Looking at California wines, Brian Duncan, partner and wine director at BIN 36, a wine bar, and A MANO Italian restaurant in Chicago, goes beyond Napa when seeking out California wines, noting that there are many interesting sub-regions in this top growing area. Good sellers from the Central Coast and Sonoma include the 2007 BIN 36 Pinot Noir, which sells for $40 a bottle and $10 per 6-ounce glass, and the Central Coast 2006 Duncan & Sachs Proprietary Red, which sells for $50 a bottle and $12.50 a glass.
Daniel Lobsenz, wine consultant for Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, D.C. agrees that “California effectively sells it all. The size and variety of microclimates within the state allow it to grow and produce a wide array of styles on a consistent basis.” He sells a graciano from Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi for $65 a bottle and a syrah and mourvèdre blend blend from a Cline called Cashmere for $9 a glass.
Chantelle Pabros, sommelier at L20, chef Laurent Gras’ restaurant in Chicago, part of the multi-concept Lettuce Entertain You Group, says she also finds tremendous value in lesser-known California wines. She has poured the Bien Nacido Roussanne from Santa Barbara for $14 by the glass and adds that “there is so much passion and talent among the winemakers from the Central Coast.”
While the Golden State may be the country’s biggest and best known wine producer, many other noted areas throughout the country and producing appealing and well-priced wines. Andrew Stover, who manages the wine programs at Oya restaurant and lounge and Sei Sushi, both contemporary Asian restaurants in Washington, D.C., says Oregon pinot noir is hot, as is Virginia viognier and Finger Lakes riesling. One example: At Oya, a viognier from Blenheim Vineyards, in Charlottesville, VA—owned by Dave Matthew’s band—sells for $12 a glass and is very popular. Lobsenz also talks about Washington State syrah, merlot and riesling. One of his favorites is K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah, a $75 value he says would likely cost $100 if purchased in California. But Lobsenz adds that promoting more obscure wines requires the hand-sell or a great, thorough description on the menu. “You’ve to got to get servers, sommeliers, bartenders and chefs behind these wines encouraging guests to try them,” he says.