Wine, Wine, Wine

A look at the fine wine list of Avenue in Long Branch.

And now for a little twist on our normal Friday excursion into restaurant-land:

Today we begin an occasional, yet focused look at a restaurant’s wine list, that potentially formidable compilation that either confounds or astounds, lures or repels, mesmerizes or freezes diners who face words foreign and, frankly, sometimes pompous.

I’ve been writing about wine for 25 years, almost as long as I’ve been assessing restaurants for a living. A major pet peeve? Restaurants with wine lists that have nothing to do with the food served.

A list doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to span the globe, it doesn’t have to contain the names of so-called “trophy” wines. It does have to have variety, character, the voice of someone at the restaurant who understands and cares about wine choices, and it absolutely, positively needs to complement the food served.

That’s the sum of it. I want to point out restaurants that “get” it—the task at hand, plus the need to educate and enlighten diners. I will start today with a restaurant that’s among the best in New Jersey for its comprehensive, varied and eclectic selection, a restaurant where you can pop in for a couple glasses of engaging wines and perhaps a small bite or two, or sit down for a whole-nine-yards dinner paired with wines right for the dishes you are eating.

We begin with Avenue, the upscale oceanfront restaurant at Pier Village in Long Branch.

I did a pop-in-with-small-bites one recent summer’s night, with the water that’s a mere stone’s toss away taming the intense summer heat. Guided by assistant sommelier Alex Olsen, who patrols the dining room of the posh, window-lined space, I was able to taste from the by-the-glass list wines with a voice—and a strong connection to the menu that sports a decidedly French bent.

Olsen, an under-30 wunderkind with a fine-tuned palate, works under the direction of Avenue’s general manager Thierry Carrier and sommelier Marcelo Lemke. (That there are three staff members who “know” wine is a definite chalk-one-up for Avenue.) I was making dinner of three small plates: the tartare of salmon, the crab salad and the pissaladiere—Provence’s classic onion tart.

Olsen immediately engaged. His recommendations: “Pomponette,” a 2016 rose from Chateau Sulauze in the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France; a 2015 muscadet dubbed “Classic” from Domaine de L’Ecu in France’s Loire Valley; and, from the Mosel in Germany, a 2015 riesling by Monchhof.

All are far, far from the madding crowds of chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and Whispering Angel-style roses. Yet they are on a by-the-glass list that includes name brands such as Louis Roderer bubbly, Chateau Greysac Bordeaux, and Heitz California cabernet sauvignon.

This reflects the booklike wine list itself. It’s an impressive tome, with an astounding range. You can find bottles of Chateau Margaux, Palmer or Petrus as well as names of producers known largely by bona-fide wine geeks bent on bargains, such as a mondeuse (a red grape from the Savoie in the Alpine region of France) from Domaine Louis Magnin at $50; the Brovia dolcetto d’Alba at $44; an albarino from Pazo de Senorans in Rias Baixas, Spain, for $47; and Fulcrum’s “Cloisonne” pinot noir from California at $50.

Avenue also pours forth the exquisite wines from one of the world’s most exclusive producers, Chateau Simone, from the appellation Palette. Palette? Yes, it’s small; it has been, for most of its life, all Chateau Simone.

I read the list as I sipped the Pomponette, with its snaps of tart strawberry, hints of dried orange peel and strong, sure mineral finish. This one’s a lock for a spectrum of eats, including the salmon, crab and onion tart dishes I was downing for dinner. The Monchhof riesling, zesty, lively, with a pinch of sweetness and a bolt of acidity, took a liking to the accents of anchovy and olives in the pissaladiere. Meanwhile, the strong citrus notes and striking minerality of the muscadet shout shellfish as a table partner. Naturally, Avenue has raw bar selection that befits its oceanside perch.

Don’t you love it when all things wine and food mesh nicely? They do, at Avenue.

Avenue, 230 Ocean Avenue in Long Branch. Open daily. 732-759-2900. leclubavenue.com.

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