I enjoy going to fancy restaurants. I also used to work in them and one of the things I’ve learned about the business of wine is that the cheapest wine is often one of the most special wines on the menu, especially in nice places with a proper sommelier.
On a fancy night out, dressed in your best (or, next-best) outfit, surrounded by elegant ambiance, your meal begins with a glance through the wine menu. As you scan through the selections, you take note of those hefty price tags, find the cheapest bottle on the menu and opt for the one that’s $0.50 more. Am I right? Yes, I am. But you are wrong.
I say: find the cheapest wine – and get it. Without hesitation or shame, and I’ll explain why.
SIDE NOTE: If your date thinks you’re cheap, then you can either a.) link them this article and show them how educated you are, or b.) realize that you’re out with a shallow heartless vampire and cut your losses.
Let’s look at a case study, shall we?
After trolling around the internet for about 10 minutes, I pulled up two wine-friendly restaurants, one in New York City and the other in Sausalito, CA, with cheap wines that blew my mind. Great eateries like these use their “cheapest wine” slots to introduce some of the most intriguing and value-friendly wines into the market. Check it out:
Gramercy Tavern New York City
Justin Timsit at Gramercy Tavern is always looking for intriguing wines to feature on their ever-evolving wine list. He believes it doesn’t matter how much you want to spend, there are great wines to be found at all levels. Gramercy Tavern (Oct 2016)
The Wine: Filipa Pato 3B Rosé Extra Brut Sparkling
The Blend: 50% Baga and 50% Bical from Bairrada, Portugal
What is Baga?
Filipa Pato has an ardent following of wine geeks and it could be because she is a bit crazy. Crazy in a good way. Back in the day, Bairrada had no place on fancy wine lists because the main grape, Baga, made wines that tasted like … tar. Fortunately, that didn’t stop the Pato family (Filipa and her dad Luis–both former chemical engineers) from experimenting and coming up with new ways of growing the grape and making it into delicious wine. For example, Luis Pato revealed to us that the Baga grapevine is so productive that he can get two harvests from the plant.
This sparkling rosé is made with the Traditional Champagne Method and it exudes strawberries, sweet roses, and lemon zest. It’s a delight to drink at any bubble-friendly party and has shockingly good value because nobody drinks Bairrada… at least, not yet!
Sushi Ran Sausalito, CA
The wine list at Sushi Ran (Oct 2016)
The Wine: Covenant “Mensch” White Blend
The Blend: 80 % Lodi Roussanne and 20% Sonoma Valley Sémillon
OMG, What is this?!
This wine is unlike any wine we’ve come across in a looooong time. Mensch is a mevushal kosher wine. It’s from a winery called Covenant, found in a modest-looking commercial space a couple blocks away from Whole Foods in Berkeley, CA. Mevushal literally means “cooked” or “boiled,” and in order to be mevushal, a wine is flash heated. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’re probably gritting your teeth right now because heating wine is known to be very, very bad. Oddly enough, Covenant uses a new French winemaking process called flash détente which flash heats and cools raw grapes.
Mensch is a co-fermented blend of Roussanne and Sémillon that is barrel-fermented in neutral barrels. The wine is dry, with notes of guava, stone fruits, citrus, and tarragon with a dry, minerally finish.
Last Word: Good Stuff at the Bottom
Once regions and varieties are well-established and talked about, demand increases and the prices naturally go up. These are not typically the regions where the most exciting changes and innovations occur. It’s in the lesser known regions and lesser-appreciated varieties that we’re now seeing some incredible potential. Sommeliers and wine retailers who champion these wines give us a guided tour into the unknown and following their lead takes your taste buds on an adventure. Next time you see a nice-looking wine list, ask about the wine you’ve never heard of that otherwise wouldn’t belong there, there’s probably an amazing story attached.
Next Up: How much to pay for decent wine?
How much do you need to spend for good wine? Find out this number and what you’ll need to spend to get into the different wine pricing tiers.
The Reality of Wine Prices
If you want to get more into the hardcore economics of wine, I highly recommend reading The Wine Economist by Mike Veseth
Read more about Flash Détente on Wine and Vines
Also, Wine Anorak has an old but awesome article about Filipa Pato