When I heard that a local restaurant had a full wine list priced at $10 per bottle, but in a market where even mediocre wines can be found selling at 500% of their retail price, I had to assume that a $10 list was an aggressive but temporary promotion trick. What I have learned is that the Union Grill $10 Wine List is real – and permanent. Of course there are requirements – such as the reasonable expectation that each $10 bottle is to be served to people ordering at least $10 of food, but minus the food order a customer can still order a bottle of wine for only $17.50 per bottle. After checking out the list, I discovered a more interesting list than I anticipated. At first glance there were many bottles from well-known, mass marketed wine makers. The presence of these wines is unsurprising as they are familiar brands that are common to many restaurants (although for much higher prices than just $10). But a closer look at the list revealed several wines that surprised me by their presence – wines of character from Portugal and France that I’ve rarely seen at other restaurants and certainly not at $10 per bottle. For wine enthusiasts interested in a casual dining experience with a truly interesting bottle of wine, here are the most interesting wines of the $10 list:
Chateau Ollieux Romanis Capucine Blanc and Rouge – Having recently met Pierre Bories of Chateau Ollieux Romanis, I can tell you that he is a passionate wine maker who makes a broad line of wines, all of which are aimed at displaying the character of his region and the grapes that grow most successfully in and around Corbieres (Languedoc , Southern France). The Blanc, or white, is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc, a grape common to white Bordeaux wines, and 10% Grenache Blanc – the result is a white wine reminiscent of some white Bordeaux wines, with citrus notes and fresh, crisp flavors. The Rouge, or red is a more complicated blend of typical Southern French grapes – equal proportions of Carignan, Merlot, Grenache, and Shiraz. This wine has great fruit character with medium body and a balanced mix of red berry flavors that go well with food.
Adega de Pegoes Red and White – These wines are produced by a Portuguese Cooperative Winery a few miles east and south of Lisbon and very near the city of Setubal. Like so many Portuguese wines, the red is a blend of several grapes relatively unknown to the rest of us outside of Portugal. Flavors are slightly herbal and earthy with some underlying cherry notes. The Pegoes White wine presents a fresh, and nearly exotic set of flavors with a smooth crisp finish – not your average white wine!
Quinta do Encontro Red – A favorite of local wine enthusiasts, the Encontro Red is a wine of surprising quality and value. The Encontro is constructed in a modern, fruit forward style, and contains a small amount of Merlot blended with the majority of Baga, a traditional Portuguese grape. The result is a wine that has rich flavors that appeal to the fans of ‘new world’ wines yet still has some structure for the European ‘old world’ wine style fans.
Two more wines also caught my attention. The Franz Reinhart Riesling Kabinett, which is a legitimate German Riesling, which to me means the wine has the most interesting characteristic in which the texture and flavors combine to produce a slight sweetness in the mid palate, balanced by a dry finish. And finally, the white Quinta da Romeira, Arinto. Made from 100% Arinto grape, this white is fresh and tropical with undercurrent flavors of lime and citrus – fresh but lingering acidity make this Arinto a great compliment to fish and other light dishes – a great summer wine!
I conclude that, short of taking my own wine to a BYOB restaurant, it IS possible to fine a great $10 deal on wines of character at a local restaurant: The Union Grill. In the future I hope to see more wines like these finding their way onto the Union Grill Wine list and all the wine lists around town!