When the menu contains corned beef hash, chicken pot pie, short ribs, chili size and a thing called Joe’s Special, you need a wine list that has Chianti, Beaujolais and maybe even a wine called Joe’s Red.
Cafe food, no matter how sophisticated, demands cafe wine. And in Europe, where cafes abound and wine is a staple on the table, that wine is served in a carafe. For a buck a liter.
Not that it’s gauche to serve a fine wine with such food. In some ways, great wine goes better with down-home food than it does with great cuisine because it elevates the food.
The menu at the Daily Grill evokes memories of great cafes (complete with wonderful smells, exciting tastes and plenty of cholesterol) yet has a wine list that contains six rough, tannic Cabernet Sauvignons and 10 Chardonnays. This is not peasant wine, obviously, and not the kind of list that I associate with hash browns, liver and onions and French dip.
And when those 16 wines represent more than half of the table wines available, you know you have an odd fit.
On the other hand, prices for the wines here are very fair, and some of the wines do match very well with the food. Good values and cafe-food matches include 1987 Iron Horse Fume Blanc at $14, 1986 Murphy Goode Fume Blanc at $11, 1985 Clos du Bois Merlot at $17 and 1985 St. Francis Merlot at $18.
Also, if you’re into rough Cabernet, there are some good values, such as the 1983 Mt. Veeder at $17 and 1983 Simi at $16. Among the Chardonnays, there are 1986 Jepson ($17) and 1987 Cuvaison ($20).
However, the list appears to be a square peg in a round hole. The two Rieslings are both 1986s, a year older than I’d prefer. The two Zinfandels are OK, but one is a bit old (1979 Calera) for the type of food that requires a fresher wine, and the other (1986 Ravenswood), a bit tannic.
Best thing about the beverage list is the beer. It has, among other treasures, my favorite in imports, Samuel Smith’s, as well as the best two domestics you can find, Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam.
Had I put together a list for a grill like this, I would have had quaffable wines, such as Martini and Pedroncelli Zinfandels, Shaw Gamay Beaujolais as well as a Beaujolais from France, a Chianti, some Chenin Blancs (R.H. Phillips, Grand Cru and Dry Creek are superb) and even a couple of roses.
Sure, rose isn’t chic, but once a person tries a well-made, basically dry rose with chicken Marsala, he might find it’s better than the popular Chardonnay. But in Brentwood, which has an upscale audience and demands Chardonnay and Cabernet, no matter what kind of food is served, this wine list is probably not a bad deal. Prices are in line, and the requisite upscale names are in place.
But for me, well, in the vernacular of the cafe, burn one.