Four spots came out on out on top for favorite wine selections this year – Bar Brunello, NanaSteak, Mateo and Vin Rouge. I was given the grueling task of giving my thoughts on the selection, my favorites and who to consult for help should your wine exploration hit any snags. Tough job, but I strapped on my best drinking pants and got to work.
Esteban Brunello’s downtown bar is a favorite for wine geeks and novices alike. An extensive by-the-glass list complements a truly encyclopedic bottle list, but if you’re a newbie, put yourself in the hands of whoever is behind the bar. The list changes often, but some of my recurring favorites have been the Malvasia orange wine from Nicolini in Northern Italy, the “Ique” Malbec from Enrique Foster in Argentina, and the oh-so-smoky and sultry “Sula” Shiraz from India. Yes, that India. Add in selections from places as diverse as Mexico, Arizona, Slovenia and Bosnia as well as never-before- heard-of wines from familiar spots like Italy, France and California, you’ve got what is perhaps the most diverse wine list in North Carolina.
Every steakhouse needs a great wine list, and NanaSteak doesn’t disappoint. This list is overseen by Durham restaurant veteran Aubrey Zinaich. On the bottle list you’ll find well-loved steakhouse classics, heavy on California and France, with varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux blends. The by-the-glass offerings are what I gravitate toward, and a recent list included a delicious German Riesling from August Kessler and one of my go-to glasses, Meiomi Pinot Noir from Northern California. I was also surprised by a glass of Birichino Malvasia Bianca from Monterey, California. I’d had the grape in Eastern Europe before, but never from an American winery, and I was hooked! Another neat thing is the half-bottle list – perfect for date night before a show at DPAC. Go for the Ramey Chardonnay or Duckhorn Merlot if you want that classic steakhouse wine experience.
Sherry ain’t just your grandmother’s drink anymore. Ask Matt Kelly and the folks at Mateo bar de Tapas. The wine list leans heavy on Spanish wines (no surprise here), but the extensive sherry list is where you should start. I’m particular to the La Cigarerra Manzanilla sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameda. With more than two dozen sherries, you might just want to go for a tasting flight. There is a well-curated by-the-glass list and a more extensive bottle list, but if I had to recommend one unique glass to try, it would be the Getariako Txakolina from the Basque region.
Venerated bistro Vin Rouge has been a mainstay for years, and the wine menu reads like a “Greatest Hits of French Wine Regions and Labels,” but look a bit closer, and you’ll find some surprises. Pass over the Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart for the lesser-known Lelarge-Pougeot, a premier cru Brut that gives the Champagne experience at a more approachable price point. If a whole bottle of wine isn’t your style, the by-the-glass offerings are a great way to explore French wine, like the 2015 Domaine Daulny Sancerre or the 2012 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru from Chateau Belregard-Figeac. And if you’ve gone for Vin Rouge’s famous Grand Plateau of seafood, they have a whole separate menu for “Shellfish Wine,” designed to go perfectly with your oysters and shrimp. General Manager Ted Gallagher and the entire staff is well-versed in the wine list, so when in doubt, ask for direction! – By Matt Lardie