2012 Saviah Cellars Girl & the Goat

2012 Saviah Cellars Girl & the Goat

Walla Walla AVA, WA

Wine Tasting Note:

Rich, fruity blackberry, plum and spice on the nose. Fruit forward blackberry, plum and black currant on the palate, moving to a mid-palate and finish of copious amounts of dark chocolate. Spicy white pepper and cinnamon undertones. Medium-high acidity and medium tannin structure. Nice silky mouth-feel with an extra long finish. Super well-balanced wine. Drinking great right now… best window: 2016-2019. I wish this was more widely available than just in the restaurant in Chicago. I was gifted this bottle by Richard Funk the winemaker/owner at Saviah Cellars who took on the challenge of making this wine for Stephanie Izard – owner of Girl & the Goat. This wine is produced from his near perfect estate Petit Verdot vintage in Walla Walla during 2012. This is a superlative wine for drinking by itself and with food. I drank this with a coffee rubbed NY strip and it was a great match. 50% Petit Verdot, 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc.

I don’t know whether the vision for this wine was the chef’s, or the winemaker’s, but this turned out to be a wonderful wine. Richard Funk is a great guy. I really enjoyed spending time with him during our last trip to  Walla Walla. He really hit a home run with this wine and I hope that Petit Verdot vineyard of his produces more great vintages in the future!

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Walla Walla Valley, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Climate Change and Wine

 

Not to minimize, or take away from the tragedy currently unfolding in Napa/Sonoma… our prayers go out to the families who are dealing with such terrible loss.

It is difficult to discuss causes this early, but I think all of us can easily recognize these fires are being worsened by very dry conditions. I have been talking to folks in the industry for months about the unseasonably hot and dry growing season this year and its impact, well before these fires added a horrible punctuation mark to the conversation. This should put the topic of climate change front and center in the minds of those in the wine industry – not just in the U.S., but globally…

Rising Trends

The long-term impact of global warming should have the largest effect on vineyard varietal selection. In the next 20 years will we see Napa/Sonoma start replanting vineyards to warm climate varietals? Will the vineyards start to look more like the Southern Rhone? In 20 years will Oregon/Washington State become the new Napa?

The short-term impact will be on harvest timing/strategies and winemaking. Before the fires, I saw a few CA winemakers chatting on Facebook about how the unusually hot harvest in 2017 might cause them to adjust their approach from past years. It will likely be the estate wineries that can be flexible and creative enough to weather this transition well (pun?).

Let’s start with a very important basic presumption: balanced wines are preferred and desirable. Napa moving to easy drinking Lodi Zinfandel style wines just doesn’t seem like an option to me. I have spoken to several winemakers over the past five years that are already experimenting with interesting techniques… These conversations have led me to realize that the steady trend toward more single vineyard wines and estate wineries is happening for many reasons beyond marketing strategies. Winemakers are reaching the conclusion that more control over the growing process is vital to the production of premium quality wines. These techniques may have a more far-reaching impact though: as options to minimize the effect of a warming climate…

How Can the Industry Adjust to Climate Change Now?

I am sure there are much smarter people out there with more training and great ideas on this topic, but this thought occurred to me recently…

Multiple Harvest Windows?

This strategy is basically, separating a vineyard into blocks and varying the harvest timing… requiring multiple harvest passes at different times in one vineyard. I can’t tell you how many other winemakers have told me this is a gimmicky, trendy technique and is a waste of time and money. I have tried to see the negative viewpoint, but the final consideration always comes back to the supporting science.

Before a winemaker can consider this alternative strategy, he/she has to either: be working for an estate winery, or have influence and control over the grower. I have talked to several winemakers/winegrowers who split harvest timing across several days/weeks to handle individual vineyard blocks separately. This can take advantage of rustic elements present in the fruit from earlier harvest vs. more advanced flavors/phenolic development from later harvest. Although, if the nights are not at least cool during Fall harvest season, good acidity levels will still be difficult to achieve. Earlier harvest can also control sugar in the must (fruit) and subsequent alcohol content in the wine. Some are taking this thinking a step further and investing in the equipment and resources to perform small-batch fermentation of each separately harvested block… to add complexity and balance via blending. In a world where Fall is becoming warmer, an interesting investigation might be whether earlier harvest in one block could help offset the impact of a more traditionally timed harvest in another?

Popular Wine Grape Varieties and Vineyard Location

The Bordeaux grape varieties that comprise the majority of red wine currently sold in the world (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec & Carmenere), do not produce classic wine styles when grown in warmer climates. That doesn’t mean there aren’t varietals grown in warm climates that don’t produce structured, balanced wines… Syrah, Grenache, Aglianico, Tannat, Tempranillo (to name a few)… but to go down this path, the majority of the world’s vineyards ( from 35th to 45th parallels) would have to be replanted AND the world would have to be re-educated on which varietals to drink.

When grown in a warm climate, the most common wine grape varieties in the world, tend to produce simple, easier drinking wines that do not pair well with food. Regardless of the necessities driven by global warming, it is unlikely that consumers will accept new styles of wine simply because current vineyards are not planted in cooler climates.

Forest Fires, Vineyard Fires & Climate Change

There will never be a good approach to bringing these pieces together. Vineyards need to be starved of water and nutrients in a carefully controlled process to concentrate flavors and produce complex premium wines. Vineyards cannot be over-watered, which means they will always be “dry” by definition. As global warming continues, it will be critical to clear an open space around vineyards, so scrub and forest cannot easily transfer fire conditions by proximity. I can’t tell you how many vineyards in the mountains around Napa and Sonoma are nestled in and completely surrounded by forest. What makes for a beautiful setting, may cause a fire risk that is no longer acceptable. Any change along these lines could dramatically change the picturesque nature of wine country (California?) moving forward.

Change is a disruptor we all have difficulty contending with in many areas of our lives. It is likely wineries and wine enthusiasts alike will have to change expectations in coming years.

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Can You Trust a Wine Recommendation?

Everyone tastes wine differently. Although, I think it is important to note from where the recommendation is coming. A friend you drink with frequently and know what they enjoy? Sure. An attendant at a wine store? Not so much…

So, maybe you can trust friends, or family to make a reasonable recommendation, but can you trust your wine retailer? I attended a wine tasting hosted by Total Wine this evening and was so dumbfounded by the event, it seemed important to write about. See the brochure for the event below. Perhaps you have attended something similar at the Total Wine near you?

Wine Re-Sellers

A new store manager introduced herself and it seemed the intent of the event was to meet some of her higher volume customers. I purchase enough wine and spirits from the Total Wine near me to have earned a membership in the top tier of their Total Discovery club. This was a free event for a select group.

I have never tasted such a poor selection geared toward wine enthusiasts in one place. What kind of impression was the new manager trying to make? Either, she was never trained to select quality wines, or this event was used as an opportunity to push a bunch of awful wine with higher profit margins. Either way, a sad proposition. The previous manager at least included a few better wines in every event and made it worth attending. This was outright torture. I happen to overhear a customer asking how she could dislike so many of the wines and the attendant responded something like this: “These wines might not appeal to everyone. You should stretch your thinking to include other wine styles.” Oh my gosh, she was pulling the shame card. As if the poor, unsophisticated know-nothing wine drinker could just open their mind… and appreciate other “important” wine styles. The assumption is suggested that we are totally incapable of judging impartially what a “good” wine is. While this approach was nearly insulting, the idea is one I have used before in discussions with wine enthusiasts. That is… if the wines are actually selected to represent good examples of their region of origin. In this case, it was used as an excuse.

So, how does the average consumer investigate and select wines to purchase? Too often, you are stuck depending on recommendations from wine attendants that share a supposedly educated opinion regarding the quality of available wine carried in their inventory. So, what if these attendants are self-serving and recommend wines that they are told to promote? Perhaps at a higher profit? This is a clear betrayal of trust. This night, I heard memorized talking points taken from marketing pieces with very little relevance to the actual product. Do any of these wine educated people have a personal opinion?

The Wines

  •  Mailly – NV Champagne Grand Cru Delice
  • Albrecht – 2015 Pinot Gris
  • Amici – 2015 Chardonnay
  • Ceja – 2009 Pinot Noir
  • Ringland – 2014 Shiraz Barossa Valley
  • H to H – 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape
  • Truett Hurst – 2015 One Armed Man
  • Titus – 2014 Cabernet Suavignon Napa Valley

Wine Tasting Notes and Comments

Mailly – I have never tasted a Mailly Champagne I liked. This producer threw the time-honored Champagne flavor profiles out the window to make what they must think us crazy Americans will buy! Champagne should be clean and crisp and the bubbles should dance on your tongue. This was their Demi-Sec (slightly sweet) variety. The wine was thick and rich and cloyingly sweet. It had a strong bitter aftertaste. The typical yeasty smell of some champagnes was on the nose, but on the palate it seemed to add a buttery character to the wine. Save your money and buy some Mumm Cuvee instead, or spend a little extra to buy a Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee.

Albrecht – What happened to Albrecht Pinot Gris? My memory of their wines puts them in the same category as Trimbach for quality. Maybe it was this vintage? This was tasteless with no aroma. For a similar price, try a Trimbach PG instead.

Amici – This is a totally manipulated Chardonnay, with too much oak. There was a strong bitter flavor that often comes from a malolactic fermentation that did not go as planned. This is rich and buttery, but the fruit is not fresh and it should have had more acidity. Way down on my list. For less money, try the Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and experience a proper entry level oaked Chardonnay.

Ceja – The first reasonable quality wine of the night. This offered a fairly average representation of a typical Carneros Pinot Noir. I am not a big fan of all that fresh red cherry in these wines, but at least this one was pretty typical. Try Schug, or Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir instead for something a little more interesting at about the same price.

Ringland – Ugh, sweet medicinal cough syrup. ’nuff said.

H to H – The second of the two reasonable wines. This is a fair representation of a Chateauneuf du Pape and at this price point: a good effort. It misses the jammy fruit, tannins and acidic structure you would expect. On the other hand, it IS hard to find a good CDP for less than $40/btl.

Truett Hurst – We were told this wine was better than “The Prisoner” and once tasted, you will never go back. This “One Armed Man” tasted like it really needed the other arm. The wine tasted mostly like a cheap Paso or Lodi Zinfandel. The Prisoner blend doesn’t hit you in the face with the Zin and other varietals are added to bring tannins and acidity to the party. For a few dollars more, find The Prisoner on sale and enjoy.

Titus – I am not sure I can even put this in the average Napa cab category. This is over-oaked and manipulated to add a soft, smooth texture at the expense of the freshness of the fruit. A young Napa cab should have fresh fruit, high acidity and tannins. This wine was short on all the character that makes a Napa cab special. For near the same price, try the Baldacci Four Brothers Cab Sauv and taste what a Napa wine should be at this price.

What Can You Do?

Here is a simple suggestion: read the back of the bottle, or do a quick internet search at the winery website first… then ask the attendant their opinion. If what you are told is the same, run away as far and as fast as you can AND be suspicious if this bottle just happens to be their favorite. Try other shops/stores and look for someone who will give you their actual opinion. If it varies from what is printed on the bottle, you are in luck! Then, hopefully you get a follow-up question similar to: what do you like?, or what other wines do you already buy? There’s your evidence of a keeper, a wine attendant you can trust!

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2006 Macarico Aglianico del Vulture

2006 Macarico Aglianico del Vulture

Basilicata, Italy

Wine Tasting Note:

Fruity nose of blackberry, plum and black currant with hints of leather and pepper. After 11 years this is still a BIG wine. All the black fruit comes through on the palate with loads of white pepper that turns to black pepper on the finish. The earth shows as brambly fruit and leather, beginning on the mid-palate and getting stronger during a very long finish. This wine is still very tannic and the acidity is high. The fruit is still fresh, but starting to show age. Best drinking window: 2016-2022. This drinks very much like a young Gigondas Southern Rhone wine heavy on Syrah in the blend. Personally, I can enjoy strong tannins, when the wine is complex and balanced like this. If you don’t know Rhone wines, the closest domestic comparison would be young, robust Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Like Napa Cabs, this varietal tends to pair well with BBQ and red meat. Aglianico is always a good value, always ages well and is the best varietal of Southern Italy!

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Another Pretty Margaux: 2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

2000 Chateau Rauzan-Segla

Margaux AOC, France

Tasting Note:

Soft decant and drank over three hours with a friend after dinner. The typical pretty, elegant Margaux character is very evident. What started out with a beautiful silky texture, thinned a bit after two hours. The very funky strong forest floor aroma lasted about the same time frame, before it blew off to reveal an interesting highly complex nose that was definitely not fruit forward. The nose was full of earth, leather, tobacco and graphite with a little blackberry. The palate is simpler leading with earth and graphite, followed by blackberry and plum, mid-palate of dark chocolate following through with a short finish. Still a highly structured wine, even after its age, having medium-high acidity and tannins and noticeable alcohol (not overwhelming). All in all a very nice, somewhat typical Margaux with most of what you would expect. Drinking window: 2012-2020.

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2010 Chateau Margene Cielo Rosso

Wine Tasting Note:

2010 Chateau Margene Cielo Rosso

Paso Robles, CA 

Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet & Sangiovese coming from this Paso Robles, CA producer. Very fruity nose of plum and raspberry, with a touch of herbal mint. The palate is very fruit forward and quite plummy with raspberry tones that blend to become boysenberry. Medium high acidity, low tannins and a touch of residual sugar. A bit of texture in the mouth. There is a medium-long finish of dark chocolate. Presents like a very fruity Super Tuscan. We drank most of this bottle with a coffee rubbed prime rib. It was a beautiful pairing. The bitterness of the coffee subdued the fruit and sweetness and produced a solid match. The last glass of the bottle on its own, left the impression of a better quality Apothic (http://www.apothic.com/) style wine, without all the oak and having better acidity. Soft, reasonable structure for a 7 year old wine, but needed to be paired with the right food. Without the coffee rubbed steak, a serious miss. Should have been under $30/btl., for an easy drinking food-friendly wine. Poor value for the $45+ price.

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Can You Identify Wines Matching Your Taste? Part 1 – Wine Without Food

2011-07-06-wine

Wine online has become such a gimmicky topic. Today, we have wine questionnaires that profess to tell us which wine we will prefer. If we like strong coffee, or bitter dark chocolate, we will enjoy this wine, or that… such bull. Many trained wine professionals choose to define wine styles by defining categories of wine. I will try something similar, but approach it from the opposite viewpoint: by categorizing wine enthusiast preferences. This two part series will break the issue apart into primary categories: those who enjoy wine by itself and those who prefer wine with food. This will be my opportunity to share a few observations with you from my experience.

With Food, or Not?

The first question your server in a restaurant should always ask is: “Will you be enjoying a beverage before, after, or with your meal tonight?” Next, “Beer, wine, cocktail?” For those answering wine with your meal, the final question should be: “to assist you with a wine selection, which dish(es) are you considering?” These questions are at the core of what a properly trained fine dining waiter/waitress does: pair food and wine… but not everyone in the U.S. drinks wine with food. So, unlike most Old World restaurants/bars, a U.S. wine service attendant has to think differently and broaden their mind to include clients that drink wine before, or after a meal, or those who drink wine like many beer drinkers: “I just want to go out today/tonight, hang-out and have a few.”

Which Type of Drinker are YOU?

Wine produced in Europe in traditional Old World styles is specifically made to taste its best when paired with food. Although, there are many European wines made to drink without food today, all the traditional labels are meant to be food friendly. Keep this in mind, when you are searching out a new wine to try. How do you determine if your palate is geared to wine with food? If you are a “Foodie” that can appreciate nuanced, or bold vs. subtle flavors, or velvetty vs. silky textures, or enjoy sweet & salty together, or appreciate how acidity breaks through richness… if you are not drinking wine with food, you should give it a try. If you enjoy wine on its own, it is likely you experience alcoholic beverages differently than “Foodie” types. I believe there are two categories here. Those who: enjoy how wine (or alcoholic beverages) makes them feel, or those that focus on how it tastes.

All About the Wine Experience?

The focus on experiencing wine without food puts you in the “feel” category. When you prefer to enjoy a conversation over a glass of wine, relax with or without friends taking in atmosphere and enjoying social pursuits, you are unlikely to be a wine drinker overly concerned about structure in wine, or looking for complex/subtle flavors. In fact, many I have run into with this preference, find these types of wines annoying. This isn’t wrong, bad, or unsophisticated, it is just who you are – embrace it. It is probably the largest category of wine drinker in the U.S. It is OK to be all about finding good atmosphere and drinking straight-forward, easy-drinking wines. So, how do you find these wines and stay away from the others? Wine critics are unlikely to review lower-cost, simple wines. This is a serious missing piece in wine culture: professionals typically don’t review this category of wine. In my opinion, this is a contributor to many wine drinkers being turned-off by the supposed high-brow attitudes in the biz. Here are some mandatory descriptors for wines like this, if you can find a review:  low to medium acidity, little or no tannins and fruit-forward (fruity taste first).

All About the Taste?

A little more “complex” may be good for you. This kind of consumer should put a little effort into exploration, attend wine tastings and decide whether you enjoy the common categories of these flavors: earthy (dirt, bramble), mineral (crushed rock), funk (forest floor/manure), kerosene (petrol), herbal/spice (mint, pepper/cinnamon), vegetal (tobacco, tomato) and floral (violets, honeysuckle). For this category of drinker, the next two elements are most critical: residual sugar (sweetness) and high/low alcohol. The usual easy-drinking wine has at least some residual sugar and an average alcohol content in these ranges: reds 13-15%, whites 12-14%. These characteristics contribute to the description you may want to learn that ensures the wine will taste “good” to you. For example, this request to an attendant: “I prefer low acid, low tannin, fruit-forward wines that have some residual sugar and are easy-drinking.”

Suggested Wines

This category of consumer will likely enjoy these easy-to-find U.S. origin wines. Examples: Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine & Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandels, Apothic Red (sweet & buttery – if you like that), Meiomi Pinot Noir (rich style vs. other PN), Andrew Murray Tous Les Jours Syrah, Robert Hall Cuvee de Robles, Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast, Twisted & Chateau Souverain Chardonnays, Handley Anderson Valley Gewurtztraminer or Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (for a little adventure) .

This is probably the best website on the net to find this type of wine reviewed: https://www.reversewinesnob.com/ . Enjoy!

Next up:

Part 2 – Wine with Food

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Wine by the Glass at Restaurants and Bars

Are You Being Served Spoiled Wine ?

Great topic, but most relevant (I think) for the restaurant and bar trade. Most establishments don’t write the pop date on the bottle and even with single bottle storage solutions, I frequently am served oxidized wine. How many consumers just grin and bear it? Before my training, I kept my mouth shut because I couldn’t describe what I was tasting… I just knew it didn’t taste right. For everyone out there that is tired of this issue, there is an answer. On Madeline’s site right here there are two pieces that explain the issue: http://winefolly.com/tutorial/wine-faults/ and http://winefolly.com/tuto…/how-to-tell-if-wine-has-gone-bad/. Learn how to describe the problem and don’t tolerate spoiled wine! (pet-peeve of mine!). See the link to the original piece below:

 

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Wine Certifications MW, CWE, WSET and MS? Differences AND Why You Want To Know

Why Should a Wine Consumer Care?

You are attending a wine tasting, wine class, an attendant is recommending a wine at a restaurant, buying a wine at a shop, or deciding which vintage to pop from your cellar… If you are an average consumer and “Two Buck Chuck” (okay, probably $4 now) is your thing, please move on to the next article of interest. If wine selection is a bit more important to you read on…

Most wine enthusiasts are faced with these situations frequently and try to make sense of the value proposition. Do you trust recommendations? How could wine professionals understand what you enjoy? Should I pay $20 for a bottle, or maybe splurge and spend $30? What IS a quality wine and how does it taste different? Which food tastes better with which type of wine?

If you spend any time asking yourself these questions, you need to know the difference between these certifications. Well, why should you trust my explanation? If a certification helps to define my content here… I have trained formally, tested and passed the first two levels of Sommelier certifications. Strictly speaking, I am a certified Professional Sommelier. The next level is Advanced and then Master Sommellier. There are a little over 200 MS certified individuals in the world and just the Master test requires a 3 day commitment for the Theory, Service and Tasting sections. Even with a fair amount of experience, it would take me a year (or more) off work to study for that one! All of these certifications require much preparation and are quite an accomplishment. The failure rate for all of these tests is high.

What is a Master of Wine (MW)?

The certification body is the Institute of Masters of Wine and requires a research project and paper. This should give you an idea of the direction here. The path here is Stages 1,2 and 3, prior to the Master designation. An MW will KNOW virtually everything about all wines around the world: all varietals, how they are farmed, all individual world Terroir, vineyard strategies, winemaking techniques, wine taste variation, etc. Where do these people play in the industry? Usually, they work as technical consultants to media, wineries, publications, distributors and importers, etc. There is much to learn about wine from one of these individuals, IF they know how to teach it.

What is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), or a WSET L4 certified Consultant?

The certification bodies here are the Society of Wine Educators and Wine & Spirits Education Trust. The path to CWE can be to study and test for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), or not. The path to WSET L4 typically goes through L1-L3. These are the most prestigious wine education organizations in the world and they certify as you might guess… the teachers of wine. Why is this distinction important? Think of these people as the educators. If you were to take a wine class, it would be good to have a teacher with one of these certs. It validates their level of knowledge and that they have been introduced to a methodology for teaching wine.

What is a Master Sommelier (MS)?

The most prestigious certifying body here is the Court of Master Sommeliers. I was certified by the International Sommeliers Guild (ISG). They are connected to the Food & Wine education programs at the Art Institutes in major cities in the U.S. In my case, the Phoenix Art Institute and we had the opportunity to work with the chef education program there for food pairing training. The path to MS is already described earlier in this article.

I have a real bias towards these people. The difference here is, you are trained on Theory, Tasting and SERVICE. Why is this different than the other certs? Yes, I was trained to understand how different varietals and styles TASTE and I was tasked to learn about wine production and growing, but the big difference here is the focus on FOOD and matching an individual palate. I was mentored to believe that there can be a difference in wine quality, but wine flavors only apply to an individual palate. There is no “bad tasting wine”, only wine flavors appreciated by different clients. I was trained to learn HOW to pair different flavors (both FOOD & WINE) with different clients and their perception of an enjoyable EXPERIENCE. In essence, this certification focuses on recognizing HOW & WHY people enjoy different foods and wines and how to build an experience that is tailored to an individual. Look for these certified attendants at RESTAURANTS. They will know their stuff and if you can get some one-on-one time, they will enhance your dining experience.

The Difference Based on Your Need

I think you will find this quick guide helpful and easily understandable. If you are taking a wine class, look for WSET and CWE certified individuals. If you have decided to start some sort of business in the wine industry, an MW as a consultant would be a good choice. If you are at a restaurant, a Sommelier on staff would be a good indication of the quality of their wine program. All of these individuals have a level of wine knowledge that can offer much to your personal wine experience, but there are differences as noted above. If you are participating in a wine tasting, any of these people could lead a group successfully with very interesting and rich content for you to enjoy.

So, keep an eye out and ask about certifications. There are a million so-called wine experts. In fact, some can be amazing. I have spent time with wine collectors that would blow you away. Although, if you want to be sure that your money is being spent wisely for classes, education, or dining… Look for the folks with formal training and certification testing. You will have a better chance of getting the most for your money and a much improved experience!

 

 

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Guide to Buying Wine at a Restaurant

Restaurant Wine Lists are intimidating, sometimes even for professionals. I know I feel pressure as the wine expert at the table to immediately grasp the entire wine library and recommend the best value and best paired selection with our meal(s). Here are a few suggestions:

Don’t Recognize Any Wines on the List?

If you don’t recognize a single wine on the list, the wine buyer is deliberately trying to:

  • Sell unknown garbage wines, because they do food… and beverage doesn’t matter (yes, I have met restaurateurs with this attitude)
  • Sell unknown wines you cannot price check with a wine app
  • Only listening to a distributor pushing unknown wineries producing cheap unknown wines that are priced to deliver ridiculous profits
  • Are true wine experts attempting to offer a broad selection from small boutique wineries from around the world that add interest to your wine discovery experience

How can you tell which situation you are dealing with? Ask to speak to the sommelier / wine steward / owner and ask him / her to give you a short explanation of their wine list and the wines they would recommend. You will be able to read the response… are they disinterested, don’t know their wines, can’t offer much background on the wines, or do they get excited about the opportunity to share their wine selection, have stories about the winemakers / wineries because they have visited them, ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR TASTE IN WINE, etc. It is likely you will know which kind of wine list you are dealing with pretty quickly. The bottom line is: if the list is not floating your boat… DRINK BEER, or HARD CIDER. This is especially true when eating spicy foods that do not pair well with wine.

Are the Wines Cheap Brands You Recognize?

This is the sign of a lazy beverage manager. Life is too short to drink bad wine. Again, I would drink beer, or hard cider.

Find a Wine Label You Know

Find a wine you know and buy at the store / shop at least occasionally and check the restaurant’s sell price. If it is twice the price per bottle (or less), you have found a manager / owner that is pricing wines fairly for the restaurant trade. For many of you, 100% mark-up may seem excessive, but there are justifications. If the wine is being served by the glass too, often a single glass is purchased and the balance of the wine is undrinkable after a day two. This makes it difficult to recover cost on the bottle. In addition, when wine is offered correctly, there is more investment in inventory than any other beverage type AND wine service when done correctly is labor intensive and requires higher cost employees. For the regular wine drinkers having familiarity with a few different brands, do what I do… pick a low, medium and high priced wine you know and check their sell price vs. the store bought price. I LIKE the restaurants that lower their profit percentage on higher priced wines as an incentive to up-sell and turn their wine inventory dollars.

Watch Out for Trendy Spots

I put extra scrutiny into my patronage at these restaurants. Are you getting interesting, imaginative wines and recommendations, or are the suggestions crazy, stupid, predictable and/or eye-poppingly expensive? Pay attention before you have had a few and it will be simple to assess. Of course, there are those establishments that are worth a visit just for the ambiance, or the people watching. I don’t expect much from these bars / restaurants, but do enjoy hanging out at these locations occasionally. Before you decide on a restaurant, you might want to include an assessment of your mood and add that into the selection process. It really does inform your approach to beverages: none, cocktails, beer, wine, etc.

Should You Stick With What You Know?

This a tough question. Is there a compelling reason not to pick a wine you have enjoyed previously? If you are anything like me, I often enjoy the adventure of selecting new wines, but only from restaurants that have a good wine list and with recommendations from knowledgeable attendants. This is why restaurants that do wine well are a strong draw for me… LISTENING RESTAURANT OWNERS?

Canvass Your Guests

If you are dining with friends / family chat about the beverages they enjoy. If you have wine in common, ask them about favorite brands, or what type of wines they enjoy. It is awkward when the wine hits the table and your choice is criticized.

The Choice

For all of us who are stuck with making the wine decision for the table, because either we are paying the check, or your guests are familiar with your wine knowledge… the bottom line is, you have to pick a bottle eventually. So, take a little advice from above, cross your fingers… and jump! With a little educated evaluation, it is likely to be a pretty good decision!

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