Wine lists exist for three reasons. First: to make money for the restaurant. Second: to create an image. Third: to provide wines that complement the restaurant's cuisine. More often than not, the wine list also indicates the restaurant's overall quality and commitment to the dining experience. Sarasota is fortunate to have a number of restaurants with great wine lists, each with its own unique qualities.
But what makes a great wine list great? Factors include the quantity of offerings, pricing, breadth and depth. All of the restaurants described below have at least 100 selections (and a few have many more).
How much a glass or bottle of wine is worth is a personal decision, but understand that restaurants usually mark up wine by the glass four times and bottles two to three times from their cost. As an example, a bottle that costs the restaurant $10 would probably be listed at $10 a glass and $40 a bottle.
Breadth refers to the number of wine-producing regions represented. The more, the better. Most wine lists are dominated by entries from the United States and Europe. That’s fine, but expanding to the southern hemisphere and other areas can provide greater diversity.
Depth indicates the commitment to a producer over time. This means multiple vintages from the same winery, called "verticals." Wine quality varies with vintages due to weather, and having numerous vintages of the same wine is the hallmark of a truly great wine list.
Let's get to the list. Here are my picks for best wine lists in the area:
- The Bijou Café Approximately 120 selections. Nice breadth with wines from around the world, but the United States and France dominate.
- Duval’s Moderate pricing, approximately 120 selections, mostly American. Nice wine-by-the-glass program, with 25 choices available at varying prices
- Element Well balanced. Has 116 selections and a good breadth of offerings. American wines dominate, but very interesting Italian selections as well. Moderate pricing.
- Euphemia Haye With over 240 selections, a great breadth of offerings. A tremendous list with numerous selections from hard-to-find producers. Definitely for the serious wine lover.
- Grove Wide variety of offerings (140), expensive. Sommelier available.
- Marina Jack Great selection of wines (136) and pricing is the most reasonable of the downtown restaurants.
- Michael’s on East Sarasota’s wine destination. More than 350 offerings, with 1,000 more available from the Michael’s Wine Cellar retail shop next door, give it the greatest breadth of any local restaurant. Wine list is presented on an iPad. Pricing is moderately expensive
- Roessler's Restaurant Over 300 selections and the only restaurant with significant depth. Great vertical selections of dominant producers. A truly remarkable list. Pricing is moderately expensive, which is to be expected.
- The Zebra Lounge Funky, welcoming wine bar in Venice. Now offering more than 200 wines at the most reasonable prices around. The owner, formerly of Burns Court Bistro, serves as your guide.
This, of course, is not a complete list, but I feel it represents the efforts of unique independent restaurants to provide selections that intrigue their patrons. No doubt I'll be updating it before too long.
Wine writer Bob McGinn can reached at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.