Note: This is the first of a new feature on Twin Cities Wine, analyzing wine lists around town at restaurants large and small, well known and obscure.
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Putting together a good wine program at a restaurant is a far greater challenge than most realize. The balance between styles, prices, name recognition (or lack thereof) along with the most important factor — what the customer wants — has to be carefully considered. If the wine buyer buys the wrong thing, in the wrong quantity, then they’ve tied up inventory dollars potentially for years. This is why some wine lists in town are stale (from overbuying wines that are too obscure or expensive) or just plain boring (relying on name recognition alone or worse yet letting big brands or mega wholesalers buy placements).
Borough is an example of a wine list done right, all the way through.
Let me get this out of the way first: I love Borough. I think it’s one of the most exciting, dynamic, and enjoyable additions to our local restaurant scene. The food is consistent and outstanding, with enough menu changes on a regular basis to not be predictable, but with enough of a “feel” to the dishes to know what to expect … no small feat. Add to that a rock solid wine program and it’s become one of my top places to suggest to visitors coming to Minneapolis.
For me, a visit means always sitting at the cooking counter (to the left when you enter the restaurant, across from the bar). In fact, I’ve never even sat in the main dining room. If you enjoy watching the action of a kitchen or have worked in kitchens during your life, you’ll appreciate the dance that the tattooed youth behind the grills perform from this vantage point. It’s the same ‘dance of the kitchen’ that is portrayed to the point of cliché in foodie movies and TV shows, but these guys are the real deal, cranking out an amazing amount of food in a very small space.
Note: the one thing about sitting at the kitchen counter at Borough is something I must warn you about. You will watch the Parlour Burger, considered by many the best in the city, being made right in front of you, over and over. On my latest visit there were multiple calls for upwards of six or more burgers at a time. You will smell them. You will watch them. You will hear them cooking. You will drool. But you can’t order the Parlour Burger from this seat. You have to be downstairs at Parlour or on the patio in good weather to experience it. I was so enchanted watching these things cook in front of me that the next night we returned, sat in Parlour (downstairs) and satisfied our cravings. A happy burger and beer coma quickly set in, and I slept very well and that night with dreams of burger perfection.
You can access current-ish copies of the Borough wine lists as well as the Parlour menu and wine list through their website or simply click on the images below (but visit the website for the most up to date version). Also check out the Heavy Table review, City Pages review, and more. I would suggest you read Rick Nelson’s review but the StarTribune wants you to answer some dumb survey question to access their content, so I won’t.
Wine list printing and organization
The Borough wine lists are presented in a clean and clear fashion. Big points for presentation and design. In this era of micro-fonts and intentionally confusing layouts, these wine lists are a breath of fresh air — easily readable and navigable. One page for sparkling and white, flip it over for reds. Wines by the glass on top, wines by the bottle below, and arranged by price.
This layout style is a point of debate in the graphic design world: some think by the glass and bottle should be mixed together, and the wines should not be arranged by price but rather jumbled together. Some studies suggest this leads to people buying more expensive wine but I disagree. I think what causes people to spend more money on wine are far bigger subjects, such as selection, reputation, provenance, and stemware. Myself, I like clean and clear design on a list.
Borough has also done a better job than most in the order of presentation: the wines by the glass are highlighted first by grape variety then producer, vintage, location, and price; while the wines by the bottle are listed first by producer, followed by name of the wine, vintage, location, and price. By keeping this consistent, they’re achieved one of the great goals of a wine list: ease of understanding for the consumer.
The by the glass program at Borough (based on Fall 2014 wine menu)
Sparkling: 5 wines, ranging from $7 to $11 … an exceptionally compact and enjoyable mix!
Whites: 8 wines, ranging from $7 to $14 (half of them at $8) … all food friendly/acid driven wines from a variety of countries.
Reds: 9 wines, ranging from $8 to $19 … terrific variety from smaller producers.
By the glass prices ranged from $7 for a Grenache Blanc based Southern Rhone white to $19 for the outstanding Robert Sinskey “POV” Cabernet blend from Napa Valley, with a solid mid-priced range on both lists hovering around $8-11 … extremely reasonable considering the quality and variety of selections. The white list is particularly full of rock-solid by the glass selections, representing six countries and all extremely food friendly in their style (the lone Chardonnay by the glass is from Au Bon Climat, one of the more Burgundian-styled Chardonnay producers in California and most definitely not an ‘oak bomb’).
Included on the white list is a personal favorite Sauvignon Blanc (Twin Islands of New Zealand) as well as other acid-driven gems from France and Spain.
Our server was very knowledgeable about the by the glass selections, and excitedly told us the Cabernet Sauvignon had just changed “and that is the best news I’ve heard all year!” while going on to describe their new Cabernet by the glass from McNab Ridge of Mendocino (which I’ve been pouring lately at the Intro To Wine class because it’s simply so damn good).
My only quip with the by the glass list was that three of the four top reds were domestic. It would have been nice to see Burgundy or something like the Northern Rhone represented. (That being said, the Nino Gegri Quadrio Nebbiolo at $13, which I had never experienced before, was damn near perfect with the Tagliatelle Pasta with taleggio cheese and king oyster mushrooms.) It’s a small, personal opinion … that’s all. I love me my Burgundy!
All wines by the glass (including Sparkling) are from mostly smaller-to-mid-sized and family owned wineries. Not a commodity wine in sight! (The closest thing to a commodity winery on the entire list would probably be Ferrari Carano with their Siena, but even that doesn’t come close to the likes of K-J, Coppola, Mondavi, etc.)
By the glass highlights (bang for the buck):
Sparkling: Gérard Betrand Cremant $9.
White wine: d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne $10, Twin Islands Sauvignon Blanc $8, and Berger Gruner Veltliner $8.
Red wine: McNab Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon $10, and Nino Negri Quadrio Nebbiolo $13,
The service of all the still wines we ordered came in high quality stemware (non-Riedel … the glasses were not labeled with a producer but they were a good size and of high quality) and the same stem for all wines. We didn’t order any Pinot Noir and I forgot to ask if they serve that in a different stem. Overall, very happy that they are not doing the hipster wine bar jelly jar service. They obviously understand the value of good stemware.
The by the bottle program at Borough
Sparkling: 8 wines, ranging from $38 to $142 … a nice mix including serious Lambrusco (yay!), Cava, and Champagne.
Whites: 19 wines, ranging from $36 to $103 … all northern hemisphere (two whites by the glass are southern hemisphere and obviously available by the bottle as well).
Reds: 25 wines, ranging from $36 to $170, 14 of which are $60 or under … wonderful range of prices and selections at all levels.
The range of prices vis-a-vie the styles of wine that Borough has on their list should be the standard for a dozen other restaurants in town. You’re offered many great old school producers (Guigal, Camins del Priorat/Palacios, Muga, Les Pallières) along side dynamic modernists (Juan Gil, Saldo/Dave Phinney/”The Prisoner guy”). It’s evident the wine buyer tastes through everything and makes careful decisions.
There is no indication that any one producer has bought their way into the list (a much more common thing than most people realize, and the topic of a future article) or dominates a category. This is a list with integrity.
The only minor errors I found involved listing French regions instead of producers … a common error on some lists. “Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc 2013” and “Chassagne Montrachet 2011” (which is on the list I saw but not on the one reproduced above) both list the area the wine is from but no indication of producer (the Reuilly might be Domaine de Reuilly, but who knows). With the Chassagne Montrachet in particular, being the most expensive white wine on the list at $103, anybody looking to buy that wine will most definitely be curious who the producer is. Also, on the red list, “Centonze” and “Frappato” are transposed (Frappato is the variety).
By the bottle highlights (bang for the buck)
Sparkling: Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Lambrusco NV $38 (for those who were at GastoVINO #2 at Sen Yai Sen Lek, this is the Lambusco we had, and might be one of the greatest eye openers for lovers of cured meats and good cheeses).
White wines: Tamellini Soave Garganega $40, Baumard Savennières (Chenin Blanc) $50, Do Ferreiro Albariño $58.
Red wines: Camins del Priorat $50, Muga Reserva Rioja $60, Les Pallières Gigondas $94.
Kudos to Borough for developing a kick ass wine program that covers the spectrum of affordability and approachability while still presenting wines that us wine geeks will get excited about. This balancing act is not easy to do, but they have done it well.