Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach is one of the few Orange County restaurants with an on-staff sommelier, and how lucky they are to have Vito Pasquale, a Level 2 Sommelier certified by the Guild of Sommeliers. Vito is an impressive young man with a distinguished and professional air, yet still very cordial and freely conversant and enthusiastic about wine. His presence immediately signals that you are in capable hands.
The impressive wine list focuses on highly rated world-class wines that are carefully compiled by veteran restaurateur Leo Fenn III, the restaurant’s director of operations. The 131-bottle list is arranged by varietal and then by price, with a heavy emphasis on California cabernet sauvignon and red blends (33 percent of the total wines), something you would expect from a steak house.
Many familiar cab producers appear on the list, including Beaulieu, Caymus, and Silver Oak, as well as hard-to-find (and expensive) red cult wines from Shafer, Hundred Acre, Verite, Dominus, and Araujo. Well-chosen chardonnay, unique whites, and Champagne and sparkling wines are available for many of the enticing seafood dishes.
An eclectic and high-quality selection of 38 wines by the glass is offered, as well as some wines in half-bottle and large format (magnums). Wine mark-ups average about twice retail, which is reasonable considering the restaurant setting and service. Seventeen bottles are priced under $40, and 26 bottles under $50, so you don’t have to be a big spender to enjoy a good bottle of wine here.
Corkage is $20, and it’s not waived if a wine is also bought off the list. Ask to sit in the Wine Library, where shelves filled with bottles of famous wines and wine glasses line one wall. Do make sure Vito is on the floor when you dine.
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 his wine review of Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach; click here for the dining review.