Chefs prepare seasonal menus by marrying what’s fresh with the weather. Restaurant owners and sommeliers have seasonal mixes and seasonal buys to stock their wine lists—unless your restaurant only has one major season.
Most of Delaware’s population lives and works north of the canal, which makes restaurateurs in New Castle County happy. However, come summer, most of us flee south to the beaches. And when we get there, we want to enjoy wonderful wines.
The people who pour wine in Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach have one chance to match the right wines with the right foods at the right prices. That is, if they are to make annual beverage numbers from mid-May to mid-September.
A look at some of the wine lists of beach restaurants shows what’s right, and what could be better.
Wine by the Glass
We love to watch the guzzlers on “Mad Men,” but few business people even drink wine at lunch these days —except when we’re vacationing. Then, we feel almost naked without a glass of vino at lunch, a time when our most pressing decision is whether to eat in the dining room or on the deck. Most beach restaurants get this. The Back Porch Café in Rehoboth Beach has a diverse wine list of about 60 selections—albeit a little heavy on Californians—and staffers pour about half of them by the glass.
Getting Whites Right
We can drink what we want with whatever entrée we enjoy, but most people still prefer whites with seafood unless red sauce is involved. It’s also important to have lean whites with good acidity. Henlopen City Oyster House fits that bill with its excellent list of wines that complement seafood.
Customers often demand Chardonnay, but there are better bargains and better matches with traditional European wines, such as Muscadet and Albarino. Too many beach eateries ignore them. If diners want Chardonnay, try for a few dollars more a complex, crisp Chablis.
Making Ends Meet
Beach restaurants generally have a good range of bottles under $40, and many under $30. Bravo. But many shy away from great bottles at the high end, unusual since well-heeled crowds summer at Delaware beaches.
The Buttery in Lewes offers a better range of intriguing high-end wines on its captain’s list than it does on its low-end list.
The most creative and diverse beach wine list, however, rests at Nage in Rehoboth. Nage offers a diverse selection for a summer place, both high- and low-end, although it could do better with its selection of inexpensive Pinot Noirs.
Adventuresome or boring?
Do we want something we recognize, but may not be thrilled with, or something more exciting? Parkway in Bethany has a respectable list, but almost all are familiar. Café Azafrán in Lewes offers intriguing options with its Euro-heavy selections of lesser-knowns from Spain and Italy. Sake isn’t wine, but it pairs with food like wine does, especially seafood. Cultured Pearl in Rehoboth has an excellent selection of saki and wines.
With only two established wineries in Delaware, it’s difficult to drink local. But it is encouraging that at least one place—The Back Porch—offers a rosé from Nassau Vineyards.
Meanwhile, back in Wilmington, restaurateurs are praying that a rainy weekend forecast will keep more folks eating out upstate.