The other night I met with some old friends in downtown Pendleton at a local establishment known for fine dining. I was looking forward to a few bites of grilled beef and a good glass of dark red wine to wash it down. Unfortunately I was both shocked and mortified that all that the place had on their glass pour list was the same stuff I could have bought at WalMart. The worst part was that the price for a glass was the same as I could have gotten an entire bottle for at the store!
I have a strict rule about writing this column. It comes from my old friend Thumper in Disney’s Bambi. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” With that in mind, I’m not going to rail on about my snobbish wine tastes and the lack of good selection in Eastern Oregon.
Quite to the contrary, I am impressed with some of the skills used by a few restaurant owners in the region. I just wish that everyone could come up to speed. My “ask” today is that you, the consumer, be aware of what is available out there and demand it. Don’t let some bozo restaurant owner bully you into drinking Barefoot Merlot for $6 per glass.
The first thing that you need to know is that there are many, many wines out there that are reasonably priced specifically for the purposes of restaurant sales. These wines are marketed as such, and aren’t even allocated for sales in stores. Many don’t even have a scan bar on the back label so they can’t be sold at the register.
These restaurant wines are a little harder to acquire, and many are locally produced. Unlike wines that are allocated for the major chain stores, their marketing efforts and dollars don’t go into big ads in magazines. They are focused on producing really great wines at the best prices for “on-premise” accounts.
Examples of these types of wines abound. As I mentioned, many are locally produced, such as many of the wines produced by Precept Wine Brands out of Walla Walla. These are amazing wines, made by renowned area winemakers for the sole purpose of producing wines that are affordable and attractive to the restaurant market.
A few of my recent favorites are the Gordon Brothers Kamiak Labels, Ste Michelle’s Antinori Family labels, and Terra Blanca’s new arch label wines. All of these are very reasonably priced for restaurant sale, and absolutely fantastic. What’s more, I’m not going to refuse to buy a glass when I know I can’t get the bottle at the same price at a local store.
I know what you’re thinking now…”But, what if all I want is a glass of White Zinfandel?” My answer is that there are still options out there, literally sitting in a warehouse ready for delivery to your favorite restaurant. All you need to do is tell your waitperson that you don’t appreciate them selling you Sutter Home for the same price that you could buy it at Safeway. Ask for something different next time, and expect it.