Baltimore's wine lists need a shake up. While working on this issue's best restaurants list, I had a chance to do an informal survey of various offerings around town. Here's what I found: a gaggle of independent restaurateurs with diverse wine lists and a host of lax lists brimming with big-volume mediocrity.
But the blame for such a state of affairs may lie with you, dear reader. As my predecessor at Baltimore magazine once opined, "People drink what they deserve."
So in the spirit of upgrading our palates, I offer three archetypes that you should consider asking for the next time someone approaches your table and says, "How was your meal tonight?"
Let's start with sparkling wine since it was by far the most atrophied category that I came across this year. Many lists offered little in between cheap, mass-market bubbles and triple-digit luxury Champagne. Why, oh, why, can we not agree that a glass of reasonably priced, competently made sparkling wine is a fantastic way to kick off a meal?
Something like Albert Mann Crémant d'Alsace NV (Potomac Selections, $21.99) is a delightfully effervescent blend of pinot blanc, Auxerrois, pinot gris, and Riesling. The wine boasts delicate bubbles and a refreshing apple-tinged zing. It's just the thing for waking up one's palate before dinner or for washing down a raw-bar appetizer.
On the other hand, things are looking up on the cheerful and easy white wine front this year. I've nothing against pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, honest. It's just that we've all tasted loads of both.
I'd like to see more off-center dry whites offered by the glass, and my front-runner candidate is a dry, engaging, flavorful Grüner Veltliner like Huber "Hugo" 2006 (The Country Vintner, $10.99). A freshly aromatic white wine featuring a bouquet of white petals, pear, and chalk, this GV has far more character than many pinot grigios and cookie-cutter sauvignons can offer. I was elated to see this wine and others like it more often.
I also was pleased to find a few glasses of Spanish wine around town. Spain is a hotbed of activity for tasty, inexpensive, but somewhat anonymous offerings at the moment. But I missed truly delicious wine from Spain in the middle price range, like the Remelluri Rioja 2001 (The Henry Wine Group, $29.99). An elegant amalgam of red fruits, mellow spice, and smoky notes, it is an impressive and fully mature wine that beats the corks off many California and Australian wines at this price. It is so much more versatile with food. I hope more elegant wines of this caliber pop up on wine lists throughout 2008.