Earlier this year we posted about Café Cortadito, a wonderful Cuban-American restaurant in Manhattan.

I want this post to serve not as a restaurant review, but as a jumping off point for a series of posts about how to navigate wine menus. We always look for the best value, tailored of course to our specific palates. Patrick and I both love dry earthy Old World-style food wines and prefer them over fruitier New World-style wines. But we can talk about a wine menu in both contexts.

First let's have a look at the white wines.


I'm thrilled with the sparklies on this list. The "widow" Veuve Clicquot is the French Champagne with the bright orangey-yellow label, hugely recognizable and extremely high quality for a wine with such a massive production. And it's rare to see it priced this low on a restaurant menu, in my opinion. We've seen it as low as $40-ish at Costco in California but it's hardly ever that cheap anywhere else. I've seen it as high as $175 on restaurant menus.

The other French champagne is also a good value, but I would snag that Cava in a heartbeat. First of all it's Spanish; second of all it's made in the methóde champenoise, same as in Champagne (we'll need a separate post on bubbly in order to explain... stay tuned!).

Cava is less well-known and therefore less expensive and a better value. But it doesn't taste quite the same—it's not better or worse, just different, and that's because it's made with Spanish grapes—be adventurous and try it sometime.


Next, the white wines. What a gorgeous list of whites. Almost any of these look amazing especially at those prices. We love Sancerre (especially spelled correctly—wink!), which is a French Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, and that bright Spanish Albariño is trying to leap off the menu and into my mouth. It's the ultimate seafood wine. I assume the South American Sauvignon Blancs are unoaked, and I assume the Chardonnay is oaked, but if I really wanted to know I would ask.

Now as far as Cuban appetizers go, I would probably choose the Albariño if I'm having grilled prawns. If I pick spicy tapas I would pair them with the bodacious New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or with the German Riesling; the others will not do as well paired with spicy food.

Sidebar: Don't assume the Riesling is sweet; many are not! Without geeking out over Riesling right here, suffice it to say that 12-15 g/l RS (grams per liter residual sugar) is the boundary between dry and off-dry / sweet. The driest are 9 g/l RS and the dessert Rieslings—the ones you're most likely to have tried—can be higher than 45 g/l RS. Turns out this one is right on the edge: only slightly off-dry, perhaps 15 g/l RS.

YUM! Now I kinda wish I'd tried it!

But even if the Riesling is super sweet—you should try it with spicy food sometime, especially Thai. It's delicious.


I'm unfamiliar with that rosé and we weren't in the mood for one that night: it was a late dinner on a cold night during the holiday season. But if it had been late on a June evening, then YOU BETCHA, a dry rosé would offer an outstanding Cuban food pairing. And now that I look it up and see that it is a Spanish rosé of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, my mouth is watering hard core.


Again, what an amazing wine list. I approached it this way: first I eliminated Bordeaux-style wines that, generally speaking, would not pair as well with Cuban food: the two from California, the two from Chile, and the Argentine Cab, despite their excellent prices.

The South American Malbecs are also technically grapes from Bordeaux, but my guess is that these will pair better with Cuban food because they pair well with grilled meats from South America. Someone with a New World fruit-forward palate ought to focus on the Malbecs.

But not me—I want an Old World food wine! Next I eliminated the Sangiovese, feeling it would be too light and subtle for Cuban food. That left the three Riojas and the Duero, all from Spain. Duero is a huge, dark wine, and I wanted something a little lighter in weight for the person who ordered the seafood paella. Simply based on price point, I selected the Reserva, because it is generally a higher quality Rioja than a Crianza, and the third Rioja is neither a Crianza nor a Reserva, at least according to the menu. I could have asked to see all three, but I don't know the labels and frankly I would be surprised if all three weren't delicious. It's not worth getting fussy with the server.

We ended up THRILLED with our 2011 Rioja. It paired as perfectly with all the Cuban food as any wine could, especially my picadillo.