So many restaurateurs and sommeliers gripe and grumble about customers who bring in wines that it was refreshing to hear Wolfgang Puck say, "I don't care, as long as they give me a taste."
We were talking about his new Beverly Hills steakhouse, Cut, which has been open since June. Although it's only a few blocks from his flagship restaurant, Spago, the two eateries do not share a wine cellar. Spago's wine list has 850 wines on it, and has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. Cut's has 240.
"We purposely kept the wine list short when we opened to see what people want," Puck told me. "Then we can build up the wine list to suit the restaurant."
This has had an interesting effect. "People are coming in with some great wines," says Puck. Like what? "Like 1900 [Château] Margaux and 1921 Lafite. Those were delicious. I think it's because they finally have a place where they can have a simple piece of meat that won't get in the way of the wine."
Cut's menu focuses on steaks, and they are impressive, but it also has grilled fish and roasted poultry, long-simmered meats and side dishes that don't borrow potentially wine-clashing flavors from non-wine-drinking cultures (as Spago does). The rich food begs for great red wines, and there are some obvious choices on the list.
Big spenders can drink 1982, 1989 and 1990 Bordeaux. The bargain is Vieux-Château-Certan '82 at $390. More typical is Léoville Las Cases '82 for $900 or Lafite '89 for $590. The list also focuses on current vintages of good, sturdy reds at around $50 to $100 a bottle. Dining anonymously, I drank a splendid Elderton Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 from Australia ($51), which was duly decanted and poured into big crystal glasses as if it were one of those fancy clarets.
Los Angeles is a hotbed of serious collectors, especially folks who like to amass cellars full of trophy wines. But it's also a place where people like to eat out a lot. That limits the opportunity to drink those trophy wines, unless you can bring them to a restaurant. Puck is happy to oblige. At $40 to $48 for a typical steak (à la carte), I don't think he's losing money, either.