Dallas Diners Deserve Better

When I read Lenn Thompson’s post last year in the New York Cork Report, it struck a chord.  A recent trip to a Dallas restaurant caused me to revisit this topic.

Thompson and his wife, Nena, visited the highly acclaimed Church & Main restaurant in Canajoharie, N.Y., for a date night. When they perused the list, they found one local wine and a bunch of run-of-the mill, mass-produced wines widely available at your local grocery store and 7-Eleven.

Why would a restaurant known for five-star food offer wines that fall so miserably below its standards?

It got me thinking. Like Thompson, I understand that if you are taking children — I have one who is 4 — to a value restaurant, you shouldn’t expect the quintessential wine experience. But, there is a gray area. If restaurants charge more than $20 per person for food, heck even $15 per person, they should take some care with what wines they offer.

I’m not advocating that these wines should break the bank or be unattainable. I am just sick of the ubiquitous Italian pinot grigio, the over-oaked California chardonnay, the Australian cabernet with a cute label, or the flat, uninspired pinot noir available on too many wine lists.

I can tell you that based on my Dallas wine tour a few months ago I’d request the Fuqua Tempranillo, Times Ten’s Cathedral Mountain Vineyard Fruta de Piedra, or Inwood Estates’ Magellan blend over most of the generic offerings any day.

We, as customers, who spend our hard earned money eating out, deserve better and restaurants should take the same care with their wine lists as they do with their menus.

There is a widely popular chain of Tex-Mex restaurants here that I refuse to patronize. I think it’s ironic that if a restaurant has the gumption to charge me $16 for a plate of mediocre tacos, that I cannot get a decent glass of wine.

And, this restaurant is Dallas’ worst offender — they offer only one swill red and one swill white wine option. Yes, I do understand that margaritas are the pairing of choice for many, but I prefer wine.

Several of my friends agree with me. We vote with our dollar and this restaurant has alienated a large wine drinking segment.

My first step at any restaurant — especially a “foodie” restaurant — is to case the wine list. More often than not, I’m disappointed.

This ruins my experience no matter how good the food or service. The good news is that Dallas is packed with restaurants that understand that wine is important to the food experience — York Street, The Grape, Dali Wine Bar, Abacus, Stephen Pyles, and Fearing’s.

These restaurants understand that they must strike a balance with offering some well-known wine stalwarts and still appeal to a wine lover’s sense of adventure.

It’s a difficult balance. How does a restaurant offer good wines at a multitude of price points that make people comfortable ordering them?

Part of the blame lies with us, the consumers, for not venturing out of our comfort zone. Give up buying wines because of cute labels. Order a glass of wine with a varietal or from a region with which you are not familiar.

Ask the wine expert for a recommendation of what he or she would drink. Most times, they will steer you away from the plunk and passionately give you some great choices — that will be in the same price range or even less.

If the list is boring or filled with grocery store wines, we as the consumer need to take a stand — talk to the manager or owner and tell them that you expect more. And, when restaurants do add new wines, order them.

While you are at it, please let them know that serving wine room temperature is not Texas room temperature in August — but that’s another column for another day …

Tell me your thoughts about the wine lists at local restaurants. Who is doing it right? Who has room for improvement?