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Bern's wine menu: The list to end all lists

The annual compilation of Bern’s wine collection is due out this month.

Photo by Amy Pezzicara

The annual compilation of Bern’s wine collection is due out this month.

It's the area's ultimate list.

More than 6,500 selections over 180 pages. Bound like a book, soon in its 61st edition.

We're talking about the wine list for Bern's Steak House, with its 500,000-bottle wine collection.

The list debuted in 1960, not long after the restaurant opened on S Howard Avenue. These days, it comes out once a year, usually in December and January. Wine connoisseurs salivate over every new edition.

The list is organized by wine type and country, with red and whites from France having the largest representation, followed by American and Italian selections. Bin numbers tell the cellar locations.

The latest edition due out this month has the most expensive bottle ever on the list: a double magnum 1947 Chateau Latour priced at $30,000. The first-growth Bordeaux made headlines recently after a sommelier discovered it in the rare wine room, untouched for decades, waiting to make the list.

The restaurant's three sommeliers start work on the next wine list in August, adding new items and deleting ones no longer in stock. By year's end, the menus are full of scratched off selections.

Bern's owner David Laxer and the sommeliers make selections by consensus and sample wines year-round. They reprint the 140-selection wine by-the-glass menu every two to three months. Dessert wines make up a separate 20-page list.

The sommeliers compile the big wine book electronically and send it to a printer. They make a several hundred copies for the restaurant and retail store, which sells them for $25 apiece. Old editions regularly show up on eBay for $150 or more, depending on the quality and year.

The list reads much like a history book dating to the 19th century. Wines too young to drink go on the list as "In Cellar'' to show guests the collection's depth and integrity. Wines that have been recorked, such as several old Lafite Rothschild bottles, are noted with a "b.''

"We're always thinking about the next batch of wine people are going to sell,'' said sommelier Trey Christy.

Early lists included encyclopedia-like information on wine regions and vineyards that Bern Laxer visited. He took the photos and wrote the text himself, filling the front half of the book for his customers' reading pleasure.

The restaurant ended the textbook format in the '80s, when adding and updating the information became too time-consuming. Bern Laxer died in 2002.

An old version stays in a kitchen office, a reminder of the list's roots. Laxer devoted it to his patient wife, Gert.

"How many wives would have put up with a husband who bought wine instead of clothes,'' he wrote. "Wine instead of furniture. Wine instead of clothes.''

To his wife, he lovingly dedicated "this absurd list.''

Reserve a seat

Bern's Steak House takes dinner reservations up to three months in advance, starting at 8 a.m. the first day of each month. For example, on Jan. 1st, reservations opened for March. Reservations for Valentine's Day opened Dec. 1 and went quickly. All that's left now are 4 and 9:30 p.m. seatings. Call (813) 251-2421.

Bern's wine menu: The list to end all lists 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 3:04pm]
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