As an occasional interloper in the world of nosebleed-high end dining, we find ourselves wondering about certain things unique to that world, like, who could actually drink a bottle of wine that costs as much as a car? How much better can it get than, say, a really nice $60 bottle? But of course that’s not about the taste alone, but the rarity… which is to say the bragging rights for those in the supercharged worlds of high finance where being the dork with the biggest cork is part of the show. Crain’s has an article today which notes that, as the financial sector reigns in excess (a little), the era of the cellar whose value is more than the land it occupies may have come to an end marked by the auction of Charlie Trotter’s cellar. Writer H. Lee Murphy notes that many of the best-known lists in town have pared down and gotten rid of most of their highest-end bottles, or the restaurants playing in that world have closed entirely; William Courtright of Courtright’s in Willow Springs reflects the current reality of the game when he notes that he’s only sold one bottle priced above $1000 in the last five years— and got rid of much of his high-end list to pay for his daughter’s wedding.
Where we (and better informed oenophiles than ourselves on our Twitter feed) run into trouble with this piece is its assumption that the best measure of the quality of a restaurant’s list is an outside measure such as a Wine Spectator award:
Just as New York surpasses Chicago in starred Michelin restaurants, so too is it a much more serious wine destination. New York and its suburbs are home to seven Grand Award recipients and far more two-glass holders than Chicago, which has 13. San Francisco and its environs host five Grand Award restaurants.
Needless to say, there are plenty of holes to be picked in the idea that either of those awards truly denotes seriousness, as opposed to occasionally overlapping with it. In any case, Wine Spectator designation is to some extent a closed loop— the Wine Spectator honors you for picking wines the Wine Spectator honored. Which doesn’t make room for the sommelier who puts intelligence and taste into crafting a unique list which especially suits the food. As Michael Muser of Grace noted to us some months back, the big wines, the bragging-rights wines that can cellar for decades, are often poor choices for food, especially the delicate food that Grace chef Curtis Duffy produces. Muser also feels a responsibility to winemakers working now, supporting their efforts rather than using his budget to reward speculators in the auction market.
The age of the show-off cellar may be dead for restaurants, in short, but if it rewards taste and discrimination over checking off famous names, that could well mean we’re in a better age for well-chosen wine with artful food— at prices that aren’t the equivalent of torching a roll of twenties at the table. As Liz Mendez, who put together the city’s best sherry list for her and her husband’s restaurant Vera, put it on Twitter, "I’ll take well selected any day." [Crain’s]