A column celebrating the restaurants that do right by the serious wine drinker ought to be full of unabashed praise and enthusiastic recommendations. Unfortunately, wine lovers dining in area restaurants still encounter prices that are double, sometimes triple, what they’d pay for the same wine in a store. This pricing structure has been entrenched in our restaurant culture for decades, but it remains unacceptable and needs to be revamped if restaurants ever hope to have their wine programs taken more seriously.
Fortunately, there are restaurants in the area that offer great wines at prices that are fair and at times surprisingly inexpensive. At restaurants with more-expensive lists, even wine experts should consult the sommelier; these professionals not only have assembled the list but also have tried many of the wines with the chef’s dishes. It is their job to find a good bottle of wine at an affordable price, and those listed here do it very well. You should feel confident putting yourself in their hands.
Vidalia (Doug Mohr, sommelier). Mohr has set a new standard for area sommeliers: He’s placed a superb, world-class wine program within reach of the average consumer. When it comes to combining outstanding service with moderate prices, Vidalia is without peer and remains my personal favorite wine program in town. (773 wines, 338 $60 or less; corkage fee $15 a bottle for wines brought in by patrons, two-bottle maximum per table.)
Maestro (Vincent Feraud). Maestro is one of the rare ultra-luxe restaurants where you can drink like a king—and thanks to Feraud, be treated accordingly—without taking out a second mortgage. All the big names and price tags are here, but the list is also peppered with bargains from Italy and France. (769 wines, 153 $60 or less.)
Citronelle (Mark Slater). The wine list is a bit smaller and more expensive than last year, but Slater—whose assistant at Jean-Louis was Vincent Feraud—is terrific at pairing wines with food. And Citronelle is one of the few restaurants in town employing two full-time sommeliers, so someone always is on duty to help. (660 wines, 142 $60 or less.)
2941 (Kathy Morgan). If you’re willing to stray from the beaten path of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Morgan can find you something affordable—she’s one of only two people in the area who have passed Level 3 of the Master Sommelier exam, and she’s worked hard to keep 2941 in the top tier. (670 wines, 150 $60 or less.)
The Inn at Little Washington (Sabato Sagaria). Some of the inn’s wines were bought years ago, before the market exploded in price, so there are bargains that have slipped through the cracks, among them a 1991 Joseph Matrot Blagny “La Piéce Sous le Bois,” the single best bottle of wine I had at a restaurant in 2006, priced at only $35. (2,058 wines, 331 $60 or less.)
Excellent and Affordable
Dino. The reserve wine list at Dino is one of the city’s culinary treasures, featuring page after page of affordable Italian gems colorfully described by owner Dean Gold. On Sunday and Monday evenings, Dino offers one-third off all wines priced $50 or more, making an already good deal a can’t-miss bargain. (332 wines, 146 $50 or less; $20 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)
Bistro Bis (Scott Worsham). Following the lead of its elder sibling, Vidalia, Bistro Bis has made ordering wine by the bottle an affordable joy rather than something to dread. Worsham’s list highlights the wines of France but also has good representation from the rest of Europe and the United States. (379 wines, 116 $50 or less; $15 corkage per bottle, two-bottle maximum.)
Corduroy. Corduroy is a great place to drink wine, with one of the city’s best medium-size lists. Chef Tom Power is an oenophile and offers a treasure trove of interesting, hard-to-find wines with several years of bottle age, some priced below what you can find in current vintages. (124 wines, 53 $50 or less; $15 corkage per bottle, three-bottle maximum.)
Taberna del Alabardero (David Bueno). Bueno’s program features the area’s best selection of wines by the glass, a strong concentration in Spanish wines, and some of the most elegant, polished service anywhere in the area. (240 wines, 56 $50 or less, 20 excellent wines by the glass; $15 corkage, call for maximum.)
2 Amys. The best small list in town. You could close your eyes and point and come up with something fun to drink. Each wine gets a one-sentence description, making the list diner-friendly. (36 wines, all $46 or less; $17 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)