Welcome to Eater's column, Decanted, in which WineChap's Talia Baiocchi guides us through the treacherous world of New York wine lists.
In the spirit of shitshow week, we’ve assembled a mini-roundup of some of the more laughable—and mildly depressing—wine lists in the city. Of course this is just a snapshot, so please feel free to nominate your own in the comments section.
It’s no secret that Madison Avenue is home to a parade of boutique rip-off restaurants, but Nello just may be the most egregious. Start your evening with a $18 Campari and soda or a $26 glass of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, then graduate to the $38 lobster bisque or the $28 “hairloom” (one of the better menu spelling errors we’ve come across) tomato salad; before you lay eyes on that irresistible $41 Italian sausage, consider a bottle of 2006 Antinori Solaia for $900 or the 2005 BV Cabernet Sauvignon at $350 or, if you’re on a budget, perhaps a bottle of Whispering Angel Rosé at a cool $100. No matter what you choose, you’ll enjoy it all while feasting your eyes on a group of pretty Eastern Europeans who have never heard of an NYC salad under $20.
The Good: Russian tourist watching, gratuitous linen-wearing.
The Bad: The wine list’s dyslexic penchant for confusing places with producers (e.g. listing the producer of a Fiano from Campania as “Alto Adige,” a region in Northern Italy).
The WTF?: Criminal markups (up to 1000% on top of wholesale) and embarrassing industrial wines (Kendall-Jackson, Ruffino, Franciscan, a grip of entry-level Jadot, etc.).
A Voce Columbus
Sorry, but this one is more tragic than laughable. Behind the Spectator award for excellence lurks a depressing conglomeration of great and bad, perhaps in equal doses. A Voce is considered by many to be among the best Italian restaurants in New York, which is why finding Ruffino, Santa Margherita, Coppola Director’s Cut, etc. on the list is all the more troubling. Most can agree that those wines don’t belong on a great wine list assembled by a knowledgeable sommelier.
Markups fluctuate between standard and over-the-top, with a few deals tucked in here and there. There is plenty to pluck from this list, but it’s not enough to redeem what feels like one loveless favor to big distributors.
The Good: The great standard bearers from Piedmont and beyond are here, many priced fair enough so that you may leave without feeling empty.
The Bad: The organization of the list is a complete nightmare. Wines are grouped by varietal—or sometimes just as “blended wine from?”—listed alphabetically, and smashed so close together that the list’s overall illegibility encourages diners to order based solely on price and also doubles as a magic eye.
The WTF?: Depressing inclusion of faceless wines from Italy and the curious misrepresentation of the country’s virtues (e.g. ¾ of a page dedicated to Italian Cabernet and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and only 9 Aglianico wines?).
The obvious choice for shitshow emperor, Cipriani boasts mind-bending markups that rival even Nello’s (how about some Krug MV at $750 for the gaggle of Victoria Secret angels fasting at a table out front?), and the selection is dedicated to obvious super Tuscans and bulk wines from CA. But wait! There’s a perfectly ridiculous bundle of four wines from France: a 2007 village level Gevrey-Chambertin from Jadot, 2005 Mouton and Cheval Blanc, and 2005 Le Petit Cheval, all at Cipriani pricing. No punch line necessary.
The Good: The fact that this overpriced junk is primarily being peddled to B-list models and sleazy foreign businessmen.
The Bad: The fact that it’s almost not worth making fun of it’s so bad.
The WTF?: Krug MV at $750, not to mention shaking France down to two infantile first growth Bordeaux, the second wine from Cheval Blanc, and one Jadot village-level Burgundy.
The Collective (formerly One Little West 12th)
Lucky for us that when MePa’s One Little West 12th decided to rebrand itself as “The Collective,” the ideology behind the wine list remained largely intact, i.e. create a selection of wines that you might find at a two-star hotel, on an airplane, or at a New Jersey supermarket, so as not to trouble those just trying to get to Marquee. In other words, give them their Jordan Cabernet. So, while we’re mourning the loss of One’s former “interesting wines” section that was reserved for exotic selections like Robert Mondavi’s Fume Blanc, we thank you, Collective, for putting together a list chockfull of Far Niente, Cakebread, and a smattering of spoofy industrial junk from across the Atlantic so that we don’t have to traverse the Holland Tunnel to drink supermarket wine.
The Good: Most of the list is under $100, and the markups are standard.
The Bad: The fact that the most appealing white wine on the list is Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc.
The WTF?: An assault on the diversity of the wine available in New York. War against deliciousness.
WineChap is a start up that seeks to foster more intelligent boozing by demystifying the culture that surrounds restaurant wine lists. Currently the site boasts more than 160 wine list reviews in New York City.