Restaurant Wine Lists Are Put on Notice
Restaurant wine practices are a sour subject. Earlier in the year CNN.com ran a story on the top five “rip-offs” and restaurant wine prices came in on the list. Often with a 400% above wholesale markup, restaurants are passing off bad wine at high prices and often in inferior stemware with a less than knowledgeable staff. As I type this I can hear restaurant owners around the US complaining about high overhead, stemware breakage, and loss, there is obviously a more balanced way to sell wine.
It’s time to call out the good restaurant wine lists and put the bad ones on notice. Nothing speaks louder than the court of public opinion and we vote with our wallets. With this new series I hope to provide wine lovers a preview of area restaurant wine practices. With this information, you can make informed dining decisions. I don’t review food but stay tuned and we’ll explore the often seedy world of restaurant wine.
To keep things simple I’ll be looking at three basic elements, price, selection and presentation. I’ll evaluate each section and award a 5 point score (similar to how I review wine). Each restaurant will also receive an overall score.
I understand the need to make a profit. People go to restaurants for the experience, the atmosphere and the service. All these things cost money. Evaluation of a restaurant’s wine prices will be based on basic math and mark up; the greater the markup, the lower the score. If you’re trying to sell $10 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir for $40 per bottle, you’re going to score low. However, if you’re like one local restaurant who sells $12 Kiona Cabernet/Merlot blend for $12 – WOW! Personally, I think a good balance is three glass pours should approximately equal the bottle price, example: $25 bottle of Barrister Rough Justice…$8 per glass.
In a previous article I asked the question, “Does Size Matter?” When evaluating selection, the size of your menu will not be as impressive as how you use your menu. A good wine list will have local product, including some from the quality producers in our city, and wine that is appropriate for the food being served.
Presentation can make a big impression and can often justify higher prices. Somehow all seems justified when laying down $50 for a strip steak when surrounded by hip, swanky decoration, cool lighting, posh seating, and service oriented staff. The same is true with the wine list. When evaluating selection, I’ll take into consideration menu layout (and accuracy), stemware, staff knowledge, wine temperature (very important), and service.
Over time, I hope that these posts bring awareness to restaurants who take as much pride in their wine as they do in their food. Attention to the finer points listed above can be the catalyst to selling more wine and creating a refined dining experience.
AMBROSIA BISTRO AND WINE BAR
Ambrosia is a hip urban modern American restaurant tucked in a suburban strip mall on Argonne and Montgomery. They’ve recently been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for their wine list. The food is good and full of flavor. The atmosphere is nice, but it tough to get over the strip mall vibe (especially when sitting on the patio). The restaurant always a good choice for us but often overlooked considering some of the cool hot spots that have popped up downtown.
Here are some glass price examples that bring down the price score
- Clos du Bois Reserve Chardonnay: RETAIL $15, By the Glass price $9
- Manu Sauvignon Blanc: RETAIL $12, By the Glass price $7
- Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel: RETAIL $14, By the Glass price $7
- Barrister Rough Justice: RETAIL $20, By the Glass price $10
- Gozzo Malbec: RETAIL $15, By the glass price $7
The glass pours seem less inspired than their menu selection and seem to run at a 2 pours to retail (or less). Better pricing exists with the bottle sales.
- White Haven Pinot Noir: RETAIL $22, Bottle price $33
- Amavi Syrah: RETAIL $28, Bottle price $38
- Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback: RETAIL: 85, Bottle price $100
- Mountain Dome Brut: RETAIL: RETAIL $16, Bottle price $25
Ambrosia boasts 120 different wines by the bottle. With their focus on American cuisine, the selection of Washington, California and Oregon wines appropriately dominate the list. There are occasional offerings from Italy and New Zealand and three French wines (including Moet and Chandon Champagne). The selection of reds is 2 to 1 over whites. Twelve area wines are on the list from six producers. A few more area producers on the menu would be nice to see, considering the scope of the selection. The menu includes helpful wine pairings with each menu item.
The menu is nicely laid out, easy to read and includes region and vintage to assist in informed decision making. The waiter was knowledgeable about the wine, responded appropriately to all our questions and offered additional wine pairings. The stemware was appropriate for the food prices (not top of the line, but very nice). The only piece of the presentation that was not top notch was the wine temperature. We ordered a 07 Fidelitas Merlot (Retail $28, Bottle price $39). The wine was served at room temperature, which was probably 72-73 degrees. At this temperature, red wine can fall apart a little and present more chewy than at an appropriate temperature of 63-66 degrees. A temperature controlled fridge for their wine or a quick chill would have made the presentation perfect.
Overall Wine List Score: 4/5
Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar has a fantastic wine list. The overall score was hurt by the lack of inspiration in the ‘by the glass pours’ and the inflated pricing. A few of the ‘glass pours’ could be at the $6 range. A handful of additional local producers could also be added to the list. These changes would make an already great list, one of the tops in the town.
9211 E Montgomery Ave, Spokane WA