I try to observe proper restaurant protocol. I always wait to be seated; I never arrive barefoot; and I never, ever order the cheapest bottle on the wine list. And yet, in regard to that last item, I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the universal perception that the only people who order from the very bottom of the list are cheapskates or people who don’t care what they’re drinking. But, I recently wondered, is that really true? In these less-than-flush times, might not wine directors be paying as much attention to the bottom of their lists as the top? After all, any wine professional can find great pricey bottles, but it takes a truly talented one to ferret out a great deal. I decided to take a tour of the low end of some very good wine lists, but first, I talked with the professionals who created them.
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- A Cheapskate’s Critique of Wine List Prices
- Bargain Wines
- Are the Wine Lists at Steak Houses Any Good?
I began with Joe Bastianich, the managing partner of 16 restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, 12 of which he co-owns with chef Mario Batali. (Joe is also a vintner in Italy.) The Batali-Bastianich food empire ranges from elaborate places (Manhattan’s Del Posto) to casual ones (Casa Mono and Lupa, also in Manhattan). When I called Joe, he was in his car, traveling between his various restaurants. I asked him if he had a price in mind for his cheapest wine(s). “Twenty-eight dollars,” he replied definitively. “I’d never go below $28.” How had he arrived at that number? “It just feels right,” he said. In fact, a review of his Manhattan lists revealed wines well below that amount: Becco featured several very inexpensive reds and whites, including a nice Dolcetto and an attractive Aglianico for $25 each, while Lupa had two whites and a red for just $21. Had these prices “felt right” to Joe at some other time?