Pick It Apart

Fighting for wine in Denver


“A [restaurant] wine list is praised and given awards for reasons that have little to do with its real purpose, as if it existed only to be admired passively, like a stamp collection. A wine list is good only when it functions well in tandem with a menu.” -Gerald Asher

Well yes, and no. If I might be allowed the liberty, a wine list, in order to be "good,” should also not be way to extract as much cash as possible from each customer.

I wanted to write about a wine list in Denver today, so I went to the usual resources to see what restaurants were worth investigating. My dear friends in Denver, you are getting screwed. And with such consistency, it appears you must like it.
Am I missing something here? Wine list after wine list and nothing but outrageous markups. No wonder people drink so much beer! Even with an outrageous markup on a beer, you're still not be shanked for big bucks.

Consider these wine by the glass prices:

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio $15
Producttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco $23
Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $15

OK- so maybe I'm overreacting a tad. These are probably pretty close to the prices we're all paying around the country. Why we continue to do this to ourselves is perplexing, given the general disregard many restaurants show for the wines they pour by the glass. Not that this is the place for this, but I am really looking forward to the imminent explosion of wines in kegs that are going to be flooding the market any minute now, bringing down wine by the glass prices while assuring that the condition of those wines is perfect from first pour to last.

Bracing myself. Still waiting.

Well until that day comes, and it is right around the corner, I'm going to have to say no thank you to getting screwed for a glass of wine. I'm not even going to buy a beer after you insult me with prices like this. Bring me water, tap is fine. This is why I BYOB whenever possible and seek out great lists that are affordable when BYOB is not an option.

As I continue perusing Denver's vaunted wine lists, I am struck by the enthusiasm that seems rampant for aggressive pricing. Is Denver a pocket of relief from the recession we're currently in that allows for prices like $400 for Dom Perignon or $200 for just about any bottle of Barolo to proliferate?

Geez this is both hard and frustrating. I just want to find a place that wants to sell me wine! Wait, what is this? Has anyone heard of Trios Enoteca? Yes, and it's out of business? Portents of doom I tell you. Wait, there is a pearl here after all. What is this pearl you speak of? This Black Pearl.

Black Pearl
1529 South Pearl Street
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 777-0500

Black Pearl seems to be a restaurant that gives a damn about their customers, if the wine list is anyway to judge such a thing. In fact after closer inspection, both the wine list and the rather brief menu are full of clues that the Black Pearl thinks about what we as customers might want.

Who wouldn't want to enjoy some wine with Grilled Chili Sirloin, Chicken Cassoulet, oysters, seared scallops and a cheese plate? Depends on the wines, I know, so let's take a look at what's on offer.

If you want a glass of wine, how about the ’09 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc for $10 or the ’08 Fess parker Pinot Noir for $14. Thinking those look a little pricy too? Well consider this:

“All of the wines at Black Pearl are available by the glass, which we proudly pour at 1⁄4 bottle each.”

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure I want too much of either of these wines, but WOW, I do like this policy, and now those prices look downright cheap!

The wine list at Black Pearl is not terribly long but it does fit Gerald Asher’s criteria of being well suited to its menu. The categories are somewhat confusing to me, but helpful to the other 99% of the population who group wines by style. In this case, that breaks down to Bubbles & Pinks, Fresh and Bright (Light to Medium Whites), Stand Up Whites (Medium to Big), Flex Reds (Smooth & Elegant), Brawny Reds (Big & Bold).

Besides the excess ampersand use, I can get behind the categories. The wines in each are well chosen, with some particularly strong areas.

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  • Snooth User: travreeves
    220129 51

    FYI: In Ann Arbor, MI, I had the Craggy Range Te Kahu on the wine list for $30. Maybe there's regional pricing?

    Oct 05, 2011 at 1:37 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,282

    A quarter of the bottle per glass is a generous pour. I think most people/restaurants calculate five glasses per bottle.

    If I can move the conversation to bottle prices, how much is fair for a restaurant to charge? Way back when my wife was studying in Hotel and Restaurant Management school, she told me that, typically, restaurants charged three times their cost. (Obviously, there is variation to this rule, especially, at the high end, and we are talking about 25 years ago. ) This seems to translate to about two times what I might find as typical retail store cost. So, if I'm ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant, I am comfortable in ordering one that is priced twice what I expect to pay "on the street." When I see it in writing, it sounds like robbery, but I rationalize it by factoring the festiveness of my dining experience.

    As you might imagine, it is not uncommon to go into a restaurant and see wines that are listed at three times "street price." This is where I get grouchy.

    Wines by the glass just seem to be evilly expensive, but there are times when I do it.

    Oh, hotel bars and restaurants, bane of the business traveler and, obviously, the tourist, are the worst. Why? Because they can.

    Oct 05, 2011 at 3:23 PM

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