Riffing on Wine Bar Pricing: The Wine List at Riffs

I want to be clear upfront I am no wine expert. I simply know enough to determine what I like and what I don’t like.

I also want to be clear that Riffs, the new establishment at 1115 Pearl Street in Boulder, does not claim to be a wine bar. Quite the opposite, it calls itself a “foodbar”. Nevertheless, they do offer “carefully chosen beverages”. This review is about the wine.

I was taken with the ambiance of Riffs – not too crowded, pleasant staff, and open spaces. The bartender on our first visit, Matthew, was exceptionally nice and welcoming. He remembered our names, topped off our glasses, and chatted with us when appropriate.

Riffs has a nicely-sized wine list, with a total of 28 wines on the menu. I much prefer this to one with 100 different wines, where I find it impossible to sort through too many choices.

I also appreciate that during “cocktail hour” from 2:00 – 6:00 PM daily, glasses of wine are 25% off. I get to drink high-dollar wines during on business trips. At home, however, I am looking for value purchases of great wines in the $8 – $12 range at my local liquor store, which I find totally realistic. Price is important to most of us.

When I delved into Riff’s wine list, therefore, I was disappointed. Go ahead – click on over and take a look at it. The cheapest wine on the list is an Evodia Grenache from Spain at $7 per glass. Next up is an $8 Malbec from Argentina followed by three wines at $9 per glass: a Primitivo and a Sangiovese from Italy and something called a Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red from Australia. After that is a Brassfield Eruption (also unknownl) from California at $10 per glass and everything else is $12 and up.

I simply see little reason to pay $10 a glass for wine in Boulder. The Med has a list of 20 red wines by the glass, only one of which is over $20. Baccaro has 11 of its 15 glass wines priced at less than $10.  And all eight of The Kitchen Next Door’s wines-by-the-glass are less than a tenner.

Now I love that Riffs has stayed away from standard bottom dwellers on wine lists, such as Kendall-Jackson, Berringer, or Woodbridge. And I love that Riffs offers an interesting Malbec at $8/glass and two interesting Italian wines for a dollar more.

The problem is, when I visited, one of the Italians was out and I wasn’t fond of the second or the Grenache. The bartender couldn’t tell me what grapes were in the Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red and I settled, happily but without much choice, for the Malbec.

That suited me fine until I reached for the menu again, perused my options, and order the same Malbec for my second glass. I was already feeling short of options.

I loved the feel of Riffs but I am not overly keen to return because of the limited selection of wines at a reasonable price. I will be looking for Riffs to change up their wine menu, offering interesting choices in the $6 to $8 range. I think that is what much of Boulder wants.

And don’t get me started on the six draft beers – that will have to be another post.