Monday, February 20, 2012

How to Navigate a Terrible Winelist - My dinner at Peter Luger's Steakhouse

Last weekend David and I went to Peter Luger's Steakhouse in Great Neck, Strong Island with his sister and her husband.  Let me set the scene.  The place is packed.  Women are prancing around in jeggings, nude peep-toe heels and their furs.  The dining room looks like the interior of a Bavarian beer garden done up in Tudor style.  Old old waiters totter from table to table with sizzling plates of meaty objects.  The food menu is limited and simplistic aka: Steak for 2, Steak for 3 and Steak for 4.  The wine list was equally limited.  It was also populated with all of the big brand, boring, usual suspects; Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  A wine challege if ever I saw one.  

Incidentally, after this visit, I happend to hear a podcast where a sommelier made suggestions on how to order wine at a restaurant if you don't know much about wine.  He suggested to go straight for the Cabernet Sauvignon.  I couldn't disagree more.  If you're not used to a wine with tannin, you might not enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon (although it's generally a good accompaniment with steak - especially steak that has taken a butter bath like Luger's meat).  I didn't want to pay $80 for a boring California Cabernet.  I also didn't like being steered in that direction that Luger's obviously wanted it's patrons to go.  Of the say 40 wines on the menu - 20 of them are California Cabernets. 

Here's what I did:

In general, if you want to pay around $50, don't know a lot about different wine growing regions, and you find yourself at a restaurant and the wine list looks Luger-like lame here are a few guidelines:
  1. choose a non-Cabernet Sauvignon varietal in California. - I considered ordering a Merlot for a moment.  This is a good option especially since Merlots have to try extra hard to be taken seriously STILL.
  2. choose a Cabernet or Cab-blend in another Country. - I considered a Casa Lapostolle Cabernet from Chile for a while - that was exactly $50. In my price range.  I also thought about getting the St. Emillion  (Merlot heavy) from Bordeaux, but thought it might be a touch earthy for the collective palate at the table.
  3. choose a bottle from a value country - Spain, Argentina, Australia, Chile.  These are all great choices of countries to check out on a wine list.  These countries tend to over-deliver for their price.  The mark up won't be as high - the restaurant is marking up the higher volume wines - in this case California Cab.
In the end, I chose the option behind door #3 and ordered a Penfold's Bin 28, a smooth and tasty little number for $55 ($25 retail).  It fit the collective palate, budget, and went well with our steaks.  I feel like I deserve a medal - maybe that's why I let myself be talked into the sub-par struedel for desert.

1 comment:

podere13 said...

I happen to find my Google account after many years of inactivity and lo and behold I came across this incredible blog. This post was right on and super insightful. BTW Peter Luger's, back when I lived in Brooklyn, edlyourrwas the only way I can make people understand what Williamsburg was.