Pick It Apart

Examining your favorite restaurant wine lists


So what does a wine and food writer do in his free time, you ask? Or perhaps have not asked, since it’s pretty boring stuff that involves Google maps, TripAdvisor and numerous internet searches.

You see, what I do and happen to like doing is planning out trips. Trips that I may or may not end up taking, but getting all the details lined up can make for the happy waste of a rainy afternoon.

So what is it exactly I am planning? Winery visits mostly, but every day ends with a night, and every night deserves a little self-indulgence, so dinner plans take up an inordinate amount of my time! Specifically, picking apart menus and wine lists to see where best to spend my hard-earned money!
Sounds crazy, right? Guess what, I’ve got an even crazier idea: sharing the results with you! So check out my first installment of Pick It Apart, and please send me your picks for restaurant wine lists worth a look!

Since this exercise in virtual living really doesn’t require any actual wine travel, I’m going to start out by hitting up some of the great restaurants of Chicago. That should anger an equal number of East and West coasters, which seems to be the best plan of attack when one is in my position. At least then, those folks can duke it out and I don’t really have to get involved!

So let’s take a look at one of the latest darlings of the Chicago dining scene and get ready to pick their list apart!

Les Nomades
222 East Ontario Street
Chicago Il

I love the look of the menu here. Bistro moderne, with the best of the world represented. Before looking at the menu though, it’s time for the wine list. The version online has the disclaimer, "Our wine list is in a constant state of change and will be updated monthly," featured prominently so specific wines may no longer be on offer, but let’s break it down.

Wines by the glass
Yes, this is a well thought out by-the-glass program! A fine blend of food-friendly wines, mainstream selections and geek love (though I’m not convinced by the Michele Chiarlo Gavi. Really?).

Wines by the half-bottle
The half-bottle selection here is really strong and I love that. For me, a perfect dinner for two can include two half-bottles to allow for easier pairing with the various courses. This list has most of the bases covered, though with some pricy options, particular for Champagne and California reds, which I don’t think would be my first choice with this menu anyway. There are some great deals to be had here and these choices jumped off the list:

Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier 2001 - $75
Rully Vieilles Vignes, Vincent Girardin 2007 - $30   

Chorley-Les-Beaune, Joseph Drouhin 2005 - $35
Château Ormes de Pez, Saint-Estéphe 2003 - $55

As great choices though, I would have loved to see some more offbeat selections from the South of France, though that may be more a function of half-bottle availability.

Wines by the bottle
Once you get into the full bottles and larger, you might want to order a cocktail since going through the full list might take some time! Prices seem fair and you might want to start with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon or Rene Geoffroy bubbly instead of that cocktail.

White Burgundy is very well-represented with plenty of splurge bottles from the likes of Coche-Dury, Leflaive and Raveneau, though there are plenty of less expensive, delicious options on the list as well. Most of the remaining regions of France are also well-represented, though none are up to the level of Burgundy.

Moving beyond France, there are well thought out selections from throughout Europe, including several personal favorites of mine that seem like great values:

Hans Wirsching Riesling Kronsberg Trocken, Grosses Gewächs, Franken 2004 - $65
Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana, Lombardy Italy 2007 - $40
Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall Müller-Thurgau, Alto-Adige Italy 2005 - $75

The domestic white selections are a bit predictable, if well thought out, with two great exceptions once one gets to the "other varietals" list:

Roussanne, Qupe John Alban Vineyard  Edna Valley 2001 - $55
Roussanne, Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel, Paso Robles 2005 - $75

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Mentioned in this article


  • Take a look at the my favorite DC Italian wine list, at Dino. It's a PDF accesssed from this page: http://www.dino-dc.com/2008/05/vini...

    Jun 01, 2011 at 11:48 AM

  • Snooth User: cmajka
    272535 11

    Hi Greg -

    My favorite Spanish wine list has a lot of offers by the glass as well...
    I had a chance to try he Clos Mogador 2004 a couple weeks ago - it was amazing.



    Jun 01, 2011 at 12:57 PM

  • Snooth User: diablo58
    75866 298

    Still rummaging around in Chicago, The Purple Pig is a nice spot, especially for a nice summer evening. It's a "european bistro" featuring small plates and a nice list of wine by the glass, quartinos, half and full bottles. You can grab a nibble or build a meal. Off Michigan and overlooking Illinois, it features long tables which amps up the social interaction.

    Most frustrating: McCormick and Schmick's wine list. I know its a chain, but for an "upscale" spot...

    Jun 01, 2011 at 1:02 PM

  • Great feature! Will send a list from some Dallas-Fort Worth faves.

    Jun 01, 2011 at 4:33 PM

  • Snooth User: Typeaux
    820185 16

    I like this feature and I particularly enjoy finding spectacular wines lists at otherwise out-of-the-way places, such as the Groveland Hotel here in California near Yosemite. It is a long, eye-popping list. As to your Les Nomades wine list, it is a fine list but for the fact that they serve roast duck and yet do not have the quintessential pairing with a great Cotes-Rotie or Hermitage (Northern Rhones) which would compliment it perfectly. At the same time, they do offer a Condrieu (viognier) from the same region, which leaves me scratching my head in wonder. (I may be from California, but some dishes scream for French, or Italian, or yes, even Iberian wines from the Duoro...) More articles like this one, please!

    Jun 01, 2011 at 6:10 PM

  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,722

    Wonderful that you should start in my home town, Chicago. One of the finest dining experience anyone will ever experience is Charlie Trotters. Although quite expensive, the food in unimaginable and the wine list is like looking at the yellow pages. Hope you will review some restaurants in the Portland, Oregon area as well. Nice article, here's Charlie Trotter website
    Lefty - The Great Pacific Northwest

    Jun 01, 2011 at 6:15 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    Love Madrona Manor in Healdsburg. Great restaurant and wine list!

    Jun 01, 2011 at 6:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Typeaux
    820185 16

    To Outthere... It's one thing to have a great wine list in Chicago, but it is almost redundant for a restaurant that has literally dozens of world-class wineries within a 10-minute drive of Madrona Manor! But then, I haven't dined there (have friends who have, and loved it). Bound to have a great wine list, but it's a bit like paying for a peep show while staying at Hefner's house. ;o)

    Jun 01, 2011 at 7:02 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,227

    @ Typeaux - I agree to an extent but you would be surprised at the number of crappy wine lists we have here in Sonoma County even though having exceptional wines on hand should be a slam dunk. Redundancy is a word not in the vocab of many restauranteurs here in Wine Country unless you are comparing some of their wine lists. Yikes!

    Jun 01, 2011 at 7:18 PM

  • Snooth User: Typeaux
    820185 16

    @ Outthere... Point well taken. My problem with wine lists is not the list itself but rather the keystoning of prices (doubling, even tripling the price). We often simply pay for corkage of a wine we bring in (provided it is not on their wine list -- which is considered bad form, and I agree). Since we're fairly local (Bay Area), we're more inclined to visit some tasting rooms and then follow that with a huge picnic al fresco (with wine, of course). After that, dining out seems, well, superfluous. ;o)

    Jun 01, 2011 at 7:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Great comments folks. I really appreciate them. I'm going to make this at least a monthly feature, perhaps more as time allows!

    Jun 02, 2011 at 10:10 AM

  • Snooth User: mqadams
    345854 4

    Great topic, Greg. Question: how much did you pay for the meal and the wines? Also, how much did you tip, especially for the wines, bearing in mind that the wine service is esentially the same regardless of the price of the wine. Thanks.

    Jul 25, 2011 at 10:49 PM

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