Red or White – at the corner of Old Shell Road and Mobile Infirmary Blvd since 2009, and winner of this year’s “best wine selection” Nappie Award – has no plans to rest on its laurels, or even to rest. Owner Randy Williams is moving Red or White into a new location on Dauphin Street (in the space formerly occupied by True Midtown Kitchen), where he plans to stock more wine, expand his kitchen and host not only more tastings and but also full-up sit-down wine-pairing dinners. He expects to open in September and – listen, shoppers – he’ll have lots more parking, too.
Although still in the “What have we done?” stage when he thinks about the new shop, Randy remains enthusiastic about introducing Mobile’s wine lovers (and wannabe wine lovers) to new and different wines, while still keeping an eye out for amazing bargains. Overall, he plans to stock 30 percent more wine at the Dauphin Street location – and double his collection of bottles in the range of $10 and below. He’ll do it by looking to New World wine regions (like South America) and to lesser-known regions in Old World stalwarts, like those parts of southern France off the famed Rhone corridor.
He may even bring in Pinot Noirs from Alsace – traditionally a Riesling region infamous for its thin, bitter reds until lately. (I toured Alsace in July was blown away by how much the Pinots had improved. I used to run from them, but they and I have turned around.) He notes that a Pinot Nero from Italy’s Alto Adige region has been very well received at his original Fairhope location. Basically, Randy’s mission is to “go where we can get customers the most bang for the buck,” and we like a man with a mission!
Pinot Grigio remains Red or White’s best-selling white wine, but Randy tries to nudge customers out of their comfort zones when he can. He’s introduced a high-end, flavorful Pinot Grigio by the glass that he says makes folks “work a little bit” by being different from probably 90 percent of the Pinot Grigios they’ve had before.
Moving further outside the box (I saw no “box wine” in Red or White, by the way) Randy’s currently excited about rosés – whether sparkling or still – which couldn’t make me happier, given my love affair with rosé. He’s brought in an Italian sparkling rosé (Rotari Brut, made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown in northeastern Italy in the foothills of the alps, a “Wine Enthusiast” Best Buy for $14 and nothing like a cheap Prosecco); an Argentinian sparkling rosé (Reginato Celestina Rosé of Malbec, made from 100 percent malbec grapes grown in Argentina’s Mendoza region, one of Oprah’s favorites and a bargain at $17); and a Spanish sparkling rosé (Conde de Subirats Cava Rose, made from 90 percent trepat – an indigenous Spanish red grape – and 10 percent chardonnay grown in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, proclaimed a “Best Choice in Cava” by Stephen Tanzer’s “International Wine Cellar” and practically free at $12).
If you noticed a repetition of “sparkling” in the prior paragraph, it’s because Randy believes sparklers shouldn’t be relegated to special occasions. Noting that French Champagne has priced many customers out of the everyday drinking market, he’s filled the gap with delicious discoveries selling for one-tenth the price of some big name fizzes. His Italian, Argentinian and Spanish rosés are all dry, made using the traditional Champagne (Methode Champenoise) process – no corners cut. The Italian sparkler makes a refreshing aperitif while the Argentinian and Spanish names pair well with seafood and grilled meats. I took home a bottle of Reginato Celestina and it did, indeed, make me “work a little bit” (to not drink the whole bottle in one sitting). I’ll devote my next rosé column to it, among others. Meantime, go ask for a glass; you won’t regret it.
Bordeaux – my other favorite wine – is, sadly, more challenging for Red or White to stock. Randy says he’s constantly changing his Bordeaux selection at the mercy of what importers choose to bring in, or the French choose to send out. He hasn’t given up, though, and “in the $35-and-under area we continue to find good wines – sometimes great wines.” He likes to fill the Bordeaux gap by bringing in trendier California Cabernets, which he says customers flock from far and near to buy. He’s currently energized about Carpe Diem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Yountville, Calif.), calling it “absolutely awesome” (possibly deserving a slot on your “Saturday-night wine” list). At only $24 a bottle, I’d call it definitely worth investigating.
Randy plans a low-key glide through the end of 2014 for Red or White in Mobile – just hoping to survive the holidays – but he plans to scale new heights in 2015. Tastings will be “fairly frequent,” for one thing, while the new shop’s back room will accommodate as many as 50 for sit-down wine dinners. Fans of chef Arwen Rice – who’s trotted out tasty tidbits at the Old Shell venue – will be happy to hear she’s staying on to produce the wine-pairing meals, too.
Mike Gibson will continue managing Red or White at its new location, bringing wine expertise honed at New York’s Chelsea Wine Vault. Mike has run the Old Shell shop since it opened and matches Randy superlative-for-superlative in his enthusiasm for wine, generally, as well as introducing customers to new and unexpected bottles.
With regard to winning the Nappie Randy says, “As corny as it sounds, just ‘thank you.’ We’re going to try to reward people’s support by doing a better and better job every year.”
Red or White, soon to be opening its doors at 1104 Dauphin St., Mobile. Also located at 323-A De La Mare Ave. in Fairhope.