Ah, it's almost Valentine’s Day, an especially meaningful time for me—a time to eat and drink to excess while wallowing in self-pity. If you're anything like me (single) then the overwhelming pressure to find a valentine can make you depressed.
Screw it! Who needs a stinking valentine? This year I plan to go to dinner by myself and get stinking drunk and be escorted out by security. Allow me, your fabulously over-the-top wine guide, to help you select a magnificent place to gorge yourself in a glorious orgy of food and wine—alone. Watching all the happy couples. Gag.
And if you are “lucky” enough to have someone to take to dinner, then good for you. Albuquerque has some great wine restaurants to take that special someone or the flavor of the month. Each of these restaurants’ approaches to wine is different. To help, I've picked a few places that serve great food and great wine, and categorized them according to what I deem is their most notable quality (for better or worse).
Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro254-94623009 Central NE
Honey, I love wine, but I hate all the pretense that usually surrounds it. You want to know where I go to knock back a few? This is it. Zinc gets a full four snaps for the most approachable wine restaurant in town. You can either dine upstairs for the full Zinc experience or head downstairs to the Cellar bar for the more paired-down version. And now that it’s cold outside, the Cellar bar is even more appealing with its warm, cozy—if not overly crowded and noisy—environment. Bring your cutie down here to cuddle. Me, I'll be the drunk in the corner.
If you opt to drink downstairs, tell them you can’t be bothered with the bar menu; ask for the full wine list. The waitstaff is not terribly knowledgeable about wine, but eager to please and notably good-looking, but that’s how I like ’em—cute and dumb. Although Zinc’s wine list is very well thought-out and chock-full of great wines, I do wish they would upgrade the tacky plastic covered pages in the menu to match the wonderfully pretentious metal cover.
What to Drink: Zinc is one of a handful of restaurants in town to offer wine flights. Wine flights are a great way to try new wines, though people look at you slightly funny when you're served three glasses of wine at one time. (Ah, screw ‘em. They’re haters anyway.) You must try the Varietal Flight ($13), which is a sampling of Torbreck “Woodcutter” Shiraz, Broquel Malbec and Hendry “Block 7” Zinfandel. The Torbreck is my favorite wine that Zinc is currently serving. Spicy, balanced and deliciously approachable, you can’t go wrong with this wine.
If you want to show off your fat bankroll and impress the honeys, order the 2001 Torbreck “RunRig” Shiraz for $275. This is the Woodcutter’s well-pedigreed, rich grandfather. I have a few bottles in my personal collection and it's worth every penny. If you can’t make it here for Valentine’s, then make sure you come on Wednesdays with is now dubbed Wine and Cheese night. With a 20 percent discount on bottles of wine and a free gourmet cheese plate, you can give your wallet a break while still enjoying some great wines!
Valentine’s Day Specials: Cellar Bar will be having a fixed menu with wine pairing for $70. I was promised that the food and wine will be spectacular.
Gruet Steakhouse256-9463 3201 Central NE
Abounding with rock and wood, the décor at the Gruet Steakhouse reeks of white-collar crime, and in order to afford many of the wines on their list, you may be driven to dip into the petty cash—Halliburton style. No snaps for Gruet, as flamboyantly snapping may be looked down upon, not to mention they may seat you next to the kitchen to avoid attention (not that I would know from experience). Unapologetically putting their wines first on the list, Gruet is understandably predominate on the wine menu. Their list focuses on big-name wines that you're sure to have seen before. Heck, I haven’t seen so many name brands since my last shopping trip to Vegas. Gruet’s approach to making a wine list is to throw enough big names on their list so you feel comfortable dropping a c-note on a bottle—smart people.
What to Drink: Try one of the lowest-priced bottles on their menu, the ’04 Rosenblum Paso Robles Zinfandel ($45), which is wonderfully rich, round and luscious. This will pair nicely with many of the succulent meats on the menu. (If you don’t want to pay the restaurant markup, run to Costco where I found a similar bottle for $15 and snatched up a few bottles to serve my guests at an upcoming party.) Given their red meat-focused menu, having a Cabernet is almost required, and there are so many great Cabs on the menu that any will do nicely, even the cheaper ones. Be wary, while their waitstaff seems to be educated enough to help you with your wine selection, some seem more interested in raising the ticket price than making the proper wine choice.
Recommended Pairing: A “W” bumpersticker on the back of your SUV.
Le Café Miche 299-6088 1431 Wyoming NE
The first time I went to Café Miche, I was put off by its location in a strip mall. That aside, this place has one of the deepest wine lists in town with vintages that scour back through the decades. While many places try to beef up their wine list with some Bordeaux, this wine list is all about Bordeaux. The antithesis of the Gruet wine list, Café Miche forgoes all the fluff and only serves meaningful wines. Their Bordeaux selection is outstanding, even phenomenal. I always ask to be seated by the cellar, so I can stare through the glass windows in amazement at what I wish were mine (even though they get mad at me for leaving face prints on the glass). And that's the great thing about Café Miche—I can come here to try wines with a reasonable (cough, cough) markup that even I can’t get on the open market.
What to Drink: You want a big name? You don’t get much bigger than Château Mouton Rothschild and Café Miche has several vintages. If you're a high-roller, try the 1998 for—believe it or not—a respectable $295. (If you hurry to Costco, I just saw a bottle for right around that price.) I had a bottle of the 1998 (listed as 1996 on the menu) Château Smith Haut-Lafite ($135). This gorgeous Graves region wine was reserved, balanced, earthy and made me feel blessed to be alive. If you want something a bit less extravagant, try the Chateau Paradis ($28), which tastes like fruity potting soil, but I mean that with the greatest of respect. It's really tasty, fruity potting soil.
Valentine’s Day Specials: A sumptuous prix fixe menu for $65, but no wine pairings. Served Wednesday, Feb. 14, through Saturday, Feb. 17.
Most Overvalued Wine List
Artichoke Café 243-0200 424 Central SE
Being newly single, I thought that purchasing an extremely overpriced loft Downtown would be great. It's hip, cool and trendy—just like me. One added benefit to living Downtown is living in walking distance of Artichoke Café and their fab new wine bar. But just like the Downtown real estate market, the wine at Artichoke seems to be overly inflated. When I saw a bottle of 1995 Château Léoville Poyferré for $160 (which was available at Café Miche for $135), I think I let out a shriek. But, heck, if I can overpay for a loft, I can overpay for some delicious wine, right?
What to Drink: Try the 2004 Novellum Chardonnay ($35) if you're feeling like a classic, crisp, buttery Chardonnay. For something with more body and spice, try the 2003 Two Hands “Gnarly Dudes” Shiraz for a gnarly $65. But be warned: While Two Hands is making some really interesting and highly praised wines, you are paying $65 for a bottle with a screw top. Yup, $65 won’t even get you a cork.
But who really orders an entire bottle anyway? Artichoke has a large selection of great wines by the glass, like the Glaetzer Rhone blend for $8, and if you want a unique white, the Cline Viognier ($7) will do nicely.
Recommended Pairing: A tolerance for good wine at high prices.