There is a certain degree of class about the wine service I encountered at Ma Be. One warm afternoon the waiter brought an ice bucket to the table without asking, just in case we ordered a white wine, a strong likelihood considering the temperature.
We ordered a 1986 Sterling Sauvignon Blanc and later, when the bottle got too cold and I removed it from the bucket, our waiter noted that the bottle was sitting on the table. Again without waiting to ask, he brought over a small plate with a doily on which to set the bottle. Nice touch, I thought, a sign of an overall nice approach to wine.
But then I got a good look at the prices. Aargh! Most of the 100 wines offered were marked up three times the wholesale price, an enormous margin by anyone’s standards.
This means that bottles of wine that cost, say, $12 in a retail shop would cost you $24 at Ma Be, which puts the entire restaurant out of my league as far as dining here.
For example, we paid $20.50 for the bottle of 1986 Sterling Sauvignon Blanc. It sells for less than $10 in most shops in the Los Angeles area, under $9 at some deep discounters.
Pricing wine this high is one sure way to anger wine-knowledgeable people rapidly. Anyone who pays any attention to retail shelves at all will see the trend:
--1985 Chateau Bouchaine Chardonnay:retail $13.50;Ma Be $33.
--1986 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay:retail $13; Ma Be $26.
--1983 Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon:retail $12.50;Ma Be $26.
--Charbaut Brut Rose Champagne:retail $33.50;Ma Be $80.
--1987 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc: retail $9.50; Ma Be $32.
--1986 Kenwood Chenin Blanc (the ’87 has been out for months): retail $5.50; Ma Be $13.50.
For the diner seeking a nice bottle of wine with a plate of pasta, the wine prices here push the experience into the stratosphere. Of course, you could bring your own. Corkage is $10 per bottle, a little steep.
Ironically, none of this may matter if you regularly spend $40 or more for a bottle of wine. For such big spenders there are some phenomenal values. For example, the list says you can have the 1981 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild for $120. That is $28 below the suggested retail price. Or you might order the marvelous 1983 Chateau Margaux for $90, $22 less than the suggested retail price.
One superb wine that is also a good value here is the 1985 Pommard Epenots from Chauvenet at $43.50. The wine is from one of the greatest vintages in Burgundy in decades and is supposed to sell in stores for $55 a bottle.
Among the white wines, the best value is 1985 Laboure Roi Chassagne-Montrachet at $42, selling here virtually at its suggested retail price.
The best value in moderate-priced wine is the 1986 Moulin-a-Vent, a Cru Beaujolais, from Roger Verge at $15.50.
With such gracious service and attention to some details, it is a real shame that Ma Be decided that the wine list was a place to gouge the budget-conscious little guy, the very sort of client who can least afford to be overcharged. On the other hand, it is a policy that has kept prices very reasonable on some great wine.