In April, Little Sparrow Café was named Restaurant of the Year by Orange Coast, and on May 21, it celebrated its first anniversary. The restaurant’s cocktail lounge is highly popular and its cocktails are spotlighted on the website, but it’s the wine list that catches my eye. At the restaurant, several bottles are displayed prominently in the dining room, to encourage diners to explore the eclectic list.
The sensibly priced roster also perfectly complements the bistro dishes of chef Eric Samaniego. If I were starting with his crispy onion rings, I’d eagerly opt for the Carletto Prosecco from Treviso, Italy ($9 a glass, $34 a bottle). If I were leaning toward the house-made charcuterie, I’d go for the Domaine Ott, Les Domaniers Cotes de Provence French Rosé ($12 a glass, $43 a bottle). There are no dessert wines, but the Prosecco would do just fine in that role as well.
As for entrees, any of the four pinot noir wines offered would pair nicely with the grilled Opah, roasted Mary’s chicken, beef burger, or grilled Beeler’s pork chop. The Handley Mendocino County Pinot Noir is a reliable choice ($12 a glass, $46 a bottle) and the Skywalker Ranch Pinot Noir from George Lucas of Star Wars fame would be an adventuresome, albeit considerably more expensive option ($155 a bottle). For the grilled hanger steak, stick with a hearty red, like the Brown Estate Zinfandel and Cabernet blend from Napa Valley ($88 a bottle).
By the glass, 16 to 19 wines are offered, and include some curiosities not often encountered on local wine lists: a trebbiano from Italy, a semillon from France, a grüner veltliner from Germany, an arneis from Italy, and a carmenere from Chile. Bottle prices are just under the price of four glasses, so full bottles are usually the preferred choice over by-the-glass options when dining with others, especially considering that the restaurant does not have a serious wine preservative system for opened bottles.
Of the 50 wines offered, about half are priced under $50 so enjoying wine here isn’t a burden on the wallet. Stemware is also appropriate, and wine service is efficient. Corkage is $15 a bottle. Oenophiles and wine geeks are particularly welcome, and there is no corkage fee at dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.
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. Click here for the dining review of Little Sparrow in Santa Ana.