Probably one of the trickiest parts of putting together a top-notch restaurant wine list is selecting the Wines by the Glass section. You only get so many choices here. There are practical limits. It takes some real chutzpah to stick your neck out and say to your customers “Hey, baby, we’ve got what you’re looking for.” Managing 20 or 30 bottles on a daily basis, allowing for spoilage, proper storage and selection, is a daunting task, and a considerable expense.
You want wines that will pair well with your menu, but at the same time you need to allow for individual preferences that sometimes seem to go against the grain. So you accept the fact that you can’t please everyone, and are ready to make suggestions based on the customer’s taste.
Periodically, we like to review the ever-improving wine lists from our more deserving restaurants. Restaurants’ by-the-glass programs can be just as important to patrons, so this year we decided to look at that side of the wine list.
Midlands restaurateurs have been busy upgrading their stemware, wine lists and menus, and it really shows as our local eateries just get better and better.
We were pleasantly surprised with the extensive list at Cellar On Greene. Half-glasses make it easy to taste several wines and most places will bring you a small taste of most of their selections. Pearlz has a top-notch menu backed up by the most wine that we found anywhere.
The stemware was a little clunky, but they run a crowded bar with not much room to maneuver, so there’s that practicality to consider. Motor Supply Co. has a menu that changes daily and terrific wines to match.
One thing that I noticed was our top-rated restaurants have passionate staff. Bar manager Laurel Jeffries at Cellar on Greene is just that. After only a few minutes, one could tell that she really was interested in wine and how it pairs with food. A well-worn copy of Wine Lovers Companion and Karen McNeal’s Wine Bible were both right there by the bar. Motor Supply’s wine manager, Stephanie Heikila, is preparing for a trip to the Oregon wine country. I can’t wait to see what she brings back. Going to wine country, whether here or in Europe, is the best way to connect with wine — talking with locals and tasting the food with their wine.
Nothing makes a meal more special than a well-chosen bottle or glass of wine. The Quack Madame appetizer from Terra and a glass of Bourgogne rouge (pinot noir) is a classic example. The wedge salad and a glass of the Talmard Mâcon-Village from Pearlz is another winner. At Gervais & Vine, I would go with the lamb chops and the red Bordeaux.
Some tips on pairing wines with food:
Go with sauvignon blanc or gruener-veltliner with goat cheese or any salad with feta cheese. Chardonnay works best with blue cheese or thousand island dressing.
Pinot noir works nicely with salmon or chicken. Cabernet, merlot and malbec are better with red meats. Sparklers can go with anything, as can rosés.
Merlot and sparkling rosés are nice with a chocolate dessert, the darker the better.
Ask the wait staff for their suggestions. They are familiar with their wines and what they will pair well with. You could even ask for a taste of the wine.
Some other observations on local lists: While a restaurant cannot go wrong with a good pinot grigio, it is nice to see white Burgundy on a by-the-glass list, and that is easy to do with the choices we have out there today. Two or three pinot noirs (at least one French) should be easy enough. Don’t forget Beaujolais, easy drinking, food friendly, inexpensive — but I only found a few on the lists. And with spring finally here a rosé or two would be in order.
For this ranking, we considered selection, regions, and depth of each by-the-glass wine, plus stemware, overall ambience and menu.
We have a corps of dedicated restaurateurs that are constantly upgrading their operations, and doing a good job of it. It was difficult and very subjective to rank these lists, and I hope I have been fair. I’m sure I have overlooked a few deserving spots; please forgive me. Some restaurants specialize in one region and we have tried to allow for their specialty.
Restaurant - Overall Quality - Comments - Prices
Cellar on Greene ★★★★ - 40 wines, half glasses, good food - $$
Pearlz ★★★★ - 42 wines, great food - $$
Motor Supply Co. ★★★★ - 37 wines, complete menu - $$
Terra ★★★★ - 20 eclectic wines, great menu - $$
Gervais & Vine ★★★★ - 41 wines, half glasses, tapas menu - $$+
Rosso ★★★★ - 34 wines, heavy on Italy, of course - $$+
Baan Sawan ★★★½ - 12 wines, short but sweet, good menu - $$+
Oak Table ★★★½ - 23 wines, nice location, good food - $$$
Mo Mo’s ★★★½ - 22 wines, nice location, good food - $$
Villa Tronco ★★★½ - 23 wines, traditional Italian, good food - $$
Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale:
★ Good (80-84), ★★ Very Good (85-87), ★★★ Very Good/Excellent (88-89), ★★★★ Excellent (90+).
All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to detract from your personal favorites.
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