In Search of a Fine Wine List

The Best Corporate Restaurant Wine Programs


If you’re like me, you find yourself on the road and searching for a good meal pretty often. Sometimes it’s just too much work to get to the best restaurant in town, and we have to fall back on the tried and true.

I’m not one to be too judgmental about a restaurant’s wine list, really -- well, actually, maybe I am. But I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Buying wine for a large regional or national restaurant chain is a heck of a lot harder than stuffing one list full of gems. These five well known chains have managed to create exceptional lists that have persuaded me to visit them again and again.

OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC is the outfit behind Outback Steakhouse. I’m not much for a Blooming Onion, but if you’re throwing some shrimp on the barbie I wouldn’t mind the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling that's on Outback’s list. But that’s not even close to being the highlight of OSI’s wine chops.
At OSI's Bonefish Grill seafood restaurants, you can find solid wines like Oregon's King Estate Pinot Grigio and the Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay. Their Roy’s chain, which I visited repeatedly while on Maui (the Kahana location used to have aged German Riesling on the list, for cheap!) and visting the Hawaiian islands offers some just off-center wines that can please novice and geek alike. I'm always happy to share a few bottles of the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc or the Erath Pinot Noir with Roy's island-inspired cuisine. I'm sentimental that way!

But the real jewel in the OSI crown is the Flemings Prime Steakhous and Wine Bar chain where you can find 100 wines by the glass, with 30 of them, like the Bodegas La Cana Albariño, priced under $10. Others, like the Miner Family 2004 The Oracle, may cost more, but are delicious and certainly are well chosen to complement the menu.

Ruth’s Chris

The steak is great (yes, the butter helps), but the wine list here really is killer for a national chain. The well thought out list has all the staples, and then some. Two of my favorite south of the equator steak wines are featured on the menu, and I know either the Argentine Achával-Ferrer Quimera or the Rustenberg John X Merriman from South Africa would be a perfect complement to my Cowboy Ribeye. Heck, I might as well order them both!


Landry’s restaurants are more of a classic restaurant group than a chain, but with locations nationwide they are worth keeping on one’s radar. It seems like they’ve got a place or two in most major metropolitan regions featuring solid wine choices at comfortable prices. From the 2006 Trimbach Pinot Blanc at Peohe’s in Coronado, California, to the magnum of 1999 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon (priced at only $140!) on the list at their Simms Steak House in Golden, Colorado, Landry’s outlets have their bases covered. And if you find yourself in Houston, you’ll have to admit that selections like the 2007 Santa Chiara from Paolo Bea for $85, and the 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso for $48 at La Griglia are pretty darn enticing.

Legal Seafood

Here's my favorite corporate restaurant program, hands down: Legal Seafoods. How can you not like well-prepared seafood paired with equally well chosen wines like 2009 Verdemar Albarino and 2009 Simonsig Chenin Blanc by the glass? Check out their "Great Shellfish Wines" and you'll know why I'm in heaven here; the 2009 Txomin Etxaniz Txacoli is only $35 a bottle and the 2009 Domaine Pepiere Clos des Briords Muscadet clocks in at a remarkable $27!

I have never been disappointed with the wine selection at a Legal Seafoods restaurant. If you're not sure what to order check out their Tasting Flights, or just ask for help. Mmm, raw oysters, wood grilled fish, great chowder for the cold weather, a crab cake or two and an awesome, really fairly priced wine list. What more could you want? A business trip somewhere near a Legal Seafoods! Congratulations on a job well done.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    Great article.
    I would like to see more of this coverage of an establishments wine list and prices. This is helpful and makes decisions ot where to eat much easier, especially in an area that is new to you.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 12:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748


    Sometime when I'm on the road I wish I had something simple like this to fall back on.

    I'll see if I can expand on this theme without getting too esoteric.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 1:04 PM

  • Snooth User: jacket88
    246067 51

    I agree. Great article. I too, would like to see more coverage on this. I've always wondered how certain wines showed up on fine dining chains' wine lists.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 1:05 PM

  • Snooth User: mmrmaid
    304930 43

    nice article! i worked for OSI for ten years back in the day (1990s) it was my first introduction to decent wine - we of course carried australian wine at outback, which was just starting to make a splash - wines that are commonplace today like rosemount and black opal..we even carried jordan cabernet! unbelievable. i think it was our most expensive bottle at $30...

    Sep 20, 2010 at 1:10 PM

  • Legal is definitely and best and they have been working on it a long time. Great mix of reliable standbys and experimental varietals. Just when you think you have tried all the white wine out there, they throw you a curve ball!

    Sep 20, 2010 at 1:21 PM

  • Snooth User: Linda Kay
    490245 25

    Good info. Hope my adult children and former students enjoy this!

    Sep 20, 2010 at 2:34 PM

  • Perhaps it's only a matter of semantics but I believe King Estate sells a "Pinot Gris" (same grape of course) not "Pinot Grigio". I've had their Pinot Gris it is excellent for the money.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 3:05 PM

  • Check out Mike's Wine Dive in Wichita kansas, Great wine list for the midwest! there list is on line at! Really surprising!

    Sep 20, 2010 at 7:18 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Roy's used to be a whole lot better (both the menu and the wine list), and was a very special place to visit, when it was just Roy (publicly, anyway) running it, and only had two or three locations on Oahu (probably not even Maui yet when I was most frequenting it a couple of decades ago). It had lost its soul when I later visited its Tokyo clone. What is it about corporate American-style MBA-centric management that really kills that soul, and customer service, even though CS is such an important concept in lipservice (and form vs. content) terms in that world? I still cook a number of dishes at home that I picked up from Roy's in Hawaii Kai that he himself guided me to.

    You're attempting to address that soul-kill issue in this article, and good for you for that. But it really boils down to eternally, continuing, increasingly large compromises when dealing with chains, and I view even the better of them not as 'fine-dining' but mediocre dining, somewhere between fast food and real, good restaurants. I almost never frequent them for that reason, even when it would be more convenient, and always look for one-offs, or small local (two or three like Roy first was) chains, more particularly sister one-offs, in a small chain put together by a creative chef-owner or restaurant producer. It's always interesting to ask concierges at hotels, business counterparts I'm meeting in that town, people I know privately in the region, etc. Even fly by the seat of my pants and go into places on street impression, rather than hit the chains. It's really a lonelier world when we stay at impersonal hotel/motel chains and have to use Yelp or whomever to get a clue about eating places in any given town.

    How do you navigate/eat when you're in Italy, Greg?

    Sep 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Oh yeah, and as to specifics of your list, Ruth's Chris falls well within the scope of my description, though they're generally north of a lot of Outback locations (even though I've found myself more in the latter with groups of friends). Legal didn't used to so much, and I used to like to visit some of their Beantown originalish locations a couple of decades ago and even used to eat at their location in the Pru in Boston a few years later when I had to stay at the Sheraton there, but by that time they were heading well in the direction of non-descript, and much further growth. Would rather go to the North End, a couple of places in the Back Bay, or WTH, even Quincy Market if I want something touristy, now. Better yet, a couple of clam shacks on the North Shore. ;-)

    Guess if I was stuck in an airport somewhere and they were there I would use them, but not if on my feet in a real town. And I'm not trying to be snobbish here, but do feel strongly about how life for all of us hasn't necessarily been heading in the right direction as it's further industrialized. I'd definitely rather give my money to someone local trying to do something different, than help the bottom line of some remotely headquartered, homogenized, pasteurized, strictly-controlled corporate clone dishing out calories.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 8:25 PM

  • Snooth User: waynemcm
    516165 16

    I really enjoyed this article as I find myself in many of these places when traveling and too exhausted to look for something new. And is it always necessary to read dmcker's ramblings on every subject written about?????? Can you really be an expert on everything????????? And remember every now and then the glass is half full.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 10:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    "How do you navigate/eat when you're in Italy, Greg?"

    Too late, and too full of rather California Cabernet, to go into much detail here but...

    In Italy I wander around, see who is busy, ask people, and know that I can get a decent glass of wine just about anywhere.

    If I were a tourist visiting NYC i might stumble into Olive garden or Red Lobster if I looked for the busiest places.

    I've have been steered as wrong as right by concierges so that is of limited trustworthiness to me.

    Bottom line is, sometimes one has to make due with the best that is available. For example even I have been know to buy a coffee at Starbucks, when stuck in an airport with only a Starbucks.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 11:30 PM

  • One of the things I love about Italy is that it's hard to get a bad meal there ---the quality of the cooking is just that good, even in the most humble trattorias. So I just relax and don't agonize over where to eat.

    Sep 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    waynemcm, merely someone who's encountered a few things in a few different locales and maintained interest all the while. Don't tend to just accept unquestionably what people want to feed me in whatever context.

    Certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me, but am a fan of dialogs and discussions and how we can gain more knowledge from them. Always interested to read any more you'd wish to share with us.

    I certainly understand the logistical needs and compromises behind Greg's well-considered article, since I've traveled a lot on business in North America and elsewhere. Which has lead to my views expressed above....

    Sep 21, 2010 at 12:16 AM

  • Snooth User: vikilee
    564528 1

    They all sound great, but none can touch LA Prime Steakhouse in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Their Fabulous Top Forty list offers 47 wines at $7.00 above their cost. These prices are less than any discount wine store and there are some great selections; such as, 2005 Alexander Valley Silver Oak for $47.00. Who can beat that? And, you can get a great steak to go with it. Hope this deal goes on forever. VLB

    Sep 21, 2010 at 12:31 AM

  • Snooth User: napagirl68
    Hand of Snooth
    87843 2,860

    Interesting read.. while I agree that sometimes you have to "settle" in life, and hit a chain restaurant, or a hotel chain's bar (as I've mentioned in forum posts), it is never my first choice. Typically, if I know where I am going ahead of time, I REALLY research and delve into where I should eat. I look at the wine lists online, and I even check corkage policies. This is with some notice, of course. Sometimes you are on business with others, and you don't get to make the choice, or you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere on business (can't help but think of that George clooney movie, Up in the Air!)- So it is nice to see which chains have drinkable wine available.
    I tend to not trust Yelp, as mostly 20-somethings tend to be the ones rating things, at least in my area. Their inherent lack of experience does not lend well to recommending wineries/restaurants based on quality... lots of comments about the crowds and the inexpensiveness of the food/wine.

    I can tell you one chain I absolutely detest- Morton's. Their food is extremely overpriced and mediocre, and their wine list was severely lacking, IMO. I ate at one of their locations out of town once (one of those desperation things- everything else booked-and very hungry). It is the last time I will set foot in that chain. I was giddy when I recently read a food editor's SCATHING review of Morton's of SF in the SF chronicle. It made my day :-)

    Sep 21, 2010 at 1:21 AM

  • Snooth User: Hawk101
    554560 37

    waynemcm wrote: "And is it always necessary to read dmcker's ramblings on every subject written about?????? Can you really be an expert on everything?????????"

    Of course not. Nobody is forcing any of us to read anything. On the other hand, I'm one who enjoys his posts. I don't always agree but that isn't necessary. In fact I learn more reading different views and opinions than my own.

    I know I can't be an expert on everything. If being an expert were a prerequsite to posting, I'd be banished to the "nothing" forum; that's all I'm expert in. You do raise a very interesting point, which would be the subject of a separate thread. How much do we rely on "expert" opinions. I find that in matters of taste, such as wine, food, preferences in movies, art, etc. that quite often the "expert" opinion is not particularly helpful to me: either because it is written with such expertise language that I don't understand it; or it is so abstruse I cannot relate to it. On the other hand, there are times when the expert opinion is very helpful to me. So the answer is, for me, I can't be an expert and I don't always have to have expert opinions in order to be interested or learn something from a subject.

    I would hope that agreeing with someone is not the prerequisite for enjoyable conversation here, or anywhere for that matter. Please be assured I intend no disrespect by writing this. It's just another opinion....mine.

    Sep 21, 2010 at 12:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Polly4
    491750 11

    An absolutely fascinating article leaves me wondering if any of these chains, especially Legal Seafoods is located anywhere near New Orleans, my next destination, not that I'll be wanting for good food down there. By the way, I just enjoyed a glass of Chateau Ste Michelle Select Harvest Reisling. Yum, just a great sipper!

    Nov 06, 2010 at 11:36 PM

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