These days, wine drinkers are savvier, ask more questions, and are less intimidated when ordering wine in restaurants. They want variety and innovation, and restaurants are responding with what industry insiders are calling the "wine-list revolution."
In Memphis, there are some restaurants, both old and new, that are active in the revolution. Their lists provide choices that reflect the identity of the restaurant, complement the cuisine, and meet pricing requirements relative to market demands.
McEwen's on Monroe (122 Monroe, 527-7085) is an old favorite of mine and has one of the finest wine lists in the city. They offer wines from countries all over the world, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The prices are fair (very fair), and there are a lot of wines by the glass as well as by the bottle.
During a recent visit, I was delighted by my before-dinner selection: the Vionta Albarino, a deliciously crisp white from the Rias Baixas area in Spain. The EOS Petite Syrah from Paso Robles, California, went perfectly with my roasted half-chicken, green tomato au jus, and smoked mashed potatoes.
Check out McEwen's menu and the wine list online at mcewensonmonroe.com.
Next door to McEwen's is the relatively new restaurant, Lolo's Table (128 Monroe, 522-9449). When I stopped in to check out their list, I was thrilled to see Spanish, Italian, French, and South African wines. They offer 13 wines by the glass, including the Trocadero sparkling wine from France. Trocadero is a fine choice, a sparkling wine that should be enjoyed year-round instead of just on special occasions.
Lolo's also has a nice selection of specialty martinis and beers, and they have a happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.
Another new place with a great wine list is the Big Foot Lodge (97 S. Second, 578-9800). They serve California, Oregon, Italian, and Australian wines, and their prices are some of the fairest I've seen in Memphis. There's a variety of sweet and dry wine, with my particular interest lying somewhere in between with the Sokol Blosser Evolution from Oregon, which is composed of nine grape varietals and pairs well with a wide range of foods. Big Foot's house wines sell for $3.99 a glass and are from the Australia winery Rosemount Estate.
Napa Café (5101 Sanderlin, 683-0441) focuses on wine and is known in the industry for its cutting-edge choices. The prices are reasonable, and they offer up to 25 wines by the glass and a great half-bottle selection.
From time to time, Napa offers a flight of wines. A flight of wine is usually four or five one-ounce pours of different wines, which allows the customer to discover the one they like most and then order accordingly. (This is a great way to learn without spending too much. If you are not sure whether a restaurant offers flights, ask.)
For the summer, Napa is featuring a Rose flight. The one you should look out for is the Gargiulo Vineyard Rosato di Sangiovese. A beautiful salmon color, this wine has subtle hints of dried fruit with an incredibly dry, lingering finish.
I was also impressed to see K Vintners on Napa's exclusive list. K Vinters is a Washington state winery that produces some great Syrah from the Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley.
In the same neighborhood as Napa, there is a new Italian bistro called Café Toscana (5007 Black Rd., 761-9522). They offer two wine lists. The first includes exclusive and expensive bottles. The other offers 20 wines for $21 a bottle and $5.75 a glass no matter which wines are chosen. I was particularly pleased with the Italian white by Falesco called EST! EST! EST! It is a great summer white composed of 60 percent Trebbiano, 30 percent Malvasia, and 10 percent Roscetto - nice pear and melon fruit on the front with a clean finish.
Another wine to try at Café Toscana is the organically grown red from Lolonis called Ladybug Red. It's a perfect medium-bodied red that can be enjoyed with or without food.
Recognizing the need for better choices at decent prices is what the wine revolution is all about, and I, for one, am happy to see that Memphis restaurants have joined the fight. n