Dear “daring” wine directors and restaurateurs

I just love reading the local wine critic’s admiration for those daring, forward-looking, inspiring wine directors in local restaurants, and restaurateurs in general, who:

  • Don’t have any Chardonnay or Cab on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.
  • In California, explicitly don’t have any California wines on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.

I really wish that such restaurants would have little notices saying that they despise California wines, so that I could be aware of their forward-looking nature before spending my cash there.

Odd how restaurants are always praised for locavore tendencies–sourcing the food as close to the restaurant as possible–but equally seem to be praised for their one-finger salutes to a vibrant, incredibly varied wine industry by saying local just isn’t good enough for their golden palates.

In case the above wasn’t clear enough: I won’t knowingly dine at a California restaurant–that has a wine list, that is–that makes a point of shunning California wines.

I wonder: Are there high-end restaurants in France that pointedly reject French wines? Are there famed restaurants in Italy that will have nothing to do with Italian wines?

I’m guessing not. I could be wrong.

It would be one thing if California simply didn’t make any world-class wines, or didn’t make anything but overoaked Chardonnay and high-alcohol Cab. Those are such caricatures of the diversity of what’s made here that a wine director believing them should be sent to direct wine traffic at a liquor store, not in a restaurant. (I don’t say “supermarket” because, in the Bay Area at least, many supermarkets have excellent wine collections. I’m thinking of the small traditional liquor stores that have astonishingly poor wine selections, probably because they know their clientele.)

When I travel out of state, I’ll make some effort to try the local wine, since every state has at least one bonded winery (although not every state grows wine grapes). Many states have some good or excellent wines, even if you leave out Washington, Oregon, New York and Texas, all of whom have first-rate wines by any standard.

I think a Texas restaurant gets extra points for seeking out a few of the first-rate Texas wines to serve. Ditto for New York. Ditto for Virginia. Ditto for states with more than a handful of wineries turning out quality products, although those may be fewer and harder to find. At the other extreme, I’d find it odd for a Washington or Oregon restaurant in the white tablecloth category not to have some of the state’s wines.

But in California? To explicitly exclude the state’s own wines? Sorry, but I’ll take my food dollars elsewhere.

2 Responses to “Dear “daring” wine directors and restaurateurs”

  1. Angel says:

    You would think here in TX, where yes, they do make very good wines, more restaurants would serve it (alongside whatever else they wish). Like you, I always make it a point to try out local wines when I go to states that make wine, and I am often pleasantly surprised. The Better Half and I are suckers on road trips when we see a billboard on the side of the road, “winery next exit.” If it is open, we pull over. Often get some good finds, in the smaller wineries (i.e. ones w/o pretensions of grandeur), people tend to be friendly, wine tends to be pretty good, and affordable.

    We don’t eat out as much, but we certainly do go and buy local when we can and it is good. As my dad used to say, “you should sponsor/support what your own (local) land produces.” (It does sound better in Spanish, btw).

    Anyhow, how can a Cali. rest. NOT serve the local wines? That is just not right.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. walt says:

    We don’t actually go out to eat all that often (well, I go out for cheap lunches a couple of times a week, but we probably don’t go out to dinner more than once or twice a month)–and, truth be told, most of the restaurants in the “we’re too hip to serve California wines” category are also in the “If you care about the price, you probably can’t afford it” category.

    (Just read in yesterday’s paper that one restaurant in Napa Valley has reopened with a new chef’s tasting menu at a mere $500–for those who want better than the standard testing menu for lowlifes only wishing to spend $225 per person. Certainly not including tax & tip, probably not including wine.)

    I should note that the white-cloth restaurants around here–that is, in Livermore–pretty consistently feature California and, indeed, Livermore wines, with a number of them also waiving corkage fees if you bring in your own wine and it’s from Livermore. Apart from one place that’s actually owned by a winery, none of these are all that expensive (figure $20 to $30 a person for a typical entree and salad), although our dinner last Tuesday (for my wife’s birthday) was almost ridiculous: Two very nice entrees, two salads, two desserts (hers a fine tiramisu, mine an outrageous chocolate torte), three glasses of wine (shared)…for $29 plus tax & tip. Admittedly, that’s because the place comps a birthday dinner with proof of ID and because house wine was half-price before 6 p.m….