Often, navigating a wine list is fraught with uncertainty. Is the sommelier trying to put one over on you? Was 2002 a good year for Brunello’s? (No.) Who can work through that book they just handed you without starting to break out into a sweat? It’s hard to keep the wheel steady.
But at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, the mines in the road have been removed, and there are only a few roadblocks to break through.
Starting with the cheapest red on the list, the Barbera from Marchese di Barolo. It’s an unfortunate name that has confused more than one novice wine drinker, in that it contains the word ‘Barolo,’ which is also the name of a very expensive wine. Here it simply means the town of Barolo, which has no special significance, and the wine is swill. Restaurateurs know that customers often seek out the second-cheapest wine to order, so as not to appear super-cheap. So sometimes their cheapest wines are actually better values. That’s not the case here.
But after this one bump, I promise you, it’s a smooth road. If you like a peppery Syrah, start with the 2005 Qupe ‘Central Coast.’ This $38 bottle ($10/glass) goes for about $15 retail, but an important thing to remember is not just the numbers. Does this wine work well with the food you’re about to order? If you’re going for any of the steak dishes, like the wood-roasted 24-ounce Harris Ranch porterhouse, or the 12-ounce steak au poivre, yes and yes. And if you’d like to take it up to a whole ‘nother level, step up to Qupe’s 2003 Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah, a 14.4% bomb that softens as it breathes, allowing you to take your time and enjoy it even more as the meal progresses. I mean, 24 ounces is a lot of steak. And at $88, it’s an incredible bargain, as you probably won’t find this bottle at retail for under $50.
Another great food wine is the luscious Ridge ‘Three Valleys’ Zinfandel (2006), at just $9/glass, a good way to start your meal alongside some snacks of chicken liver crostini or meatballs. This slightly tannic California classic pairs well with the richness of the liver, as well as with the zippy tomato sauce surrounding the juicy meatballs.
On the lighter side, try the 2006 Domaine Ott ‘Chateau de Selle’ Rosé from Provence, which at $72 may seem steep for a rosé (it retails for about $30), but this is a beautiful bottle. Physically, the curving bottle is pretty sexy. And inside, its firm yet fruity flavor can hold its own with the ‘Poulet Rouge’ wood-roasted chicken, as well as with the crispy duck confit. And please don’t forget to call the ‘doctor’. Dr. Loosen’s ‘Eroica,’ that is — a 2005 Riesling from Washington ($45). This is a dry, crispy white that retails for about $20. You can start your meal with it, end your meal with it or just drink it at the bar with plates of yellowfin tuna tartare, roasted giant prawn or stout-braised clams, and reflect on the rare good fortune of finding a well-thought-out, yet affordably priced wine list — in Miami.