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Restaurants and Wine

April 11, 2005

One of the biggest challenges for wine-lovers in Winnipeg is in finding a restaurant that serves good wine at a good price. Especially by the glass. I’ve never understood why some restaurants charge a 200-300% markup on their wines. And it can be worse by the glass. One restaurant here charges $6.95 for a small glass of Lindeman’s Bin 65, which costs $10.99 in the store. I estimate that they pour about six glasses per bottle – so a $10.99 bottle will net them $41.70. Not a bad profit for the restaurant, but I don’t like paying those prices.

I understand that when you buy wine in a restaurant, you’re also paying for the atmosphere, for the service, etc. Fine. But I’m much more likely to spend money on wine if it’s fairly priced. If I see a wine on the list for $36, but I know it sells for $12 in the store for $12. Atmosphere be damned, I don’t like being ripped off on wine. I tend to buy a lot more wine in restaurants if they price it well. Maybe the restaurant will make less money off each bottle, but they can move the wine a lot more quickly.

And luckily, there are some restaurants in Winnipeg that recognize this. Off the top of my head, I am happy to give shouts out to Fusion Grill (wonderful all-Canadian wine list), Mise, InFerno’s, Spuntino, Bonfire Bistro, the Velvet Glove ($15/bottle markup across the board – also available at the neighbouring lounge) and Earl’s. All of these restaurants serve good wine at a fair price, and they all have excellent food too.

And yes, I did say Earl’s. The chain known more for the attire (or lack thereof) of its wait-staff. Don’t laugh – they have excellent food and they know their wine. Their house wine (at a reasonable $5.35 CDN per glass) is an excellent Cotes-du-Rhone from the Perrin family. They have two tiers of pricing for their wines by the glass – $7.25 and $7.95. The wines are always fresh and they give very generous pours. If you want a decent meal (they prepare fish better than almost anyone else in town) and a good glass of wine, you’d do well to dine at Earl’s.

I had the pleasure of dining at my local Earl’s last night. While my wine was actually pretty boring (the Barossa Valley Estates Spires Shiraz), my dinner companion had a glass of the Yalumba ‘Y’ Series Cabernet Sauvignon. She had to order a second, because I ended up drinking most of her first glass – it was that good!

Actually, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was stunning. The nose was limited at first, but opened up quickly. I found lots of mint and a few hints of red-fruit and cedar. In the mouth, it showed itself to be a bit lighter than I expected, but it had delicious red-currant and chocolate flavours, with just enough oak and tannins to make it really interesting. Having never tried the wine before, I was really impressed. From what I remember, I think it runs around $20-$22 in the private stores here in Winnipeg. Well worth it. And it went really well with a nice slab of medium-rare prime rib.

Yalumba also makes the Oxford Landing series, which has gotten better and better over the years. I’m especially fond of their Sauvignon Blanc, but the Shiraz is also very good. You pay a bit more (they run around $14 in the private stores), but it’s worth the price. Their Chardonnay and Cabernet-Merlot are widely available in the MLCC for around $11-$12.

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