Friday, October 1, 2010

Detroit Restaurant Week Done Right: Wine (and Beer!) Buys

We are in the final three days of Detroit Restaurant Week (I know; it always seems to go by so fast, like Christmas or vacations in the tropics or days you spend hungover in bed). For my final fare-thee-well thought, I'm going to share with you some choice picks from the vine. Wine, that is. Black gold. Texas tea. Wait, no. Blood of the Christ. Nectar of the gods. There we go.

(At least all the voices in my head do is play a continuous soundtrack of movie, television and music clips spanning the last 60 years of popular culture. I suppose it could be worse.)

There is a perception held by both self-appointed aficionados and admitted novices that good wine has to be expensive. It does not. There is also a perception held widely by Americans that good wine comes from California. It does not.

Let me take a times out there: it's not that I think ALL California wines are crap (though I do think a lot are, particularly the Napa Valley labels ... I'm slightly less prejudiced when it concerns Alexander Valley), but I do believe -- nay, KNOW -- that ohsomany are overextracted and overpriced, a whole lot of pomp and circumstance at the front without too much to back it (hint: if a term you use to describe a wine's mouthfeel is "heavy tannins," it's not a well-made wine. The idea that tannins equals bigger body equals better wine is misinformed.). Then again, not everyone can afford the biggie Italians that are everything California wishes it could be, and for price factor alone I admit to knowing dick about France but for that most Beaujolais blows. For affordability that can also blow your mind, I look towards Spain & Portugal, anything from South America, South Africa (this is more of a gamble; some are tremendous and some awful), and Australia/New Zealand. Staying stateside I stick with Oregon, Washington, and my very own Michigan.

And now let's take a look-see at some of the wine lists of those restaurants participating in Detroit Restaurant Week.

I've already analyzed Roma Cafe, but let's revisit it for the sake of this post:
Jan also keeps a very strong wine list with a lot of Italian wines and common favorites (which she updates regularly for changing times and tastes), but what caught MY eye was the Col Solare, a wine out of Columbia Valley made in collaboration with famed Italian winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori. It's an Old World-meets-New World wine that is absolutely mind-blowing, a wee bit pricey at $110/bottle (pretty average for this label) but my hands-down all-time favorite. If you have expensive tastes and the bankroll to support them, they've got some very nice Barolos, Brunellos, and Amarones to choose from -- big, bold, beautiful wines. Oh, you're a California snob? They've got Cabernet from Cakebread and Sterling ("Vintner's" and label). (Editor's note: Sterling -- the label Cab, not the Vintner's blend-- is actually a wine I quite enjoy, though there are still better buys than this at $52/bottle.) But if you're looking for the same bang on a budget, look no further than the Terra Andina Carmenere, a killer wine with almost as much body as those bold Italians but only $32/bottle. By the glass, try the Dolcetto d'Alba, a nice medium-bodied red that pairs well with most of the food.
Forty-Two Degrees North does not have their wine list available online for me to peruse so I have to do this from memory: I recall being very impressed by the third-floor view of the River and the Windsor skyline as well as the very boutique wine list with most bottles priced $20-30, and a whole section dedicated to Michigan wines from lesser-known labels like Tabor Hill and Brys Estate. All the wines by the glass are priced $8 and this includes the Tabor Hill Gewurtztraminer, a very crisp wine that would pair well with their chicken and salmon entrees. This is also one place you may actually still be able to snag a reservation, so order a bottle and enjoy the view.

Saltwater inside the MGM casino is a AAA Four Diamond restaurant so I probably don't NEED to tell you that their wine list is extensive and impressive (ditto their cocktail list, one of few restaurants that treat cocktails as a craft). Alas, much like the restaurant itself, it's pricey. Extremely pricey. But for a wine list which has an AVERAGE price in the high-one hundreds, one bottle really stuck out to me: the Shaya Verdejo, Rueda, Spain. Described on Wine Gems as "amber in color with a full, rich body and vibrant acidity. It offers flavors of melon, lime, green apple, orange, almond and distinctive mineral notes. No oak. It's long and refreshing on the clean finish." To me this sounds quite similar to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc--crisp, clean and with a lot of characterm without the horrid buttery oakiness typical in French and American Chardonnays. But why this REALLY stood out to me was the $31 price tag, which says to me this: the sommelier (Antoine formerly of Tribute, haa-aaay; I need to swing in and say hi) thinks that this is truly an outstanding wine, worthy of being showcased on a list that, as I noted, has an average sticker of $170+. That's gonna be your best bet right there. Otherwise stop in on a Wednesday when all bottles at Saltwater are 50% off (Tuesdays at Bourbon Steak as well).

Roast is the most popular restaurant in Detroit that isn't Slows, and they have the best happy hour pretty much anywhere: $3 bites, $4 select beer & wine, $5 pours M-F 4:30-6:30pm (bar only). Now they DO have a decent wine list with some interesting selections spanning a good range of prices, but this to me is more of a high-end beer bar. Pretty much everyone in this place knows what's up--and if it's beer you're looking for (let's face it; wine simply isn't for everyone, not like vodka), go visit my boy Brian who, when not bartending here, is drinking at my home base bar Foran's. This is a beer list for beer geeks (with lots of Michigan's finest represented), where Budweiser is buried at the bottom under "Other." The selection is updated regularly based on season and availability; some notable guest appearances have been made by Founders' Breakfast Stout (which was just named by San Francisco Weekly as the BEST beer from this year's Great American Beer Festival) and Kuhnhenn's Oud Bruin, a Flemish sour ale. Their beer list is organized like a wine list -- by taste ("Sour, funky, tart, wacky," "Hop-driven," etc...and "Other," where you'll also find Heineken). My recommendation is anything from the first, third or fourth categories (sorry, but I'm just not big on IPAs), though the very eager and knowledgable bartenders can help you narrow it down a bit more, especially if you don't know your Saisons from your Biere de Gardes. The best part is, beer is cheap and has all of the same food-pairing and flavor complexity potential as wine. I love beer.

For as much great food as there is to eat there is as much great beer and wine to be drink-drank-drunk. Happy eating and drinking; I will recommence my regularly-scheduled blogging next week. If you haven't friended me on Facebook yet do it now (top right in the sidebar, LOOK!) so you can enjoy my up-to-the-minute Food Pr0n pictures from all my fabulous food travels.