Pleasant surprises at Porter's

For many years, the steaks at Porter’s Steakhouse have been well worth the drive to southern Illinois. But the beef’s not the only reason to head to Collinsville. In the local wine world, sommelier Jeff Callahan is an übermensch, having established a solid reputation many years ago for his ability to pair food and wine. At Porter’s, his list of nearly 200 wines covers all the bases – it will make conservative “must have Cabernet Sauvignon” types happy, but it also encourages diners to think out of the Cabernet box.

Designed to pair with a menu that offers so many red-meat selections, it is no surprise that the wine list is 2/3 reds. It is refreshing, though, that only about a third of the reds are Cabs. A section titled “exotic dry reds” contains over a dozen well-thought-out selections. Of these, intriguing options include Grenache, Monastrell and Tempranillo from Spain, which are always ready to take on a grilled piece of meat. A very rare Petite Verdot from Meeker Vineyard in Mendocino County, Calif., caught my eye – this Bordeaux varietal is generally hidden somewhere in a blend and rarely gets top billing.

Callahan takes the same innovative approach when it comes to the list’s whites. Callahan has nearly three times as many selections in the Global Dry Whites category as he does Chardonnays – it was fun to see fewer than 10 Chardonnays. The selection of interesting whites includes the aromatic Boutari Moschofilero from Greece, Gruner Veltliner from Austria, Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Albarino from Spain and Argentine Torrontes.

Wines by the glass are an ever-important factor in wine-list development. Porter’s list offers 15 wines in multiple categories, so everyone should be able to find something they like. Callahan is great at steering inquisitive diners to interesting and unexpected selections, and his list is stacked with them. The half-bottle choices are a bit weighted toward sweeter wines, but there are also dry reds and whites, as well as sparklings.

I was pleased to see that local wines are also represented, including Mary Michelle Winery’s solidly constructed Chardonel; Owl Creek Framboise, a raspberry dessert wine from the Shawnee Hills AVA; and Pheasant Hollow Black & Blue, a sweet after-dinner red wine made from blackberries and blueberries ¬– all from southern Illinois. (With the increase in the number of wineries in Illinois over the last few years, I expect Callahan’s local offerings will only increase.)

The dessert wine selection was fairly extensive – it includes five true Portos. It also contains several slightly quirky selections, including an Austrian Ausbruch and a very rarely seen Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon region of southern France.

The wine list at Porter’s Steakhouse is large enough to please both the traditionalist as well as the adventuresome, another reason to make the drive to Collinsville soon.