Wine Time

Brasserie 19's Extreme Value Wine List

There's really no other way to say this.

The wine prices at Brasserie 19 on West Gray are insane. And that's not just the California-speak of my youth creeping into my wine blogging.

They are insane, crazy, nuts, cuckoo, mad, screw-loose, and just downright non compos mentis.

I'm not sure how the folks at the Clark Cooper Concepts restaurant group do it. But in some cases, the prices on their wine list at Brasserie 19 are lower than retail (and this comes from someone who follows wine pricing very carefully).

Honestly, I just don't see how they're making a profit on the wine, especially when the wine list at Brasserie 19 is so difficult to use. And that and the fact that more than one of my selections were not available are my only laments about this otherwise extraordinary wine program.

On a night when I dined there recently, I treated my cousins to stunning white Burgundy from Etienne Sauzet (2010 Puligny-Montrachet, just a village wine, I know, but still, wow!) and a single-vineyard bottling of Barolo by one of my favorite Langa producers Brovia (2003 Villero) each for less than $100. Incredible!

The restaurant was busy mid-week when we visited but we were able to obtain a 7 p.m. reservation for four persons with no problem on the same day.

We were seated promptly and when I asked for the wine list, the waiter handed me a tablet and informed me that the wines were all up-to-date but that the "order here" button on each page was not working.

Mmmmmm, I thought. It's odd to have someone hand you a wine list and then tell you it's not working correctly. Out of respect for the wines and the people who made them, why not just get it working properly or switch it out with a hard copy version?

I consider myself a relatively tech-savvy dude and am accustomed to learning new "platforms" all the time. But the wine list at Brasserie 19 was so difficult to navigate, so poorly organized, and so out of date that it took me longer than I expected to pick the lots we would be drinking.

This not only delayed our ordering, making us hungry for our appetizers and thirsty for something to refresh our palates. But it also kept us at the table longer, delaying its availability for the next seating.

Our waiter was exceedingly professional and I could only fault him for being a tad too earnest. But he was of little help in trying to find the wines I was looking for.

The authors of the list -- which you can view online here -- want you to browse by price point. In my case, I did have a price ceiling in mind. But because I wanted to treat my cousins to something nice (and I'm always looking for an excuse to splurge), the under-$100, under-$200, under-$300 hierarchy was an impediment to me spending my money.

When I tried to search by country, I chose France. The only item that came up was a gin. There's a word in Yiddish for this but I can't repeat it here (in case any of my brethren are reading).

The good news is that I was able to find some extraordinary bottles at extreme value prices. And after I ordered the Barolo together with the Burgundy, explaining to the waiter that I wanted him to open the Barolo immediately and bring it to the table, a wine steward appeared and was very attentive. His wine service was impeccable and he implemented my preferences seamlessly (I wanted the bottle open on the table but not decanted; I wanted to taste the wine when opened, but I didn't want him to pour the wine for the party until our entrées arrived).

The food was good and wholesome, if a little formulaic. And the ambience was exciting, buzzing with a Prada-bag and a suit-and-tie crowd, many of whom had wine on their tables.

All things considered, I can only recommend the experience, especially for the extreme value of the wine list.

Just be sure to go early to pick out your wines!

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen