencal white grapes. This is a Provencal white I know and love. It is floral, mineral, layered and wonderfully complex stuff. Rosenthal Import and always dependably great Cassis. Blows away Clos St. Magdelaine.

So, a pretty good selection of whites that fit into the framework of what they are doing, which is pretty much Rhone, Burgundy and other France like Provence, Languedoc etc. A very nice selection for a budget. Now lets take a look at the reds.

Bar Boulud - Red Inexpensive - $35, $40, $40, $45, $50

2007 Petit Chapeau Cotes-du-Rhone - This is a decent negociant brand created by Daniel Johnnes and local winemakers he works with. This is a decent wine and good quaff, but nothing more than that. Could be richer in a vintage in 2007. I would not want to drink it, but it serves a purpose. Can't beat the price.

2004 Faiveley Bourgogne Rouge - I would never order this. 2004 is a lean, green vintage and that is the style of Faiveley. Just had the 2006 the other day blind. It was virtually undrinkable, and 2006 is a better vintage! Yea it's cheap, but I'd keep looking. Rather drink the Petit Chapeau.

2004 Chateau Maris Minervois "La Touge" - Have not had this vintage or cuvee, but remember Maris being a somewhat glossy, new-wave kind of Minervois with chewy, extracted fruit. This could be an unspoofed cuvee. Could be good. Would ask about this one. Why could this not be O'upia? Make things so much easier.

2006 Mas de Chimeres, Coteaux du Laguedoc - Ahh...the Dressner love. Why can't every wine list just be loaded with inexpensive Dressner wine? When I become Robert Parker. A great estate that always makes honest, lively and just plain flavorful wines. I would order this in a heartbeat and it would go perfectly with the rustic French fare of Bar Boulud. At $45 it’s a steal. One of the finer wines of the Languedoc. Not spoofed at all, which many of the wines tend to be.

2006 Eric Texier Cotes-Du-Rhones Brezeme - Had to add this, as if you bump up the extra $5 you get a Brezeme. And a Texier wine. And a Dressner wine. Pure Syrah with finesse, wild game and garrigue character, and lively acidity. Also a wine that will improve over many hours. I love this stuff.

So if I came here, I'd be happy. I did go twice and had a great time. Granted I was not on a steep budget either time. If I were, there would be plenty to drink. Even at a little above these price points there was a wonderful selection. Aware of budget, yet selected with some imagination and care.

Convivio - White Inexpensive - $35, $35, $35, $35

2007 Casa d'Ambra Ischia Bianco (Biancolella/Forastera), Campania - Hell yeah. A lovely whisper of a wine from two weird-ice grape varietals you will only find in Italy. A killer wine with depth and a great value. Really superior wine for the money. Very versatile with all types of food.

2007 Feudo Montoni Grillo "G", Sicilia - A great wine from one of the leading estates in Sicily. Forget that Planeta or Regaleali crap you were raised on and drink this lovely, crisp, nougatey, wispy yet suspiciously full-bodied wine. A great value and food versatile. Smile #2.

2007 Salviano Orvieto Classico (Trebbiano Toscano/Grechetto/Chardonnay - If I were with my rural relatives I would order this. Probably not life changing, bit a lot could be drunk and would not bankrupt anyone. Solid if unexciting choice. Although I have not had the wine, I have found very few Orvieto to be thrilling. But the sommelier at Convivio, whom I know, could find an exciting Orvieto.

NV Gaia Estate Retsina Ritinitis Nobilis, Nemea, Greece (Roditis) – Yes, I know it’s Retsina and most Retsina is undrinkable, but I have had this wine and it is the ONLY drinkable Retsina I have ever had. Lovely, piney (it IS Retsina . . .) and refreshingly acidic with a soft texture. Good wine, but not everybody's cup of tea . . .but a steal at $35. It’s fantastic to see four interesting choices at $35 in this recession.

Great choices here. Many over the $35 price point to tempt the budget conscious diner as well, but $35 is a price point I wanted to highlight as mostly anybody can afford it in a restaurant.

Convivio - Red Inexpensive - $30, $35, $40, $40

2006 Librandi Ciro Rosso, Calabria (Gaglioppo) - Solid wine for $30 at one of the nicer Italian/Mediterranean joints in NYC. Gaglioppo always reminds me the Nebbiolo of the South. Spicy, smoky wine with lovely dried fruit and good body. A great choice for the cheapest bottle on the list. $30 and you're still getting a good honest wine that will accompany the food.

2004 Villa Matilde Rocca dei Leoni, Campania (Aglianico) - Have not had this wine, but have had others by Villa Matilde and they are a solid winery. I think Cotarella consulted there, but maybe just for a higher end wine. This is probably a nice chewy Aglianico with good cherry and other fruit. Maybe some tarry spice. Would go well with a number of the meat and game dishes. Nice choice. And for $35 you cannot go wrong.

2007 Colli di Serrapetrona Collequanto Vernaccia Nera, Marche - Looks like a weird, wacky Italian white wine appellation gone red. I'd try that for $40. I'd ask the sommelier about it, as I’ve never had red Vernaccia from the Marche before, but that’s what sommeliers are for. But it's under the telling, juicy, lovely, light category that I am a fan of. Probably a winner.

2005 Vinicola Resta Squinzano Rosso, Puglia (Negroamaro/Malvasia Nera) - Had Squinzano before and have liked it. One of those appellations where you don't have to pay a lot to get top quality. This type of southern Italian wine needs to be fresh to capture my attention. Knowing this sommelier’s palate, this is a fruit-driven wine that has proper balancing acidity and lovely freshness. A great choice opposite the lighter Vernaccia Nera. Same price, too.

There were many other choices at $40, but those two intrigued me the most. A great selection of value reds presented themselves at Convivio, and many more also in $5 and $10 increments and up. Italy is still a forest of value wines that go great with food. Why can't more Italian wine lists be like this in New York?

Felidia - White Inexpensive - $20, $21, $35, $46

1998 Chateau de Clapier, Cotes de Luberon - Don't you just love it when Italian restaurants buy wines from other regions that NEVER sell and just leave them on the list? Take the loss already. This wine is dead and I would not serve it to my cat. $20. Phhhhyttt!

2004 Biondi Gurna, Sicilia (Caricante, Cataratto, Malvasia) - This is an esoteric white from Sicily that has probably been on the list forever. I would guess by the grape composition this was supposed to be drunk up a while ago. $21. You could pay me $21 to drink this, but that’s where it stops. I hate it when cheap wines are just so damn feel ashamed drinking the stuff and the restaurant is making no attempt to even have a current vintage of the stuff so it tastes fresh. Again, take the loss and cook with it.

2007 San Nicolo Verdicchio di Casteli di Jesi - There was a ton of crap at $35. Many wines that were meant to be served young and fresh, but were four or five years old. Cook with those! Here was a 2007 white wine from Italy, and I knew it would be crisp, minerally and delightful. Finally something to drink and not make me feel like a piece of shoot bottom-feeder.

2006 Movia Tokai Friulano, Gredi, Slovenia - Finally something I really want to dig my teeth into and for a reasonable price, although on the high end of what I want to spend. $46 is fine, though, for a naturally made wine with a good meal at Felidia. Floral, broad with lovely mineral and mouthfeel. A nice budget selection and natural to boot.

To briefly hammer down one point here, there were at least five to eight wines in the inexpensive white category that were over the hill. You either need to know what you are doing, or hope the sommelier does not pull a fast one on you and sell you over the hill white wine, or you better pray those vintages are mistakes and they just have not updated those wines, or you are drinking 1998 Cotes de Luberon Blanc.

There was a nice bottle of the 2002 Spreitzer Oesticher Lenchen Kabinett Halbtrocken, which is probably drinking great now that I would order over any of these wines. Just saw it looking for the reds.

Felidia - Inexpensive Red - $33, $40, $40, $42

2005 Calasetta Carignano del Sulcis Pied e Franco, Puglia - If this wine was any good it could become a great score in wine geek restaurant finds. It's original rootstock Carignan, from what I can make from the label, and it’s from Sardegna. It's so cheap it's gotta be worth a try, and it's ungrafted! All for $33. Done deal. There was a tremendous amount of crap that was $35 like a Schiava/Lagrein Auslese!! Others I passed over. Boring stuff like Sangiovese Toscana from vintages too old, etc. But this could be a recession-buster!

2004 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore "Quadrio" - A reliable producer, a great Nebbiolo vintage, and forty bucks make this too good not to pass up. If the Carignan is a pooper, I'll send it back and order this.

2004 Valle Dell'Acate Cerasuolo de Vittoria - Great wine. Too bad it's not a current vintage. This really should be an '06 or '07 at this point to capture the wine's freshness. I would pass at any price. Even $40.

2005 Cavalotto Freisa, Bricco Boschis - A lovely rustic wine with nice character and wild fruit and earthy scents. Almost damson-like wine and a must with food, especially wild boar. A good value and a must on the list at $42.

All in all, because I know what I am doing, I would drink well at Felidia, but there are many pitfalls in the under $45 section of the wine list. If you are not a savvy consumer you will get screwed. So good recession-friendly prices, but not the quality to back it up. The list at Convivio may not have as many older vintages and fancy "names," but it is much better, well thought out and obviously has a higher turnover as all the vintages that are supposed to be current are.

Eleven Madison Park - Inexpensive White - $35, $40, $45

2005 Domaine Ostertag Silvaner "Vieilles Vignes" - Always a great bottling. Has depth, finesse and class for such a humble bottling. Silvaner in the right hands really is something. Trust me on this one. Some other nice selections at this price point. Very well thought out.

2006 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie - About time I saw Pepiere as an inexpensive option on a wine list. A fantastic, crisp and lively wine that is just darn electric. Always a great value even as the price has crept up the last five years. Surprising that at the last restaurant on my list, this shows up. I guess Muscadet is weird and not Chardonnay.

2007 Jean-Claude Thevenet Macon-Pierreclos - Another great Macon value here. This is one of the greatest vineyards in the Macon. Guffens-Heynen makes the benchmark bottling from Pierreclos--- big, vivid and oaky---which this is not. Unflinchingly mineral with a taut little frame and limey fruit. A wine about mineral and terroir with the incidental fruit. Great little wine.

Three great options. If they did not have these, there were a number of other tasty choices at these respective price points. If you go $10 more to $55, you get a wonderful selection of Riesling from the likes of Willi Schaefer, Steinmetz, Zilliken & Wegeler. Thoughtful list, price conscious and very well matched with the food. One of the better lists in town for value-driven whites, even though many mostly associate 11MP with high-luxury. There is some value there. Now, can that be said for the reds?

Eleven Madison Park - Inexpensive Red - $39, $45, $50, $55

2005 Ernst Triebaumer, Blaufrankish, Burgenland - Austrian red is such a good value and these wines go great with food. Brambly fruit, some earth, and too inexpensive to have any fancy oak treatment, so you get juicy unimpeded fruit. A steal and a great wine for the cheapest red on the list. Will go great with Humm's food, too.

2005 Yannick Amirault Bourgeil La Coudraye - A good producer of Bourgeuil, but I prefer Breton. Done in a pretty extracted style there is lovely fruit and herbaciousness.

2006 Domaine Richaud, Cairanne - The best Cairanne in the appellation from the superstar Marcel Richaud. A screaming value and as complex as many higher priced CDP. Natural winemaking, too. 2006 seems like it would be a great vintage for Richaud as not too hot or concentrated like 2007, 2005, etc. Not that those are great vintages, but I like cooler vintages at this address. $50 is so great for this wine. Most CDP on a list starts at $75 and this smokes most of them.

2004 Domaine Gauby Les Calcinaires, Cotes de Roussilon - Great estate on the biodynamic tip. Although the higher up the ladder you go, the more oaky the wines become. Maybe it will integrate with time. Who knows? Good, honest, pure and chewy wine. Very well made and expressive with loads of fruit and freshness. Pretty good deal at $55

There were many other selections in the $39 - $55 range also in red that enticed me. Good mix of organic, biodynamic, natural and normal producers. Food friendly wines, and you could easily drink two bottles for under $100. There is some criticism, though. No Pinot here. I know it’s hard to find good cheap Pinot, but buy something good and mark it up maybe a bit less so people get to have Pinot with the very Pinot-friendly food at 11MP.

What is your favorite value on a comparable restaurant in your neck of the woods?

Lyle Fass 3-12-09

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Lyle Fass
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby matcohen » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:17 am

I always wondered why it always seemed like the under $50 wines on the lists of great restaurants really sort of sucked. Was it me? Did I not appreciate these hidden gems?

Now I see, the answer is, I guess not. Many of the wines do suck.

A truly great restaurant pays attention to every aspect of their business from the greeting and butter and bread to the coffee and goodbye. Great wine lists should be great from top to bottom, region to region and style to style.

"There are no small parts, only small actors."
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:23 am


Now I see, the answer is, I guess not. Many of the wines do suck.


I have to take you to task on this statement. I could still find something to drink in all of these restaurants and be happy. The issue is the selection in this precarious economy. More attention needs to be payed to this price point because that is more and more where consumers, especially in NYC, are looking towards. They still need to eat. They still need to drink, probably more than ever, but at a much cheaper level until things bounce back. If they do bounce back. There are sucky wines and that is a pitfall the consumer will have to avoid, but I found some things that were good. Yes, they need work, but more importantly, these are arguably some of the TOP restaurants in NYC, and one can only imagine what are on the third, fourth or fifth tier restaurants. Especially in this economy. Clearly things need to improve on inexpensive wine selection, despite the fact there are some excellent selections and thoughtful wine lists out there. Convivio's was the best blend of price, quality of wine and thought put into it.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby matcohen » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:34 am

But NONE of the wines should suck.

Would Felidia sell 2 week old shrimp? Then why do they have an Italian white that is likely way past its prime?

We go to expensive restaurants because, in theory, they are experts in fine dining, to include food and wine. These restaurants have first shot at the best wines - there is no excuse for them selling ANY subpar wines.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:47 am

Agreed. But what do the BEST wines mean? Up until a short time ago in NYC, as a buyer if you asked your distributor for the BEST wines, it would be a list of Clos Erasmus, Monfortino, SQN, Cotat, Vatan, etc. Not exactly value wines. It's all about the sommellier or wine director knowing the BEST wines at all price points, not just what the distributor feeds them. It's about having an intellectual curiosity about the wines of the world so you will seek them out. If you have that mentality as a somm, you'll put together a fine list at all price points. Granted, some parts of the list, the so-called sweet spots, will sell more than other parts, but you still are the sommelier at Craft, and need to have a list that will match the quality of the food, which is considered one of the top ten restos in NYC. Why would Craft's appetizer at $9 be worse than their appetizer at $16? Makes no sense when you look at it that way. But that is exactly what is going on on their wine list. Yes there is a quality hierarchy in wine but a good somm should attack that hierarchy and do their best to have exceptional values on their list. I mean, why else are they a sommelier? For the hours?
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby abreaks » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:06 am

My two cents...

First off, as a non-New Yorker that has spent little time there, those prices strike me as being far from "inexpensive" - $50 for a bottle of Cassis (which I happen to adore when done well, I might add) strikes me as a bit silly, but I'm willing to chalk that up to NYC.

I think the larger issue is that many restaurants are somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place. With the exception of the relatively few spots where the proprieters and their customer base are collectively "in the know," thay are basically obligated to have a certain number of "name" wines on their list whether they like it or not. This takes up valuable space that could otherwise be occupied by cool, lesser-known wines from all of the intriguing little backroads that many of us Garagiste-istas love to discover and enjoy without pretentiousness. More oftne than not, this leaves us to ferret out the little gems where we can, which in my opinion is equal parts frustration and satisfaction.

A few miscellaneous thoughts about the Bar Bouloud stuff - I've generally found the Revelette wines to be quite nice, and my guess is that the 2007 Blanc would be pretty good in light of the quality of the vintage. The Miraval wines, on the other hand, are nothing special and appear to be benefitting from the exposure associated with the fact that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are currently leasing the estate.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:14 am

Wow....had no idea about the Jolie/Pitt wine connection to Miraval. That's insane.

As far as that Cassis, I used to sell it at retail and with a decent markup it was $23.99. So $50, while expensive, is a normal markup for restaurants for a wine that costs about $15 a bottle. A shame it is, but that is the reality of living in this city. Something has to change. I would love to know how the huge restaurant markup paradigm started.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Adam Morganstern » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:20 am

Telmo Rodqiguez, from the Craft wine list, is actually organic/biodynamic. And a pretty nice guy as well.
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby Lyle Fass » Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:42 pm

Good to know that the wine is Bio-Organic. I'd still rather drink Txakolina though . . . ;)
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Re: Lyle Fass – Word on the Street - 3-12-09; Wine Lists

Postby abreaks » Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:57 pm

Lyle - thanks for taking the time to do this. This is a very welcome addition to the board, and it's nice to be able to have a back and forth with somebody in the business (a term I hate using but for which I can't seem to come up with a suitable alternative!). I agree wholeheartedly with your point about sommeliers and intellectual curiosity. In a sense, the top end of the list is the easy part. What impresses me is to come across something inexpensive that I've never heard of or seen before and a knowledgeable sommelier that is excited about it. Of course, I am a cheap bastard...
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