Babette’s Wine List Lacks Joie de Vivre

Babette’s restaurant in Newport Coast has a French name and a French Riviera vibe, but its menu plays with inspirations from around the globe. The wine list also skips around, but without a coherent theme, concentrating on California while also touching down in Italy (3 wines), France (4 still wines, 2 Champagnes), Spain, New Zealand, and Oregon (1 token wine each). It would have been a joy to find an interesting list of value-priced wines from all regions of France—wines the French would order at a restaurant like this.

Of the 30 wines offered, 19 are available by the glass, ranging in price from $10 to $18 (or about a third to a fourth the cost of a full bottle, which is standard for restaurants). Single pours are a generous 6 ounces, offered in proper stemware. There are no half bottles except a split of Veuve Clicquot Brut. I longed for a carafe of an inexpensive French Vin de Pays d’Oc from southern France. It would have been perfect with so many of the menu offerings.

Four chardonnays are listed, but without descriptions. How is the diner to know the style of each? The Tolosa Vineyards Chardonnay listing doesn’t indicate if it’s the “Estate” barrel fermented wine or the “No Oak” fermented wine, both produced in 2013. And why does a short list need four chardonnays (and three sauvignon blancs) when one would suffice and there are so many other food-friendly aromatic whites available? The heart of the menu is the many salad options. The best white on the list to accompany these is the Chateau de Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, France.

The red wines are dominated by bold, tannic varietals, including five cabernet sauvignons, a red blend, a super Tuscan, and a barolo. All are very good, but I could find only two appropriate items on the extensive menu to enjoy them with—the grass-fed beef burger at lunch, and the rib-eye at dinner. Pinot noir is a much better red wine option here and the list does offer six of them.

Full bottle markups vary at between two- to three-times retail prices, with many wines in the $60-and-up range. The least-expensive bottle is $42. Ports, grappas, and cognacs are available. And if you chose to bring your own wine, the corkage is $25.

 

$$

1 wine bottle

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