Dining out is an adventure, and I always hope to find an unusual bottle on the wine list that’s both new to me and also compliments the cuisine. Provenance fails to meet my expectations in this regard.
The 90-bottle “label-hugger” wine list is filled with familiar California labels, many of which are among the top-50 brands served in this country’s restaurants. Don’t get me wrong—they’re from very reputable, even iconic California producers, and many are superb, but only a few are offered from a boutique producer of interest. Wines from the best of California’s legion of small, innovative wineries are missing from the list, and this makes it predictable and uninspired.
It is, however, heavily weighted toward big red wines such as cabernet sauvignon (one third of the wines), and big, oaky chardonnays (overkill at 14 wines), yet the menu leans heavily on salads, fish, and special vegetable dishes that are better complimented by lighter white wines, rosés, and pinot noir. There is only one rosé offered by the glass and bottle, and it is from the Languedoc, yet the restaurant’s ambience reminds one most of Provence, France, home of the world’s greatest rosés. Sadly, the list of pinot noirs includes only the pedestrian, entry-level wines from California and Oregon producers.
There are a few other shortcomings in the wine program as well. The wines are listed by varietal and then by price, with no accompanying descriptive information to guide the diner’s choice. Surprisingly, there are very few special wines or “splurges” offered. Wines by the glass are expensive ($9 to $20), especially for rather ordinary quaffs, several lack vintage designations, and there is no commercial preservation system for the by-the-glass wines. The wine list does not appear on the restaurant’s website, but specialty drinks do.
The strength of the wine program lies in a decent selection of reasonably priced wines, with eight at $35 or less, and 32 at $50 or less. Corkage is a sensible $15 ($25 for the second bottle with a limit of two), and corkage is waived one for one for each bottle of wine purchased off the wine list.
Editor’s Note: Rusty Gaffney, one half of Orange Coast’s Wine Dudes blog, critiques the wine program of an Orange County restaurant reviewed in print each month by the magazine’s dining critic Gretchen Kurz. He’ll use the same star system as Kurz’s restaurant reviews (using wine bottles in place of stars) to denote whether the program is (1) Good, (2) Very Good, (3) Excellent, or (4) Outstanding on every level. He’ll also denote pricing: $ mostly under $24; $$, under $50; $$$, $50 and over. Above is his wine review of Provenance in Newport Beach; check back for the dining review.