A restaurant’s wine list is a minefield, a complex and calculated collection of values and boondoggles, pitfalls and prizes. It’s no surprise that this is where restaurants make most of their money. You think you’ve found a great vintage at a reasonable $45, only to discover the next day that Publix sells the same bottle for $5.95. Or you want to spend some cash for a memorable pour, but the pricey wine you ordered tastes of tarted-up Franzia with plywood notes.
There are, however, hidden treasures on just about every restaurant’s wine list. Sometimes you’ll find lush bargains, or just gently marked-up winners alongside overpriced and underperforming losers.
Lucky for you, we’re here to help locate the diamonds in the rough. Here, our expert reports on the wine list at two hot destinations — Vix at the Hotel Victor on South Beach and Michy’s on the booming Biscayne corridor.
Michelle Bernstein’s standing-room-only small plate emporium on Biscayne Boulevard has a few reliable bargains that pair well with her eclectic dishes. On the white side, steer clear of the better-known, and higher-priced, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. Instead, plunk down $39 for a bottle of Côtes de Tablas 2005 from Tablas Creek, from Paso Robles, California. The name of the wine is a play on Côtes du Rhône, the French wine-growing region whose white wine blends of lesser-known grapes such as marsanne, viognier and roussane are celebrated around the world (except, um, here). Michy’s has a nice variety of below-the-radar grapes like gruner-veltliner and riesling, and these, too, make for good values.
For a red in the lower price range, the ’05 beaujolais by Trenel, at $38, is substantial – some might call it a chewy – with flavors of ripe fruit. It pairs well with short ribs as well as with the chicken pot pie. Make sure the wine isn’t too warm, as beaujolais is one of the few reds that benefit from chilling.
Those willing to spend more must try the Barbaresco Basarin 2003 by Negro. At $99, this younger brother of the better-known Piedmont Barolos (which are rarely bargains), matches up with steak, sweetbreads or even Bernstein’s blue cheese croquetas, and is priced at just about twice the retail price (restaurant wine list markups are generally 2 1/2 times retail and higher). Italian red wines are hot right now, so it’s unusual to see good prices like these. If you’re celebrating and really want to splurge, try the Long Shadows boutique offerings – the syrah, cabernet and merlot from this Washington State winery of the year are hard to find in these parts, and at $100 and up, relative bargains.
Vix at the Hotel Victor
At Vix on Ocean Drive, you can choose from several decent wines to match the international fusion menu. Sadly, those wines clock in with fairly inflated prices, but you’ll find one very good bottle at a remarkably low price.
The well-respected Chilean winery Casa Lapostolle has a popular, drinkable 2005 merlot that retails in stores for about $22. At Vix, it’s $75 – a markup of more than 300 percent. However, the Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta blend, a world-class red that retails for around $70, is only $95 on this list, less than 50 percent above retail. Order it before the sommelier sees this!
Here’s a tip: The wine’s price-per-glass is a good indicator of the markup you pay. Take the Spanish Albarino from Soutomaior, a refreshing and laid-back white that Vix sells for $10 a glass (it’s $9 at Michy’s). Vix prices the half-bottle at $25 and the full bottle at $50. At Michy’s they’re priced at $18 and $38, respectively, which tells you something about the wine programs at each restaurant. Most restaurants set their by-the-glass wine prices at the restaurant’s full wholesale cost of the bottle — although some even charge a few dollars more than the wholesale cost of the bottle for just one glass(!) — you can use that as a quick trick to check on markup (the aforementioned Casa Lapostolle Merlot is $13 a glass at Vix). And if everything seems high, as at many South Beach hotspots, just drink that glass very, very slowly.
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