Tuesdays at 212: Sniff, Sip and Savor
The management and staff of 212 Market Restaurant care passionately about their wines and their customers, so why did I approach their Tuesday Night half-price Wine Specials with such fear and trepidation?
My naturally suspicious nature says that if wine is marked down to half price, there is a reason. Someone (probably my dad) once said, “Never order the Monday special—that is just the weekend’s leftovers.” But my dad was wrong (once again). After several hours of grueling on-site research, I am pleased to report that 212 Market’s Tuesday Night Wine Specials are a very good deal for us consumers, and the program is actually a fair deal for all parties involved. Here’s how it works:
212 Market Restaurant cellars its older vintages and high-end prestige wines in temperature-controlled cabinets, but the rest of the wine inventory is stored all over the premises and quality control is managed by quick turnover. On average, says owner Sally Moses, 212 Market Restaurant sells 25 bottles of wine each day—and much more if there is a party scheduled. Its wine list, which has received Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Award of Excellence” every year since 1999, is revised every three months. No wine sits around long enough to suffer, and in fact most wines benefit from their moderate stay-over. As detailed below, only one of the wines we tasted was near the end of its lifespan but it was still very good.
The Tuesday Night Wine Special is the restaurant’s way of selling off that last bottle or two, or to feature an unusual wine that has not attracted the attention it deserves. Your only risk is that the wine you choose may be sold out, and the wine list warns us about that: “Vintages and availability are subject to change based upon the whims and arbitrary nature of life and business…”
On a recent Tuesday night, of the eight white wines and 13 reds offered by the bottle, three were clearly marked on the wine list with an asterisk that noted, “Only one bottle available.”
Of the six wines available by the glass, I was happy to see that none were your typical bar wines. At $3 and $4 a glass (remember, these are half price), we tried them all: The Calcu Rose (Chile, 2011) was dry and crisp, with hints of cherry and strawberry fruit. Made from Malbec, Syrah, and Petit Verdot, it would be an excellent porch wine for the summer. The Cedar Brook Merlot (California, 2007) was velvety smooth but was overshadowed by the Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon (California, 2010), the aroma of which announced itself from two feet away. Its long, dry finish was full of dark chocolate and butter pecan.
Having sampled all of the by-the-glass offerings, we felt obliged to try one of the bottles on the list and were focused on a Napa Merlot when our server, Julia, suggested a California wine called Sixth Sense Syrah (Lodi, 2003), and we went with it instead: It was smooth, spicy, fruity, straightforward and well-preserved for a ten-year old wine. It was at the end of its natural prime and was throwing a little sediment, which is OK. Its color was still vibrant. Julia offered to decant it but we chose to take the rest of it home.
That bottle set me back twelve George Washingtons.
If you have a question about any of the wines on the list, ask your server. Although they will not intrude if you know what you want, they are very knowledgeable about the inventory. One of their white wines, the Mer Soleil Late Harvest Viognier, from Monterey, caught me off-guard because it was honey-sweet like a Sauternes (and totally out of character for a Viognier). I asked Julia if she knew anything about it, and she explained that “late harvest” in this instance meant shrunken grapes with lots of concentrated sugar. It was delicious and we set it aside for dessert. I later discovered online that this wine, a 2004 vintage, was in fact botrytis-affected and a very limited production. (Botrytis is a natural fungus that sucks the water out of the grapes, concentrating the sugar and severely limiting the yield. It is the key factor in the honey-sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac in France, and in the Tokay wines in Hungary.) Total Wine in Atlanta sells the Mer Soleil Late Harvest Viognier for $33.99 a half-bottle (375 ml, about two glasses). We bought it Tuesday night for $3 a glass. Not a typo. Three dollars.
Plenty has been said about 212 Market’s great food, its use of local ingredients, and its ecologically-friendly recycling program, but not enough can be said about its wine offerings. Go fearlessly and without trepidation and sample the half-price Tuesday Night Wine Specials with the double assurance that first, you are getting a good deal, and second, that your empty bottle will not end up in a landfill.
At least not this time.