Crystal Bay Steakhouse delights with its Award Winning Wine List

“Something for Everyone”

Crystal Bay Steakhouse delights with its Award Winning Wine List

From its historic beginning in 1937 as Ta-Neva-Ho, to the massive renovation in 2003, the Crystal Bay casino and related enterprises have been a fixture on State Rd 28 in Crystal Bay, NV for more than 70 years. Steak and Lobster has been a keynote of the cuisine there for many years, but the magnificent wine list of the Crystal Bay Steakhouse is a well kept public secret. You must experience it, and you will be delighted!

Wine Consultant Patty Ruhl is the moving force behind this wonderful list, and she works hand in hand with Food & Beverage Director Harold Peskin, to create a “something for everyone” list that continues to win awards. It’s not all steak and lobster either; the cuisine is wide-ranging in taste and texture, and the wines are chosen to match the chefs’ talents too.

“Food tastes better with wine, and vice-versa,” notes Patty. “We have some very hard to find wines that sell for over $1000 a bottle, and we have many wines in the $15-25 dollar range too. We know that most of our clients will look for a California wine, and our selection is excellent.”

The extensive wine list notes dozens of wines that have been knighted by the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or Robert Parker with 90+ point ratings. For some, that makes selection easier, but Patty is always interested in helping you choose a wine that fits your own palate, dinner selection and budget.

We began with a shrimp/bacon appetizer, and Patty paired that with a Ramey 2004 Russian River Chardonnay. Its crisp acidity was nicely noticeable, but it is toasty and butter-scotchy, with lots of ripe fruit flavors such as melon, pear and peach showing through. I liked its full body, and its rich and long finish. 14.5% alcohol.

The Four Graces-Reserve 2007 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, is another seafood friendly wine. It appeared along with an Alaskan Halibut that was macadamia-nut crusted. A good pairing! This Pinot Noir is a great New World Burgundy with soft tannins, a fruit-forward taste redolent of blackberries and damson plum. French oak contributes a velvety soft mouthfeel. 13.5% alcohol. I like the whimsical name of the wine -- Four Graces is named in honor of the four daughters of founders Steve and Paul Black, who started the winery in 2003 in the Red Hills of Dundee, where they wanted to make consistently outstanding Pinot Noirs representative of this unique terroir. Alexis, Vanessa, Christiana, and Jillian are honored with this wine. Brother Nicholas is recognized on the Reserve as "Keeper of The Four Graces."

Martinelli’s Terra Felice Syrah 2004 is a Russian River beauty. This is a very special wine, made by famed winemaker Helen Turley. One reviewer proclaimed that this wine was “exuberant”, an apt description. It has spice, black pepper, violets and other florals, blackberry, oak , raspberries– wonderfully complex and 14.8% alcohol. Served with a Colorado lamb with shitake mushroom and port wine demiglaze: perfect.

A nice feature of the wine list is a category called “ Pick-A-Grape” . Among the reds, that includes a good list of wines for those who love Sangiovese, Barbera, Grenache, Cab Franc etc. Among the whites, you’ll find Viognier, Rosado, Pinot Gris and Riseling, and many others. It’s a great way to try a new taste sensation and experience grapes with which you might not be familiar.

Wrapping it all up nicely was a Far Niente Dolce 2004 Napa Valley Late Harvest dessert wine. Honey honey honey, I loved it. 14.1% alcohol.

The Crystal Bay Steakhouse is located at 14 State Highway 28, just on at California/Nevada border. Reservations are suggested. 775 833 6333.

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© 2010 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of
The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in May 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills." Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.

Boxed Wines at Tableside.... oh really?

I love dining in New York City, and exploring new restaurants means exploring wines too. But I was shocked to be served wine from a box at the table. Right out there in the open. Another "what's with that?" reaction from prissy little me.

The restaurant was Hearth, located in the East Village. The wine was a Malbec from Mendoza, specifically the 2008 Yellow and Blue Malbec. And the package, according to the website is eco-friendly. In my opinion it is probably shelf friendly, ship friendly, cost friendly, refrigerator friendly ... but excuse me, I don't think it is tableside friendly.

It's not like Hearth could serve this wine any other way. Okay, they could put it in a carafe. But it's a busy place and I understand that the East Village is edgey and all that. It was just a bit of a shock.

Regardless, it paired well with the main dish in their prix-fixe $35 Cucina Provera menu's main item, which was a grilled house-made pork sausage served with rapini, garlic and cranberry beans. The wine pairing was an additional $15, and featured two other wines ... poured from bottles.

My dining companions were a late 20's financial guy, a late 30's customer service database expert, and an early 40's brilliant computer guy.

I was the only one who flinched at the wine in the box.

Gotta get over that.

What's with the Short Pour? Is a 5 oz glass really standard?

It was bad enough that American Airlines dumped me in Dallas-Fort Worth due to weather delays, and I was in a foul mood anyhow. Then the dining room at the Hyatt Regency DFW made me really annoyed with a 5 ounce pour of wine.

"Of course I want another glass," I said as nicely as I could muster to my waitperson. "And it would be nice if the next glass was a full pour."

My remarks came to the attention of Pascal Castiau, the Assistant Food & Beverage Director. I guess it is not every guest who takes photos of a glass of wine on the table... (Gotta love camera phones, a blogger's good friend!)

The wine was nice enough, at $9 for the glass of 2007 De Loach Pinot Noir, Winemaker's Blend. This must be a special blend sold to the restaurant trade, because I was interested in knowing what it would have cost for a full bottle at a wine shop, but no joy on the internet search.

Pascal said that 5 ounce is their standard pour. I guess that is a bit less than 5 glasses per bottle, but still....

So I pondered this, and then turned on my email (love my new Droid phone) and zipped a message to my friend Bruce Nichols, a wine consultant in Naples FL whose resume includes years as Director of Food and Beverage for a huge international hotel chain. His remarks:

"Interesting... I'm always amazed at the inconsistency of pours. With the array of glassware sizes used, it's hard to say. It used to be they'd use a 6 oz glass and pour it to the rim. You knew what you were getting in terms of the portion, but it didn't allow for swirling the wine, which truly does improve the aromatics and flavor profile by introducing some oxygen, hence the move to larger stemware.

What I often see in hotels, who generally are much more cost control oriented, is providing a large glass and serving the wine in a small carafe = the best of both worlds perhaps."

Nicely, Bruce commiserated on the situation too... whatta guy... "Air travel is deteriorating terribly. It's the only industry that the customer has no recourse whatsoever and it's getting worse. Sadly, little options if you want to visit the world. So, have another "short" glass of wine and enjoy. Hope the wine was good at least!"

It was okay and I got the first flight out the next morning.

The Debate on High Alcohol Wines Rages On

Which came first?

The Debate on High Alcohol Wines Rages On

Over the past year, I’ve reviewed many wines for my column "It's Grape" in the Tahoe Weekly, noting characteristics of look-smell-feel-taste-finish. But I also try to include an item I think is important: alcohol content.

Make no mistake – one glass of a wine that is 15-16% alcohol, and you are done. Better have someone drive you home, and if you serve those wines for dinner parties then make sure your guests are driven home or shown to the guest room for the night.

Good wines do not need to be high alcohol.

In my blog a while back, I had an expert write about high alcohol wines. Bruce Nichols, based in Naples, FL, is a Wine Consultant who provides professional wine cellar management, wine brokering for buyers and sellers, sommelier services, wine education and wine event planning. He is heavily involved in the world-renowned Naples Winter Wine Auction.

I can’t say it better than Bruce does, so here are some verbatim remarks from his newsletter, A Nichols Worth of Wine (

“High alcohol levels in wine is a subject that just refuses to go away. I’ve made my position on high-alcohol wines well known. I don’t like them. I find most to be one-dimensional - all fruit, no character. I find many can be overpowering and incompatible with the dining experience. I want to enjoy that second, and occasionally, third glass of wine over the span of a meal without the need for a nap between courses.

There’s also the concern of increased DUI enforcement. Many variables determine BAC (blood alcohol concentrations) currently set at .08%. Even factoring in body weight, gender, time, and food intake, two glasses of wine can push you close to or beyond this legal threshold.

Personal experience has taught me that a two-point swing in a wine from 12.5% to 14.5% can have a significant effect on acuity and I find it makes wines less compatible with food.

Assertions of vintners pushing hang time to the extremes to achieve ultra-ripe fruit just to please the critics' palates, and in turn garner higher ratings, are hotly debated. But I wonder if this isn’t a classic version of the chicken and the egg story? Which came first: the consumer’s taste for sweeter, full throttled flavors that the critics played into, or the consumer as lemming, hanging on to every 90-point score? Aren’t winemakers, for better or worse, simply producing a style the majority of wine drinkers demand?

These hyper-extracted wines come from ultra-ripe fruit with high sugars, which in turn raise the alcohol level. To combat this problem, many wineries resort to “dealcoholization,” literally reducing alcohol from the wine either through reverse osmosis or high-tech filtering. This in turn can require adding back in up to 15% water. The controversy between the purists and practitioners over this approach rages on.

Proponents, many of them winemakers, would argue that climate change has led to riper fruit, requiring adjustments in the winemaking process. The industry is quick to contend that as long as a wine’s components, acidity, tannins and flavors, are all in balance, then the higher alcohol levels are justifiable. To a large degree, this is true, but that does not address the DUI issue, or that these wines tend to overpower many foods. Opponents, a “natural, less-is-better” camp, contend this manipulation robs the wine of its character and structure and the wine’s terroir, or sense of place.

It is you and me, the consumers, who will ultimately shape the future on how much alcohol is in our wines. In the meantime, we consumers do have many options. Check out the mandatory posting of the percentage of alcohol listed on every label before your next wine purchase. There are many wines under 14%, although choices are fewer with California brands than the imports... for now.”

By the way, this writer really likes The Prisoner by Orin Swift… and it zips in at 15+% usually. So don’t expect consistency from me, wine is so individual! But I always have a designated driver…

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© 2010 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in May 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book:"Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills."Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.