One of the great luxuries of dining at top-tier restaurants is receiving the attention of an exceptional wine professional. Whether that takes the form of a tableside recommendation of a memorable bottle, a tasting menu with course-by-course wine pairings, or a thoughtfully composed wines-by-the-glass list, a sommelier's input can make your meal.
Whether presented in tandem with a tasting menu or simply offered as an alternative to buying a full bottle with your meal, "glass pours" need to be palatably priced, for the most part, which means these same wines will often be affordable at retail. If you're the sort of shopper who likes to try new wines or you want to boost your wine-buying confidence, taking sommeliers' picks for by-the-glass wines to your local fine wine shop or other retailer is an excellent strategy.
With the recommendations below for fine fall wines and foods to go with them—straight from the sommeliers at celebrated restaurants in the United States and abroad—you may be inspired to dine out, or just to stay in and pour like a pro. Most of these bottles retail in the U.S. for $40 or less, according to Wine-Searcher.com. For a big night in, there are even a few sommelier selections from small producers that are worth the extra cost and effort to find (although not all may be available where you live). Read on for the reds and whites served by the glass in some of the world's top restaurants this fall, from a "perception-changing" Slovenian Sauvignon Blanc to the Beaujolais that made one sommelier shout out loud, "I love my job!"
Boulevard, San Francisco
John Lancaster, Wine Director
White: Château la Rabotine Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2010
"It's kind of bright, clean, citrus, lime, mineral, fresh. We do it a lot with salads, and as an aperitif. It's great with goat cheese—just a versatile first-course wine."
Red: Blue Farm Pinot Noir, Carneros, California 2010
"A small-production, single-vineyard Pinot Noir that shows what can be done in Carneros with Pinot Noir. It's got some of that Carneros cool-climate character, with some ripe fruit wrapped around that. It's really good with the pork chop that chef Nancy Oakes does…and with quail and salmon as well. There is structure there, but the tannins are nice and integrated."
Pinpointing Pinot: When it comes to American Pinot Noir production, "Carneros has been there for a long time," Lancaster notes. "It gets a lot of ocean influence, and it's a good place to grow Pinot." Compared with a Willamette Valley Pinot, for example, this pick from Blue Farm has "a little more body and texture," he adds.
Charles Pashby-Taylor, Head Sommelier
White: Pegasus Bay Riesling, Waipara Valley, New Zealand 2009
"This is a slightly fuller style of Riesling from New Zealand, lots of rich fruit flavors—apples and pears with some stoned fruit. This dry Riesling is made with a small amount of grapes with botrytis—noble rot—giving it a slight sweetness and ever-so-gentle fizz on the tongue. This wine is a perfect accompaniment to white-fish dishes and more substantial salads, and also light enough for an aperitif."
Red: Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, Beaujolais, France 2011
"Although light in color, this wine packs a surprising level of flavor and complexity: Hedgerow berries and nettles with softer tones of rose and violet make for an easy-to-drink and easy-to-match wine. Chilled, this wine will sit with just about anything with the exception of the most subtle dishes. It comes into its own with lighter meat, pork, goose, and veal; with these, serve just below room temperature."
Sommelier secret: "Fleurie is often overlooked as a cheap red wine not worth drinking. This could not be further from the truth."
El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
Carles Aymerich, Sommelier
White: Pedra de Guix Terroir al Límit, Priorat, Spain 2009
"This wine works very well with fish dishes where the garlic is very marked, but without tomato. We pair it with salt-cod brandade, braised salt-cod tripe, salt-cod foam, olive oil soup, shallots and honey, thyme and chile pepper."
Red: Vall Llach, Priorat, Spain 2005
"Pair this with game meats, and even better if you use mushrooms. At the restaurant, it is served with common wood pigeon liver and onion, curry-caramelized walnuts, juniper, orange peel, and herbs."