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Wine Lists of Ill Repute: The Point

August 7, 2011

Reading menus is a bit of a hobby of mine. Mrs. Fussy and I have enjoyed walking around looking at menus for years. When we lived in the East Bay there were many restaurants that would post weekly menus, and it was always of interest to see what places like Oliveto, Chez Panisse, or Bay Wolf were cooking at the moment.

Wine lists can be intimidating, but they are really just menus too. And I love them as well.

In the past, I’ve written a bit about local menus that I find troubling. But I have yet to tackle the issue of local wine lists. Here’s the thing. I’m not a professional sommelier. I’ve also never worked in the wine trade. Yet even I can recognize deficiencies in a professionally produced wine list. Putting together a good one isn’t easy. And a good one need not be long. But it should be well thought out, provide some basic information, and reflect the direction of the kitchen.

Today, I’m going to walk you through a bit of the wine list at The Point in Albany. Now remember, New York still does not permit the sale of wine in supermarkets. I’ll show you how I think that is actually hurting the quality of wine lists in the Capital Region.

The wine lists starts with the following statement:

Our wine list is intended to amuse, please and intrigue.
It is arranged from lightest to fullest bodied.

I’ll agree with the amuse and intrigue parts. But before we go into specifics, let’s discuss the list as a whole.

I like the simplicity. All the wines are broken down into four categories: sparkling, white, blush and red. For those who might be deterred from ordering a wine thinking they will sound foolish attempting to pronounce Albariño, Marde Frades, Rias Baixeas, bin numbers have been added, so a customer can simply ask for a bottle from bin 210. And in theory, having a list that is ordered based on body from lightest to heaviest is helpful for those looking to pair wines with their food.

Despite its simplicity, this wine list also does a good job at not only including a broad range of varietals, but highlighting different styles of these grapes from major regions around the world.

However, in the service of simplicity, one critical piece of information is missing on the list, and that’s the vintage. Without this information, it is impossible to make an informed selection between similar wines at different prices. And with 73 wines on the list, I highly doubt anyone in the house has all of them committed to memory. Take for example the two sauvignon blancs. They are fairly close in price, and I happen to enjoy this grape from New Zealand as well as from California, so I would want to order the younger of the two. But that data is lacking.

Taking a deeper look into the sections a few other interesting things emerge.

The “Sparkling Wine” section isn’t terribly impressive. I’ve mentioned my blind spot for Italian wine, so I’m going to put the prosecco aside. But the Mumm Brut Prestige is mislabeled as Champagne when, being from California, it is simply a sparkling wine, as the heading suggests. At about three times its retail price it is among the worst deals on the list. Veuve Cliquot “Ponsardin” suffers from a typo and an omission. It’s Clicquot, and I’m guessing they stock the popular brut “Yellow label,” but the house of Clicquot produces several Champagnes including a lovely demi-sec. In comparison to its retail price it’s a better value than the Mumm. But the best value is the Dom Perignon, although to spend $195 on a bottle of wine without knowing the vintage is like buying a Corvette and not inquiring about the model year.

There are two themes that occur in the sparkling wine section that are echoed throughout the wine list.

One, prepare to bend over and grab your ankles if you want to order a less expensive bottle of wine. There’s a red under $30 that is being sold for four times the price I used to buy it at Trader Joe’s. And it’s really not that great even at $7 a bottle. But the upside to this is that the restaurant is really giving you a strong incentive to order the good stuff. There is a relatively tiny markup (25% vs. 400%) on the $125 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, BV Georges De Latour Private Reserve, Napa, California.

Two, many of the bottles selected are run of the mill brands that you could find in your local grocery store. That would be if we had wine in grocery stores, because I remember the local neighborhood Safeway having both Dom and the BV Latour. And it wasn’t a particularly fancy suburban location either. In fact, it was always a bit dirty and run down.

Further, I am uncertain the beverage director accurately categorized all the wines from lightest to heaviest in body. Now it’s not an easy job when there are 24 whites and 43 reds. In fact it’s a bit of an overwhelming task. But if you say you are going to do something, you best do it.

I started to have my doubts when I noticed the Gruner Vetliner, Austrian Pepper, Austria towards the very end of the whites. Now that too is a typo*, as it should read Veltliner, and really there should be an umlaut over the u in Grüner. But that’s not the issue. My experience with Grüner has been with lighter bodied versions of the wine, and I know heavier ones exist. But I have to question the placement of this after the big Californian chardonnays.

Finally, I’m dismayed at having a category entirely for White Zinfandel. In this day and age to solely have a white zin when there are so many delicious blush wines from around the world is disappointing.

So in the end, I’m amused and intrigued, if not particularly pleased.

* I recognize the obnoxiousness of pointing out typos when this blog would be full of errors, especially on those days that Mrs. Fussy does not copy edit the post. However, the list is full of them. And the wine list is a printed document, that should go through multiple rounds of checking before going to press. As a result, I hold the wine list to a higher standard.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2011 3:36 pm

    Several points here:

    1. I always thought being a “menu writer” would be a cool job. Is that even a job?

    2. I want to love The Point. I really do. A great location, great patio, etc. But I just can’t love it. The food is somehow lacking, and most of the staff is so hipter/pretentious (especially the girls). Feels more bark than bite to me; therefore, I’m not really surprised with your critique of the wine list. Seems fairly apropros based on the rest of the establishment.

    3. I think you should come up with a list of restaurants with the best/cheapest bottle service. My current favorite eatery (Jake Moon, Clarksville) is a good place to start.

    Lovely post! I’d love to see if The Point responded.

  2. August 8, 2011 7:18 pm

    Finally, I’m dismayed at having a category entirely for White Zinfandel. In this day and age to solely have a white zin when there are so many delicious blush wines from around the world is disappointing.

    I think this is probably the worst offense next to not having the vintages (which is really a problem for all of the reasons you list and more). The markups actually make a bit of sense from an economical perspective, if it is a bit misleading, and the “more common” bottles (i.e., ones that would be sold in the supermarket if that was allowed here) is, in some senses, a good strategy, too – people are comfortable with what they know.

    My husband and I were just at a wedding in the Willamette Valley over the weekend. Both of us are not fans of blush or rose wines, he less so than I am. However, we were both pleasantly surprised at how delicious rose of pinot noir is, compared with what we’ve tasted in the past. White Zinfandel, in my mind, isn’t even really wine – it’s a sugary, alcoholic concoction, sweet and cheap and appealing to 20 year-old coeds who have no palate and no money.* Blushes, and to a lesser extent, roses (not the same thing, I learned!) tend toward this as well, however it would be good practice for a good restaurant to help shatter this image.

    *I may or may not have fallen into this category at a certain point in my life. I make no admissions to this.

  3. August 9, 2011 2:24 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with your typo pet peeve. I’ve pointed out a number in my area (Boston), and found that not too many places appreciate the effort, even if I’m just trying to be helpful. What really gets me is when brand names are misspelled. A regular error here and there is one thing, but to get someone’s product name wrong is unacceptable. Sure, I understand that a lot of them are big scary foreign words, but when you have the label right in front of you, there’s no excuse. Can you imagine putting “Coco-Coola” on your menu?

  4. August 12, 2011 7:28 pm

    I was actually reviewing The Point’s wines a few days ago before going out to dinner there and I was really disappointed. Looking the various bottles up on review websites, I saw that many of them have only mediocre reviews, and were marked up a ridiculous amount on The Point’s menu. I’m glad you’re putting this out there.

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