Category Archives: Restaurant

Can Wine Education be Fun and Interesting?

I hold consumer wine education programs, typically at wine bars and restaurants. The classes are intended to draw additional traffic to the venues to build a clientele and drive paired food revenue… but ultimately, consumers are drawn by the desire for wine knowledge.

What Consumers Want to Know

Through a few years of experience I have found what works and what doesn’t.  You can put people to sleep with the information that interested me in my formal training… history of wine production and regions, impact of terroir on flavors, impact of wine making techniques on the wine, etc.  What do people enjoy learning about?

Wine – Food Flavor Pairings

Learning how different food flavors impact the perception of the white, red, sweet wines, etc.  Setting up paired tastings to reinforce the concept.  Most are very surprised how food impacts wine.  It is rare to find casual wine drinkers that have explored this.

What are Those Flavors I am Tasting in Cabernet, or Merlot?

People want help learning standard varietal profiles.  Take them through the blind tasting process and how to create wine tasting notes.  They want to know how to talk about wine with others.  Blind taste a few for the wow factor.

How Do I Describe What I Enjoy to Wine Attendants?

Teach them how to describe their wine preferences to assist in wine selection at restaurants and wine bars.

How Do I Select Wines to Purchase Based on My Preferences?

Walk through a wine selection process based on that description, without tasting the wine.

Would I Enjoy Exploring the Diversity in Wine?

Introduce people to the diversity of flavors in wine and provide specific examples.

Would I Enjoy Wine Travel?

Discuss wine travel and destinations – relate stories of individual wineries, their beauty and ambiance.

ULTIMATELY, MOST PEOPLE WANT WINE TO BE FUN!

When I first began presenting these programs, I was disappointed people were not interested in the academic side.  Took a few to understand, they don’t want to talk about bottle aging, cellaring strategies, AOC & DOC labeling laws…  People just want to learn how to facilitate buying wine they enjoy and how to enhance their shared wine experience with friends.

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The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale has Become…

As wine media has begun reaching the consumer and wine critics are becoming rock stars… You have to ask yourself, just exactly how does this rating system work? On many websites, you will find an attempt at an explanation that reflects how the major critics SEEM to interpret it, but… does anyone really know definitively? There are no hard and fast rules. So hear is a quick look under the hood from the perspective of using the ratings as a method of selecting wines for your cellar.

As you walk through wine websites, you begin to notice there are virtually no ratings under 80, or over 95. I think the worst rating I have ever given a wine is 82. Of course this seems absurd, but regardless, if this is the standard… what do the ratings really mean? If you are the type that needs to make sense of this mess, follow me on my journey.

Criteria for the System

What exactly do the ratings evaluate: drinkability, age-worthiness, structure, balance? How do you compare entirely different styles using the scale: red, white, old-world, new world, sweet, fortified, etc. I am sure you get my drift here. Every critic’s wine notes and evaluation process is based on a different standard, therefore there is no frame of reference for the consumer. So, do the ratings have any real value, or are they just marketing ploys? Well, perhaps the intent is entirely marketing-focused, but I believe I have found ways the ratings can assist me in my wine purchasing decisions:

Assumptions

The majority of wine critics (AND fine wines collectors) have developed an educated palate. This assumption is important and I think largely true. I know for myself, I may not like a wine that others view as enjoyable, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate its quality. If the winemaker has produced a quality wine in its structure, balance and extracted flavors/aromas… I will not give it a poor score, even when I do not care for the wine personally. Again, I think this to be largely the case with the most (but not all) professional/semi-professional critics. the breaking point here for me is at 90. If the wine is rated 90, or over from several sources, odds are – it is a quality wine… but that does not guarantee that YOU will enjoy it. It is simply a place to start weeding out bottles not worth the investment. In my case, I know, I am missing many wines I might enjoy in the 85-89 range, but I try to visit wineries to sample what I can of those.

Callibrating Your Palate

Calibrate a particular critic’s palate to yours. Take a few minutes to taste wine and compare your impressions to the critics ratings and find one that generally matches your impressions. In my case, of the major critics, I think Stephen Tanzer is the closest to my palate. It is worth the time to find your match. I place a little more weight on an evaluation, when ST writes the note. Again that is just me personally.

Should the System be Changed?

I have read and many have explained to me that winemaking technology has improved tremendously over the last two decades and therefore there truly is no more “bad” wine… which is the reason why ratings do not drop below 80 any longer. I am willing to accept that, but if that is the case, then we MUST move to another system. I also believe a criteria for a new ratings system needs to be established. When I choose to purchase wines I have not tasted, here is my criteria:

  • Structure and balance: acidity, tannins, all the parts work together? Fuller, rounder wine with a mid-palate?
  • Fruit: fruit-forward, or not
  • Texture: wine coats your mouth, or crisp and clean
  • Terroir: the wine includes an expression of the local terroir?
  • Finish: flavors linger?

IMHO, if we rated each of these categories 1-10, that would provide a useful wine rating and evaluation!

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When is Winemaking Art?

OK, for you collectors that have a large cellar that you cherish, this is for you…

Age-Worthy Wines

I am often surprised by critic’s characterizations of wines that will age well. I see five years, ten years, thrown out there all the time, without a clear justification. I want to know WHY a wine deserves to be called “AGE-WORTHY”. No, there is no mystery to the educated palate that is inscrutable to the rest of the world (unlike what some critics would like you to believe). I think most who have already been introduced to wine and lay down at least a few bottles know that red wines without acidity and tannins, do not handle bottle aging well. What I almost never hear is a discussion of balance and structure. This is what defines age-worthy wines. Tasting notes for wines the industry typically views as age-worthy should focus on this aspect. I have not experienced many wines that magically “come together” in the bottle. When some element is missing, or one aspect overshadows the rest, more time in the bottle will just make what was suspect in the first place, a more subdued version of the same mess.

Art in Wine

So, where does art fit into this picture? When a winemaker can coax a balance of acidity/tannins/alcohol/aromas-flavors/textures from a variable fruit crop, year after year. Any winery can make a fruit bomb, an easy drinker, or leverage an appelation’s fame – like Rutherford’s dusty tannins… but winemaking talent and the quality it produces is most often evident in balance, structure and harmony. It is like Vivaldi writing for a string quartet, the greater understanding of how the parts join to comprise the whole.

So, shouldn’t the industry be helping you to recognize these balanced, structured wines that you can still pop now if you must? I am at a loss to understand why there is so little mention of this topic in the majority of professional critics’ tasting notes. Having developed an appreciation for the issue, the only wines that truly send a shiver down my spine are these perfectly balanced young gems. I have almost a reverence for the talent required to produce a red wine that, while accessible young, still has tremendous aging potential. If you need an example, the 2009 Sassicaia I tasted recently struck me as such a wine. Perhaps you can help engage the industry in this discussion? It feels lonely out there on this topic…

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Restaurant Wine Service and Profitability

Formula for a Successful Restaurant

So many restaurant owners ignore the potential of their beverage service. Yes, it requires an investment, but I have run the numbers many times… and it is just too difficult to hit the necessary gross profit margin without at least a 30% revenue and 40% profit contribution from beverage. Business plans become tortured, when based on food alone. I don’t care how good the product is. U.S. business statistics show, only one out of seven new restaurant start-ups last past the first five years.

Attitude and Passion

To run a beverage program at a fine dining restaurant requires an infectious passion and an ability to be a wine ambassador to draw your clientele into wine culture to succeed. The fine dining experience is all about superior service, telling stories and relating to the customer, all with an eye on education – not only regarding wine/beer/spirits, but also appropriate food pairings too. This seems to overwhelm many owners, but the result is worth the effort and may even be the key to long-term survival.

Business Planning in the Restaurant Trade

So often businesses lose sight of the financial viability of their annual budget and business plan (if they have one). I think, especially so in the restaurant trade. As a business owner, the tendency is to focus on a comfort zone and day-to-day operations, while overlooking whether the right plan is in place to achieve success. Having owned businesses and managed organizations in the past, even those with highly motivated employees, it is easy to lose track of the need for financial planning, marketing and experimenting with ways to enhance customer loyalty. Beverage is one of those keys to success.

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Open Letter to Sommeliers

I see posts all over the internet from Sommeliers talking about their passion for wine and customer service and the challenge of being an ambassador to the industry…

Sommeliers Must Bring Business Management to the Table

There is a key point being missed. A Somm is also a beverage manager. He/she should be a businessperson first and foremost. The job for the owner is to build a beverage program that attracts clientele and contributes it’s share to the profitability of the restaurant/shop. Yes, Somm’s are passionate, wine-loving people… but without a business focus, they are not the invaluable asset they should be. Besides exceptional beverage service, they must be able to manage a budget, negotiate procurement agreements, practice good cellar management, devise effective pricing programs, train wait-staff, etc… exceptional people skills are very important, but a business focus is what will make a career successful.

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