A wine list should be judged not just by the prices of its trophy wines or how many bottles are in the cellar, but by how well it meets the needs of the clientele and how well it matches the menu. When you want to celebrate a really big event and blow some cash, there need to be restaurants that provide the opportunity. But there are also times you want to be able to relax at a bistro and get an exciting glass of wine for under $10. These 10 cellars are quite different, but they all have imagination, style and a knowledge of their clientele.
The Back Porch Cafe, Rehoboth Beach.
Someone had a lot of fun putting this wine list together, assembling a great diversity of bottles that could be sold at a reasonable markup. Only two selections are $100 or more. The Back Porch also believes in drinking local, so it cellars bottles from nearby Nassau Valley Vineyards. Thought also was given to obtaining obscure selections to appeal to millennials, while offering traditional pours for boomers.
Deep Blue, Wilmington.
Dan Butler’s Deep Blue wine cellar is full of Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, which are probably the most versatile wines for seafood. Sauvignon has enough fruit and acidity for shellfish and white fish. Pinot is perfect for salmon and tuna. Bottle prices are mostly mid-range, about the same as two entrées. The winegrowers and wine regions are more traditional than experimental.
If you are new to wines and would rather pull corks than crack wine books, consider dining at Eclipse a couple of times a week to work your way through the list. It’s not a big one, but it has a more interesting and more diverse selection than you will find at most bistros. Prices are reasonable, with only one wine over $100—a Champagne. Most bottles are priced under $50.
Eden, Rehoboth Beach.
Eden relies on selections from the United States to make the kind of affordable list that appeals to diners who want a very good wine to go with the restaurant’s great food. There are a dozen whites under $25 and several reds under $40, which is becoming rare in fine eateries. There is also a fine selection of half-bottles, including Champagne.
Domaine Hudson, Wilmington.
Owner Mike Ross—and Tom Hudson before him—assembled the kind of cellar that can drive people who follow wine ratings and reviews crazy with desire—450 bottles, many rare and of limited production, all listed on an iPad. Want to try a vertical of Bond Melbury or pull the cork on a Bellevue-Mondotte? They’re here. If your needs are less demanding, there are 40 wines by the glass, available in three sizes of pours.
Harry’s Savoy Grill, Wilmington.
To suit its chophouse status, Harry’s has an especially deep selection of red wines, both recent and mature vintages, with an impressive list of a couple dozen Cabernets. Want to splurge? There’s Shafer Hillside Select ’09 for $250. Want something very good for about $75? Order Paul Hobbs CrossBarn Napa Valley ’12. Or you can choose a very presentable Veramonte ’12 from Chile for $39. Whites and sparklers are similarly diverse in origin and price, and there is a good selection of dessert wines.
Henlopen City Oyster House, Rehoboth Beach.
This wine list is short and sweet, or, rather, short and dry. Most people visit for oysters on the half shell, so there is a selection of dry whites and bubblies to wash them down. The list offers a dozen or so choices—Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Muscadet, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling—mostly under $40. All are available by the glass for $9-$11.
La Fia, Wilmington.
You know you’re in a place that knows both food and wine when the Custard Sonoma Chardonnay is described as a “comfort wine.” Chef-owner Bryan Sikora has given the area a neighborhood restaurant like you would find in the small towns of France and a wine list to match—small but well vetted for value, ability to excite the palate and its match with the food.
In the casino at Dover Downs, the restaurant offers a list that is cleverly designed with reasonably priced bottles to keep you from straying far from the tables, plus a good selection of bubblies and pricey reds for celebrating if you win big. Place your chips on the Catena Malbec for $29.
The wine list has a good selection of Italian bottles to match its Italian food, and is a good example of menu-wine matching. For the lover of big, northern Italian reds, this is the place to go. Several affordable wines by the glass are available on tap.