While we're recognizing restaurants that truly set the bar in terms of local excellence, let's talk about a few wines on some disparate lists that are especially suited to pair well with what's on the table. A well-put-together wine list will have something for every palate, hopefully at every price point relative to the entrees. As a certified sommelier, I love looking for hidden gems and I believe that wine serves a lot of different purposes; a meal that someone else makes and serves to me is a most unique purpose that demands a different kind of wine.
If I'm stopping by Vinaigrette for a glass of something and a gigantic salad, I look for a lighter-bodied wine with plenty of freshness and crispness, probably white but not exclusively; preferably with the bright acidity of a squeeze of lemon. My current favorite is a sauvignon blanc from Touraine by Domaine Guy Mardon for $9.50 a glass. Father Guy and son Jean-Luc farm sustainably and vinify carefully grapes grown on a small property adjacent to the Loire. The wine is a lovely expression of a Loire Valley sauvignon blanc that pairs well with a wide array of fruits, salads and cheeses.
Izanami is a special treat because of their extensive sake list. Sake is an extraordinary style of wine, full of complex aromas, with a high amino acid content that makes it work for foods with savory and umami flavors, especially miso and soy sauce. The junmai Hanatomoe "Eternal Spring" from Miyoshino Shuzo ($11.25 a glass, $59.50 a bottle) does the job exceedingly well, as it is umami-rich and high in acidity. Miyoshino utilizes what is arguably the oldest method of sake production, which combines only raw rice and water to force the rice to produce its own lactic acid through naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts. This unique sake makes the right accompaniment for meatier dishes on the menu, especially if they are prepared fried or grilled.
Arroyo Vino sources many of their menu items from their own garden, and the diverse array of flavors and textures all demonstrate a freshness and a brightness that deserves to be highlighted by a bottle of wine. One of my favorite wines for dishes with diverse vegetable flavors is the Austrian grape grüner veltliner, which typically demonstrates fruit flavors ranging from green lime to grapefruit and orange, underlined by a savory herbaceous note often described as white pepper, tied together by a bright pop of acidity. It complements a wide array of dishes, from salad to chicken and fish. Arroyo Vino has plenty of great examples of the grape in their attached wine shop, but available on the list is the Domaine Ott "Spiegel" from Wagram ($88). Domaine Ott is a famous biodynamic producer from lower Austria, and this single vineyard wine comes from his highest and coolest property. The vines are grown on red gravel and loess, and winemaker Bernard Ott maintains that the biodynamic preparations in the soil help his grapes ripen quickly and easily. The wine itself demonstrates a classical style full of tension between concentrated ripeness and salty minerality. It's worth trying out, and besides, there's a certain symmetry in drinking a wine renowned for biodynamics in a restaurant that strives for a certain elegant kind of self-contained sustainability.
Also a haven for locavores, State Capital Kitchen grows herbs and vegetables right outside the front door. My favorite dishes usually feature some sort of housemade pasta with an ever-rotating list of meats sourced from farms that treat their animals humanely. My favorite wine on the list is the 2007 Château Musar Rouge from the Beqaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. At $135 it's pricey, but there is a special kind of magic about Musar. The winery was founded in 1930, a testament to Gaston Hochar's dreams of Bordeaux and love for his homeland's 6,000 years of winemaking traditions. The family-owned winery produces some of the most interesting red wine on the planet, crafted from an ever-changing blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals which are farmed organically and treated with no additives when made into wine. The 2007 is Cinsaut dominant, full of black currant and violet and peppery spice. People compare it to a wine from Bordeaux or Burgundy or the Rhône, but it always has a reputation for being extremely subjective. It helps that the great variation of grapes and flavors changes from year to year, making it a rabbit hole of a wine to explore.
Note: Seasonal menus have inherent changeability, but the ideal bottle at table will work well with different foods. And even the bottles may change, but good wine lists will always have diamonds hiding among the pages.