Adventures with wine lists, Apiary edition
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I had dinner at Apiary last night, and I can recommend it: the food is spectacularly good. But, go on a Monday — free corkage night — and bring your own wine. Because the wine list — which the restaurant describes as “well-rounded and approachable” — is anything but.
Apiary is a small restaurant in the East Village; it offers a $35 prix-fixe three-course meal four days a week, and its regular a la carte menu is reasonably priced: appetizers range from $8 to $15, and mains from $22 to $29.
The wine list, by contrast, is an exercise in nosebleed pricing. It has two pages of whites and seven of reds; we fancied red wine last night, so you might think there’s a lot to choose from. But unless you’re happy spending triple-digit sums on your wine, there isn’t.
Of the 165 red wines on the list, just 49 are less than $100 per bottle, while 116 are in triple digits. At the top end, there are 24 different wines which cost more than $300 a bottle. Of the 49 wines under $100, there are exactly 7 under $50, where you’d expect to find wines to pair with a $25 entree. And don’t expect all those seven wines to be available, either. We finished off the Mas Roig, at $53; one recent reviewer at OpenTable said it took three attempts just to find a wine the restaurant hadn’t run out of.
If this is approachable, I fear to think what intimidating might be.
You’re certainly not going to find any bargains here. Take the Argentina/Chile section: there’s a 2009 Huarpe Malbec for $44 which would cost maybe $8 or $9 at retail. Then there’s a 2005 Neyen Carmenere/Cabernet for $111: it would cost you $40-$50 at retail. And finally there’s the 2006 Catena Zapata, which retails for $50-$60. It’s $176 here.
Admittedly, these wines aren’t always easy to find. But the 2007 Etude Pinot Noir can be picked up for $19.99 at Buy-Rite in Jersey City; it’s $84 at Apiary. And even something as exotic as the 1958 Borgogno ($423 at Apiary) is listed at Zachys for $200 a bottle.
In principle, I think it’s wonderful when restaurants have wine lists with a good selection of older vintages and a smattering of real rarities. There’s nothing wrong with a wine list which holds lots of appeal for wine geeks. But that’s no reason to treat the rest of us with haughty indifference.
The message this list sends is that the world of good wine is inaccessible and eye-wateringly expensive, and that anybody spending less than $50 on a bottle of wine is going to find slim pickings indeed. This is exactly the kind of wine list which puts people off wine entirely: the rational thing to do, on looking at it, is to simply order a beer for $8. In no sensible world does a glass of that Huarpe Malbec cost less than a bottle of Chimay Blue — but that’s exactly what you find at Apiary.
No good wine list incentivizes people to avoid wine entirely — which is why it’s fair to say that Apiary does not have a good wine list. It’s certainly “notable”, as various listings sites put it. But not in a particularly good way.