Tag Archive: Management

Read Any Good Wine Lists Lately?

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
November 2002
Page 22

Read Any Good Wine Lists Lately?

Dan Perlman is the beverage director for the three-star restaurant AZ and the new Pazo in New York City. He is also the food and wine editor and a regular contributor to Q San Francisco and Passport magazines.

Dan Perlman is the beverage director for the three-star restaurant AZ and the new Pazo in New York City. He is also the food and wine editor and a regular contributor to Q San Francisco and Passport magazines.

I like nothing better than to sit down to dinner and having a wine list put in front of me. I’m even more delighted when I see that its author thought about making it an interesting read. I enjoy reading quotes and quips and seeing artwork and classy design. I like interesting categories that aren’t just a formal listing of appellations.

The J. Peterman Principle
The purpose of a wine list is to present a catalog of offerings for sale to your guests. When was the last time you paid attention to a catalog that didn’t spark your interest? A boring catalog or wine list is fine for looking up information when you already know what you want, but not when you don’t. Try imagining the Land’s End catalog with no pictures or descriptions: just a listing of product code, product name, fabric type, country of origin, and price. Sound familiar?

In most restaurants there is no sommelier. When there is, he or she doesn’t visit every table. And, to put it bluntly, not everyone dining wants to talk to the sommelier. Surprise – some diners actually want to pick their own wine! So how do you go about dispensing your brilliant advice without actually being at the table?

Wine Words
Think about how you describe wine when you are at a table. Do you start by enquiring if your customer wants “a wine from a small commune just south of Beaune?” Probably not. More likely, their food choices are your starting point. Or maybe you like to being by finding out if they want something lighter or fuller, younger or older, richer or poorer … or by playing on their mood that evening.

Plan your list around categories that harmonize with how you would approach your customers when standing at the table. In other words, put wines together that you would naturally group together in your mind when you’re talking. It allows your customers to see how you, representing your restaurant, think about wine. And, if you do approach their table, you’re set-up for an easy entry into the conversation.

Two wine lists I’ve seen recently do this job well: one at a fairly new Chinese restaurant has categories that contrast – Tart Fruit versus Red Fruit, or Black Fruit; the other puts wines into easy-to-understand categories such as “bright, sunny, citrusy” and “rich, dark, earthy.”

Consider adding some descriptions to the categories, or, if you have a relatively short list, to individual wines. Avoid long “geeky” narratives with arcane references to such things as “day-old tiger lily pollen” or “melanges of wortleberries and cloudberries with a hint of wet reindeer fur.” Long-winded explications will keep the host reading for extended periods of time and make the experience boring for the other people at the table (unless they don’t want to talk to the host!). Try simple, two- to four-word quips that mirror how you would initially respond if someone asked you about the wine.

The list I mentioned above with tart, red, and black fruit, further described each with a sub-heading. For example, the tart fruit section listed “apple, green grape, citrus” as the dominant flavors.

List Layout
Give thought to the layout of your list. Is the font type and size you’re using easy to read? How about the paper color? Given the lighting in your dining room, is the wine list still easy to read? Does its cover design match the restaurant’s style and focus? Call on your colleagues for their input.

Above all, remember that your primary goal is to sell wine. If you can make the difference between printed page and your sparkling conversation as seamless as possible, you’ll start selling wine even when you’re not there.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Building a Relationship with the Kitchen

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
March/April 2002
Page 28

FROM THE CELLAR
Building a Relationship with the Kitchen

The “front-of-house” and “back-of-house” staff are in the restaurant business for different reasons. In general, cooks put in longer hours for less pay than waitstaff and managers. Their rewards are enjoying the pleasures of the creative process and knowing that they put out a quality product. Waiters and managers get paid for delivering it to and interacting with the public.

While most chefs I have worked with have an interest in wine, they have neither the time nor inclination to invest in wine education for themselves or their staff. They argue that there is more than enough to learn within their own sphere of ingredients, techniques, and frequently changing menus.

AN OPEN INVITATION

So how does a beverage director gain the needed support of the kitchen in putting together a winning program? In a word, inclusion. “I just wanted to be asked” is a phrase I have heard over and over again in my restaurant career. When I was a chef, I used to say it, too!

To begin the interaction, start with the basics. Every day quality restaurants have a lineup with the front-of-house staff. For me, part of that time is spent discussing a topic related to the beverage program – a review of the house spirits, or a comparison tasting or a sampling of new wines. The kitchen staff are always welcome to attend. Do they? Rarely. But they know they can; they’ve been asked.

We have a monthly wine class that is mandatory for front-of-house employees. On occasion we stay late at night to taste sample bottles. I try to arrange those events at a time when the back-of-house staff can attend as well. Some of them do. All of them can. They’ve been asked.

When I open wine, or when my staff opens wine, I expect us all to taste it. My view is that the customer should never get a taste of a bad wine; it is our job, not theirs, to weed out inferior products. And if I come across something interesting, or if the customer offers to share a little with me, I always take the glass back to the kitchen and share it with whomever is expediting – the chef, a sous chef, or sometimes a line cook. They love it. Who doesn’t love to be included?

POSITIVE INTERACTION

How does this time and effort with the kitchen evolve into something worthwhile for me? For the restaurant? For our customers? A restaurant’s success comes down to taking care of its customers. Sometimes the people who don’t get to spend the shift with those customers forget that central mission. Rather than haranguing them, try enrolling them. Use enticement, use creativity. Open your mouth and ask for their active participation.

Here’s an example: Our chef puts together a daily tasting menu. I match wines with each course. At least once a week, I ask her if there’s a wine she’d like to see with one of her courses. I used to get no response. Now I get requests! As I wrote this, she just came to me and asked if I’d be willing to put together a wine tasting menu for Valentine’s Day.

Two years ago at a management meeting, I suggested that we put together a series of wine dinners. The kitchen responded that it was “too much work”. Having been a chef, I knew that wasn’t true; rather, the kitchen just wasn’t interested. At a management meeting a few weeks ago, our group owner asked why we hadn’t had any wine dinners. Hesitantly I turned to our chef. She asked if I’d like her to collaborate on planning menus with me and how I would like to approach them!

At lineup, I ask the floor staff to talk about their dining experiences at other restaurants. In addition to service and food, they talk about favorite wines. Sometimes one of them finds a wine that they’re excited about and wish we hadon our list. I’ll get a sample and we’ll try it. While the cooks may not come to our meetings, they now poke their heads into the office to suggest wines that they’ve tried at other restaurants too.

Let’s face it, if you spend a large amount of your time battling over territory, resources and procedures with your chef, you’re both wasting time. If you can forge a great working relationship where you can both contribute to each other’s creativity, think of what you might accomplish. And all it takes to start is to ask.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Bargain Hunting

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
April/May 2001
Page 30

FROM THE CELLAR
Bargain Hunting

I feel a little like the restaurant reviewer starting a column with “there’s this great little hole-in-the-wall that I probably shouldn’t say anything about, because it’ll become something that isn’t a great little hole-in-the-wall.” So how do you go about telling other wine buyers about wine bargains without writing yourself out of the bargain-hunting game?

The easy answer is that there are a whole lot more bargains out there than there are great little holes-in-the-wall, and bargain hunting takes more work than hopping in a cab to a back street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

DO-SI-DO

From my perspective, the key to good deals lies in my connection with suppliers and their suppliers. The process of building a good relationship is a lot like dating. There are boundaries to be worked out, phone calls to make, liaisons to keep and parents to please (i.e., restaurant owners and the owners of the distribution companies).

I learned long ago that the relationship cannot be one-sided if I want the really good deals. Wine buyers who think that they hold all the cards are sadly mistaken. Refusing to make appointments (“just drop bottles off”), blowing off appointments (“my time is more important than yours”) and similar moves just don’t work. Sooner or later, your suppliers will forget to mention a bargain that they know you would want. They will sell to someone more appreciative.

By the same token, you should understand that suppliers don’t hold all the cards either. Such supplier attitudes as “you can only have this if you buy that” and “if you don’t buy this, my boss is going to remember that when you ask for…” are equally counterproductive. There is no wine or spirit out there that you really have to have. You always can buy something else from another supplier.

Sometimes we dance the dance. A sales rep calls at the last minute and asks for a quick meeting with an importer rep who suddenly showed up at his/her door. We take ten minutes out of our lives and make him/her look good. Invest a little time with that importer rep or winery owner too – don’t forget who controls the flow of wine one link back on the chain. Sometimes the importer or the winery has something in stock that just might be made available to the right person.

The supplier tango usually doesn’t pay off overnight. Just like dating, we might only make it to first base for a while, then second, then third. Then one day we show up at work and find ourselves at home plate.

SUDDENLY ALL LESS EXPENSIVE (S.A.L.E)

What are the bargains to jump on, and what are the bargains to avoid?

Post-offs and closeouts. These are usually deals to help move stock that is not moving or to clear a line that is being dropped. They might look attractive, but look carefully; these wines aren’t moving for a reason. I always like to know the exact nature of the offer: Is the wine too old? Bad? Was it far overpriced and is now being offered at what it should have been?

Direct imports and direct offers. These deals are a method that suppliers use to sell something that they do not have yet so that they can judge how much to buy. Here is a nice way to pick up something at a slight discount. Saving that ten percent is attractive, but choose carefully; remember, if customers love the wine, there will be no more of it at the same rate. Will they still love it when the price goes up?

Vintage clearances. These deals are easy to like and to execute, but they do require a sizable up-front investment. Suppliers discount to clear space in a warehouse for a new vintage. They want the wine out of there – not just two cases, all of it. Make them an offer. Yes, it is an investment in cash and storage space, but you’d be surprised how much discounting room there is in the price.

Gems. These are my favorites and are what make the whole dance and dating ritual with your supplier worthwhile. These are the deals that are handed to us because of the relationships that we have built. Sometimes these gems come from your carefully nurtured sales reps, sometimes from their boss or from the winery or importer behind the scenes.

Gems are the “we’ll reserve all of this for you, at a reduced price, if you’ll feature it” deals. An exclusive with a discount – you can’t beat that.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Veneto: Outstanding Originals

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
November 1998
Page 42-43, 75-76

Veneto: Outstanding Original

In April, I find myself jetting across the Atlantic to hang for a week in the Veneto – specifically, Verona. Home of Romeo, Juliet, and a couple of gentleman, Verona is also host to the annual VinItaly wine exhibition. From every corner of Italy and many parts of the rest of the world, thousands of producers flock to the fairgrounds in this ancient town to show their wares.

The Santi vineyards outside Verona

The Santi vineyards outside Verona

Local merchants and restaurateurs gear up for one of their busiest food and wine weeks of the year. Baccala, polenta, radicchio, and the occasional dish of horsemeat are served up left and right. Risotti made with local herbs or local wines fly out of kitchens to land on tables that are packed from the opening moment till the wee hours. The usual response to a request for a table is “Try next Monday” – after the fair is over, of course. Luckily for those of us who manage to find tables, the local wines are delicious, the perfect accompaniment to the irresistible local cuisine.

The Whites
Winemakers in the Veneto produce a wide array of wines, from sparkling to white to pink to red to sweet. In recent years, the market for “international varietals” has sparked the industry for cheap and cheerful Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. While often attractive, these are not the wines that the Veneto is justly famous for, nor are they the wines that are consumed locally. Pinot Grigio has also become a bit more visible, but most wine drinkers seem to prefer the crisper styles that come from neighboring Friuli.

There is nothing quite so refreshing as to start a meal with a glass of Prosecco. By regulation known under one of two names – Prosecco di Conegliano or Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Prosecco is one of the most ancient white wine grapes in Italy. Produced like Champagne by the mètodo clàssico, this crisp, high-acidity grape is the perfect apertif when made in a brut or extra dry style and is a delight at the end of the meal in a demi-sec style.

The leading white wines of the Veneto are Soave, Lugana, and Bianco di Custoza. Thanks primarily to the efforts of the Bolla winery, Soave is probably Italy’s most well-known white in the United States, a staple of Italian restaurant wine lists. Based on the Garganega grape, Soave can be dry, sweet, or anywhere in between and can range from quaffable bar wine to an impressive, rich, meal accompaniment. Some top producers, such as Anselmi and PrB, are even producing superb, single vineyard “reserve” styles.

Lugana is the local Venetian dialect name for Trebbiano, a grape ubiquitous throughout Italy. Like Soave, it can be light and nondescript; in the hands of a good producer, however, Lugana can be an amazing experience. Sergio Zenato, one of the Veneto’s stars, also produces a signature, reserve Lugana that is age-worthy.

Bianco di Custoza, a wine made from a field blend of local grapes that includes both Trebbiano and Garganega as well as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and others, is most often the local bar wine. While it is unlikely that Bianco di Custoza will ever be a world-class wine, it is virtually always refreshing and satisfying as either an apertif or first-course libation.


What is a Veneto Wine?

General Characteristics
Whites run the gamut from the dry, light, everyday aperitifs of Bianco di Custoza and sparkling Prosecco to the Trebbiano-based, peachy Lugana to medium-bodied, sometimes off-dry, apricot and herb Soave.

Reds range from the light-bodied Bardolinos with simple red fruit to age-worthy, full-bodied, high-alcohol, dried fruit-flavored Amarones that pair with game or with cheese. The versatile, food-friendly Valpolicellas cover a broad middle range.

Aging
Proseccos, most whites, Bardolinos and some light Valpolicellas are ready to drink upon release. Lugana and Soave “riserva” and richer-styled Valpolicella and Ripasso can age. The best Amarones from great vintages can age for decades; 1988-1991 vintages are drinking perfectly now. Veneto dessert wines are generally age-worthy.

Recent Vintages
1995, 1996 – Good for Bardolino and Valpolicella.
1988, 1990 and 1995 – Excellent for Amarone.


santeveneto2The Reds
On the red front, Veneto boasts two major appellations – Bardolino and Valpolicella. These neighboring communities produce wines based on three grapes; Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. Similar to Custoza, Bardolino is the local quaffing wine, but some fairly decent bottles reach our shores that make for a nice, slightly rustic match with the more “peasant” aspects of Northern Italian cuisine.

Bardolino is usually composed of less Corvina, the grape that gives color and body, and more Rondinella, a less expensive, easier to produce and more neutral tasting grape. There is a “classico” or heartland sub-appellation to Bardolino centered on one side of Lago di Garda, one of the prettiest lakes in Italy. The quality here is often better than the surrounding Bardolino area.

Valpolicella, whose production comprises a fairly large portion of the Veneto, comes in several guises. The base appellation is a dry, generally light, red table wine that can be simple or complex and goes with a wide variety of foods. It is, unfortunately, a difficult wine to define. I have had examples that were very light and simple with rather high acidity that complemented lighter fish dishes, and I have had wines from producers like Dal Forno Romano or Quintarelli that were so concentrated and rich that they easily stood up to local game dishes. Some local producers, notably Allegrini and Quintarelli, also produce single varietal wines from one or another of the local trio, most often either a richer Corvina or a lighter-style Molinara.

Within the Valpolicella region, there are three additional sub-appellations. The most well-known is Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella – more commonly known as Amarone. A distinctive style of wine, the grapes are left to air-dry for months, often until late February or early March. In addition, many producers leave the grapes on the vine to develop botrytis. The resulting raisinated grapes are then crushed and fermented dry to result in a concentrated, high-alcohol wine that, because of limited tannins in the particular varietals, can be drunk young or left to age.

Amarone is now made by a large percentage of Valpolicella producers, and experiments with various vinification techniques, barrel fermenting and barrique aging are adding to the range of styles and quality of this wine. Top producers include Quintarelli, Dal Forno Romano and Allegrini. Some of their wines need at least a decade to mature.

One of the interesting by-products of experimentation is the Valpolicella Ripasso. Not an official appellation, it is the result of producers who wanted to add body to their basic Valpolicellas. A small portion of either dried grapes or the remaining pomace from Amarone production is added to the Valpolicella fermentation tanks to boost concentration, flavor and alcohol levels. Most are marketed under the Valpolicella Superiore appellation, which requires an additional degree of alcohol, but many are now being called Ripasso, resulting in a new category for wine drinkers to explore. Boscaini and Allegrini produce delicious examples.

Sweet Wines
Veneto’s sweet wines include Recioto della Valpolicella. Generally made from botrytized grapes, the “recioto” refers to picking the grapes from the “ears” of the grape bunch, the ones that have the most sun exposure and are richest in sugars and flavors. Produced much like Amarone, the fermentation is stopped, either naturally or artificially, to produce a rich, concentrated dessert wine that is Italy’s answer to port.

There are also some delicious Recioto di Soave wines produced in the Soave region; all late harvested, and some botrytized. With honeyed, ripe, stone fruit character, these make wonderful accompaniments to fruit- and cheese-based desserts. Other white dessert wines are produced from a variety of grapes, including the interesting, Vespaiolo-based wines from Fausto Maculan.

As anywhere, there are good and bad wines that come from the Veneto. More and more, however, the wines are consistently good, and top-quality producers are making wines that rival the best from other regions of the world. Take some time and taste through what’s available to you locally, and next year, let’s hook up for a bottle in downtown Verona.


Reviewer’s Choice

Nino Franco / N.V. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico
100% Prosecco
Dry, notes of cooked pears and cardamom. With sushi, it was the hit of the pack.

Cavlchina / 1996 Bianco di Custoza Amedeo
Cortese, Garganega, Trebbiano
Rich, ripe pears, light yeastiness. Impressive for the gnre and an incredible choice with veal and pork.

Brigaldara / 1991 Amarone Classico
Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara
Dried plums and cherries, spice, chocolate. Still a little young and tannic.

Maculan / 1994 Acininobili
85% Vespaiola, 10% Tocai, 5% Garganega
Honey, spice, dried pears and apricots. Cries out for blue cheese, or just sip it on its own.


VALUE

Brigaldara / 1996 Valpolicella Classico
Corvina, Corvinone, Sangiovese
Blackberries and spice, great structure. Perfect with lighter meats and lightly spicy dishes.

Boscaini / 1995 Bardolino Classico Superiore Le Canne
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Red currants and spice. An interesting wine, good with lighter fried foods.

Cavalchina / 1997 Bianco di Custoza
Cortese, Garganega, Trebbiano
Pears, a touch of honeydew melon and light spice. Wonderful with poultry and veal.

Cavalchina / 1996 Bardolino Superiore Santa Lucia
Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella
Plums, cherries and spice. Delicious on its own or with lighter meals.

Nino Franco / N.V. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico
100% Prosecco
Dry, notes of cooked pears and cardamom. With sushi, it was the hit of the pack.

Montresor / 1997 Bianco di Custoza
(mostly from Garganega, with Tocai, Chardonnay, Bianco Fernanda and Trebbianello)
Cream, spice and fresh peaches. Delicious as an aperitif or with poultry and light pasta dishes.

Villa Rizzardi / 1995 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Poiega
Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara
Sweet cherries, spice and a touch of chocolate. Delicious on its own and a great match with lamb.

Zenato / 1997 Lugana San Benedetto
100% Trebbiano
White peaches, minerals and a touch of yeast. Delicious with lighter pastas and fish dishes.

Zonin / 1996 Soave Classico
95% Garganega, 5% Trebbiano
Light earth, yeasty, peaches and apricots. An excellent aperitif wine, especially for the price.

MODERATE

Allegrini / 1995 Valpolicella Classico Superiore La Grola
70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, 5% Sangiovese
Smooth, creamy, spice and dark fruits. A Valpolicella fit for red meat.

Anselmi / 1996 Soave Classico Superiore Capitel Croce
100% Garganega
Tropical fruit, coconut, vanilla and light spice notes. Delicious by itself or with lighter meats.

Bisol / N.V. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede
100% Prosecco
Bone-dry, minerally, grapefruit pith. Definitely an aperitif-style sparkler and great with a plate of oysters on the half-shell.

Boscaini / 1993 Valpolicella (Ripasso) Santo Stefano de le Cane
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Rich, full-bodied, dark fruits, chocolate and spice. Delicious with lamb and game.

Cavalchina / 1996 Bianco di Custoza Amedeo
Cortese, Garganega, Trebbiano
Rich, ripe pears, light yeastiness. Impressive for the genre and an incredible choice with veal and pork.

Prà / 1996 Soave Classico Superiore Monte Grande
90% Garganega, 10% Pinot Chardonnay
Apricots and cream, minerally, very elegant. A perfect partner with poultry and fish.

Vincenzo Toffoli / N.V. Prosecco di Conegliano Extra Dry
100% Prosecco
Dry, white peaches, with notes of yeast and toast. Delicious with fish and lighter poultry dishes.

PRESTIGE

Allegrini / 1994 Recioto Classico della Valpolicella
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Prunes and dried cherries, with spice and a touch of chocolate. Drink on its own or with a dessert, such as a spice cake.

Bertani / 1998 Amarone Classico Superiore
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Dried plums and cherries, spice and earth. Always a class act. Delicious with game.

Bertani / 1985 Recioto Valpolicella Valpantena
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Cherry liqueur filled dark chocolate candies, with a spritz, in a bottle. The perfect wine with a chocolate dessert.

Brigaldara / 1991 Amarone Classico
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Dried plums and cherries, spice, chocolate. Still a little young and tannic.

Dal Forno Romano / 1988 Recioto della Valpolicella
Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara
Peppery, smooth, with dark fruit flavors of prunes and cherries. Drink instead of Port for a great finish to a meal.

Maculan / 1994 Acininobili
85% Vespaiolo, 10% Tocai, 5% Garganega
Honey, spice, dried pears and apricots. Cries out for blue cheese or just sip it on its own.

Masi / 1994 Ripasso Campofiorin
60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Molinara
Tobacco, plums and a touch of toffee. Perfect with lamb or game.

G. Rizzardi / 1993 Amarone Classico
Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara
Dried cherries and strawberries, spice and alcohol. A perfect partner with lamb.

Villalta / 1993 Amarone I Communali
60% Corvina, 30% Rondineall, 5% Molinara, 5% Rossignola and other
Black cherry, blueberry and raisins, with an earthy element. Very luscious and soft black cherry flavors; long finish that is jammy, but clean. After dinner with veined cheeses.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Catch a Rising Star

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
September/October 1998
Page 42-43

The New Iberia
Catch a Rising Star

Up until a dozen years ago, there was little to talk about besides Port and Madeira. Portuguese winemakers stubbornly held on to “traditional values,” a poor defense for wines that were generally harshly tannic and oxidized. Also, the popular appeal of Portuguese rosé that once accounted for 25 to 50 percent of the country’s wine exports to our shores faded as our homegrown White Zinfandel captured an ever-increasing share of the domestic rosé market.

In 1986, with Portugal’s entry into the European Common Market, the new guard of the country’s winemaking industry has actively sought worldwide market acceptance. Portugal, in fact, ranks around sixth in overall production volume of wine, which is not bad for a country that could fit comfortably inside the state of Indiana. This is even more impressive when you consider that less than five percent of the country is under vine.


WHAT IS A PORTUGUESE RED TABLE WINE?

General Characteristics
Beyond the many modestly priced table wines of robust and rustic character that pair well with Mediterranean cuisine, a number of good producers are fashioning some elegant wines with spicy, black fruit flavors and moderate tannins that work well with a variety of foods, including game, red meats and roasts.

Aging
Except for the top wines from the best producers from very good vintages that will age gracefully for 5-10 years or more, most Portuguese reds are ready to drink upon release.

Recent Vintages
Vintages are wildly variable, mostly due to the Atlantic influence.
1989 and 1990 – Particularly good in the Alentejo area, but only of good quality in the balance of winemaking regions.
1994 and 1995 – Absolutely outstanding throughout most of Portugal.


santeiberia1Finding Quality
It is now possible to see, in virtually any retail wineshop around the country, wines labelled “Vinho Verde,” “Dão” and “Bairrada.” The grapes of Port are repackaged in dry table wine form and marketed under the Douro appellation. Portuguese restaurants are no longer limited to half a dozen selections from their homeland as the variety of wines suddenly available is staggering.

Admittedly, there is still a preponderance of inexpensive Portuguese table wine on the market. Looking through lists of available wines, the vast majority came in under $70 a case, many under $50. Having tasted quite a few of them, I believe that many make pleasant house pours and easy-drinking quaffs for casual dining. Still, customer unfamiliarity with names and places makes them a tough sell on a winelist.

My focus here is on red wines of higher quality. I began by selecting only those wines that came in at $72 or more a case. Depending on pricing schemes, this probably means wines that will sell on your list for a low in the $15-20 range. The top-end wines wholesale for more than $300.

The Best Red Wine Regions
The Portuguese appellation system, one of the earliest of its kind in establishing formal guidelines to ensure excellence, was first formed in 1756, specifically for the Douro as the home of Port wines. The current modern system focuses on two quality levels: the top DOC, or Denominacão de Origem Controlada, and a second tier, VR, or Vinho Regional. While there are now 19 classified DOC regions, most of the quality red and white wines come from the cneter to north of the country, roughly bordered by the rivers Douro and Tagus.

Carlos Agrellos, Quinta do Côtto, Cidadelhe, Douro Valley

Carlos Agrellos, Quinta do Côtto, Cidadelhe, Douro Valley

In the north, the major source of quality red wine is Douro. The wines are based on the various grapes of the Touriga and Tinta families: Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesca are the primary components. The wines tend to show good, clean fruit, a fine balance of tannins and acidity and cautious use of oak. Quinta do Côtto is one of the stars here and is leading the way to quality winemaking.

A bit further south in the Dão Valley, variety is the watchword. While Touriga Nacional still abounds and is required to comprise 20 percent of the blend, grapes such as Bastardo, Alfrocheiro, and Jaen pop up with abandon and add their own characteristic flavors to the mix. Here, the wines are often tannic when young, but have good fruit and backbone that will balance the tannins with age. These wines often peak at 12-15 years of age.

Neighboring Bairrada bases its wines on the Baga grape with other local varieties blended in for complexity. Rich, perfumed wines that ripen and soften with age make this area one of the shining stars in Portugal’s portfolio. Top-end gems from producers such as Luis Pato are world-class, but Bairrada is not a guarantee of quality; I found that some producers are still making tannic, oxidized-style wines that they exhibit with great enthusiasm as traditional bottlings.

There is great potential in many of the wines of central and south Portugal. José Maria de Fonseca is the leading producer of quality wine throughout the area; but as with Portugal in general, many producers in the south still employ outdated techniques in the vineyards and wineries that result in wines that are out of fashion in the U.S.

In truth, this last statement sums up the Portuguese wine industry. While much of Portugal’s vast wine industry is still dedicated to the cheap and cheerful market, quite a few good and even great wines are made. Paired with the right cuisine and promoted with enthusiasm, these exciting wines will reward your adventurous guests with an exceptional wine experience.

The vineyards of Quinta do Aveleda, Penafiel, Vinho Verde

The vineyards of Quinta do Aveleda, Penafiel, Vinho Verde


REVIEWER’S CHOICE

Quinta do Casal Branco / 1995 Almeirim Falcoaria
Trincadeira Preta & Castelão Francês
Rich, ripe blackcurrant fruit and spice. Absolutely delicious anytime. For the price, wow!

Quinta do Côtto / 1995 Douro Grande Escolha
85% old vine Tinta Roriz, 15% Touriga Nacional & Touriga Francesa
Ripe blackberries, bittersweet chocolate, spice and lots of depth. A stunning wine.

J.P. Vinhos / 1995 Terras do Sado Quinta da Bacalhôa
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot
Ripe plums, vanilla and cocoa, very smooth. Delicious by itself or with a wide variety of meals.


NAME THAT GRAPE
Grape varieties from Portugal seem unfamiliar, not only to the average restaurant patron, but also to those of us in the trade. The Bastardo, commonly used in Dão reds and in Port, is the Trousseau of France’s Jura reds. Aragonez from the Alentejo, alias Tinta Roriz in the Douro and Tinto de Santiago in Setúbal, is known to most of us as Tempranillo, Spain’s most popular red. Mençia, from Vinho Verde in the north, is generally believed to be Cabernet Franc.

Within Portugal itself, much as they do in many other countries, grape names change from place to place. The highly regarded Periquita is alson known as Castelão Francês, João de Santarém, Mortágua and Trincadeira. Even more confusing, in some parts of Portugal, Trincaderia refers to an entirely different grape, the Tinta Amarela, resulting in wines that claim to be blends of Periquita and Trincadeira!

PORTUGAL REDS

VALUE

Caves Dom Teodósio “Cardeal Reserva” / 1990 / Dão
35% Touriga, 35% Tinta Pinheira, 30% Bastardo
Blackberry, spice and lots of structure. Tasty with meat dishes, especially game.

J.P. Vinhos “Herdade de Santa Marta” / 1993 / Alentejo
40% Periquita, 15% Alfrocheiro, 15% Tinta Carvalha, 15% Trincadeira, 15% Moreto
Cassis, raspberries and cream – medium bodied. A nice spicy choice with spicier foods.

Luis Pato “Quinta do Ribeirinho” / 1995 / Bairrada
Baga, Touriga Nacional
Pleasant, fresh raspberry and cherry fruit, smooth and well-balanced. With lighter meals, a real winner.

Quinta da Lagoalva / 1994 / Ribatejo
Periquita, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon
Leathery, gamey notes with dark fruit to back it up. For the price, a great glass of wine with red meats.

Quinta das Setencostas / 1996 / Alenquer
Periquita, Tinta Miuda
Raspberry liqueur coated with milk chocolate. A tasty pre-dinner quaff with lots of fruit.

Quinta do Casal Branco “Falcoaria” / 1995 / Almeirim
Trincadeira Preta & Castelão Francês
Rich, ripe blackcurrant fruit and spice. Absolutely delicious anytime. For the price, wow!

Sogrape “Reserva” / 1995 / Douro
Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Mourisco & Bastardo
Raspberry, spice and good structure. A nice choice with all sorts of dishes.

MODERATE

Caves Velhas Romeira “Garrafeira” / 1991 / Palmela
Periquita & Trincadeira Preta
Earthy, dark fruit, some oak and spice. Slightly hot, but a good choice with spicier foods.

José Maria da Fonseca “Quinta de Camarate” / 1991 / Terras do Sado
75% Castelão Francês, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
Dusty, bright berry fruit and a touch of tannins. A tasty choice with deep sea fish, pasta and rice dishes.

J.P. Vinhos “Quinta da Bacalhôa” / 1995 / Terras do Sado
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot
Ripe plums, vanilla and cocoa, very smooth. Delicious by itself or with a wide variety of meals.

Quinta da Lagoalva de Cima “Special Reserva” / 1992 / Ribatejo
85% Periquita, 15% Syrah
Ripe blackberries, pepper, slightly tannic and fairly alcoholic. Needs some time.

Quinta da Pellada Touriga Nacional / 1996 / Dão
40% Alfocheiro, 60% Touriga Nacional
Smooth, ripe cherry fruit, spicy. Delicious with fish and fowl.

Quinta do Carvalhinho Cabernet Sauvignon / 1995 / Beiras
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Ripe plums, cedar, chocolate. Delicious on its own or with meats.

Quinta do Carvalhinho Garrafeira “Casta Baga” / 1990 / Bairrada
100% Baga
Ripe plums and peaches, good spice and well balanced. A really good choice with lighter meats.

Quinta do Crasto / 1995 / Douro
50% Tinta Roriz, 30% Tinta Barroca & 20% Touriga Francesca
Cherries, spice and vanilla. A good choice with lighter meats.

Quinta do Crasto Reserva / 1995 / Douro
Old vine blend
Cherries, earthiness, spice and a nice touch of oak. The concentration makes it a great choice with pastas, mushrooms and meat.

PRESTIGE

José Maria da Fonseca “Garrafeira CO” / 1990 / Arrábida
mostly Castelão Francês
Rich, spicy, blackberry fruit. Perfect with small game and game birds, or lamb dishes.

José Maria da Fonseca “Garrafeira TE” / 1990 / Arrábida
65% Camarate, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon
Milk chocolate covered cherries. Delicious on its own or with a heavier dinner.

José Maria da Fonseca “Periquita Clássico” / 1992 / Terras do Sado
70% Castelão Francês, 25% Espadeiro & Monvedro, 5% Bastardo
Rich, ripe fruit, cedar and tobacco. One of the more complex selections and needs some time.

Luis Pato “Vinha Pan” / 1995 / Bairrada
100% Baga
Ripe black cherries, licorice, and spice. Very young and fairly tannic.

Luis Pato “Vinha Barrossa” / 1995 / Bairrada
100% Baga
Even more concentration than the Vinha Pan, but similar profile. Black cherries, licorice, and spice. Needs time.

Quinta do Côtto “Grande Escolha” / 1995 / Douro
85% old vine Tinta Roriz, 15% Touriga Nacional & Touriga Francesa
Ripe blackberries, bittersweet chocolate, spice and lots of depth. A stunning wine.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Summertime Wines: In the Pink

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
Summer 1998
Page 30-33, 54-56

Summertime Wines: In the Pink

Overheard at a recent party: “I always go for the rosé. Nobody ever drinks it, so I figure it’s got to be good.”

Overheard at a recent sommeliers’ wine tasting: “Yeah, but why would anyone want to drink rosé? It’s all sweet and uninteresting.”

Overheard at a recent wine dinner: “You like rosés? It shows you have a good palate.”

Pink wine has such disparate images that it’s just plain hard to figure. Any American from my generation, falling midway between baby boomer and genxer, grew up with the first White Zinfandels, the cool-shaped bottles of Lancers and Mateus and the occasional “other” fruit-based rosé with down-home labels, such as Boone’s Farm or Annie Greensprings. In other countries, pink wine is much more of a tradition: the French have had Tavel for years, the Italians, Cerasuolo, the Spanish, Navarra.


WHAT IS A ROSÉ?

General Characteristics
Light, delicate, vin gris and fresh, fruity, saignée-style rosés are delicious to drink as aperitifs or with first courses. A few have the complexity to stand up to a range of cuisines. Rosés vary from bone-dry to sweet and slightly fizzy. In general, these pink wines are inexpensive to moderate in pricing, making them nice choices for bar pours and house wines.

Aging
These wines are best drunk as young as possible – no more than two years after harvest.

Recent Vintages
Vintages are insignificant as the wines are not made for aging.


Rose article for Sante (4)Producing Pink
There are three main methods of making rosé. The most obvious one is to blend red and white wine together to make pink. This is the method of most sparkling wine producers. In fact, in the European Union, the only place I know of where it is legal to produce rosé wine by this method is Champagne.

The other two methods basically differ in the same way that making white and red wines contrast. The vin gris (grey wine) method is to take red grapes and treat them as you would white wine – crushing and pressing the grapes and then fermenting the juice without skins, stems or seeds. The premise here is that with sufficient pressure, just enough color and extra skin tannin and flavor will show up in the finished product.

The saignée or short-term maceration method treats red grapes as red grapes. They are crushed and then fermented. The wine is racked off the lees after the winemaker decides that just the right color of pink and depth of flavor has been acheived. Fermentation is then continued with just the juice.

There are other types of rosé making. As many of you know, red grapes have white juice on the inside. The color component is all in the skins. There are, however, grapes that have some of their color within the juice itself, such as Italy’s Grignolino and France’s Poulsard, and in some less developed winemaking areas, red wines are literally bleached of their color by passing them through activated charcoal filters.

What do these rosé types mean to you, the wine buyer? Vin gris wines, having been fermented like white wine, tend to age quicker, and are best consumed as young as possible. On the other hand, the short-term maceration wines, having at least a touch of tannin for structure, seem to last slightly longer and have more intense fruit flavors. While few wines are labelled as to which method was used, color is a good indicator.

European Classics
The truly classic areas of rosé production number three. Tavel, Provençe and Navarra. Tavel is a rosé-only appellation on the right bank of the southern Rhône and is also the name of the bone-dry, Grenache-based wine with small doses of other typical local varieties, such as Cinsault, Clairette, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Often more expensive than other rosés, classic Tavel shows more quality and depth than other French rosés. Pricing ranges from $80 to $124 a case. At the higher end, Vidal-Fleury and neighboring Château d’Acqueria are can’t miss bets.

Provençe and neighboring Languedoc are well-known for Cinsault and Grenache-based rosés. Typically pale, dry and vin gris-styled, these are wines that are often best drunk “over there.” For the most part, they seem not to travel well; even high-end wines like the well-known and rather pricey Domaines Ott rosés, show signs of early oxidation.

Navarra, located in northeast Spain, is a moderately sized production area with a reputation for producing light, fruity reds and rosés from Garnacha, the Spanish name for Grenache. The wines are fruitier than similarly produced Tavels; they seem to travel better, and they cost less. On the other hand, Navarra rosés are generally produced for easy, simple drinking and have less depth and complexity. The few available here from good producers sell out quickly.

The vineyards at Mas de la Dame in Les Baux de Provence

The vineyards at Mas de la Dame in Les Baux de Provence

Youth Movement
The world of rosé is much vaster than one would suspect, and their are to many to review all at once. I decided to leave out dessert wines and sparkling pink for now, and because there are so many White Zinfandels and Merlots, I felt that those, too, deserved their own article. The price range of rosé is also widespread. While the majority are in the value category, quite a few are in the moderate range, and a few of the top releases make it to the prestige price level.

Pink wine is made for young drinking, and the majority of 59 samples reviewed were either 1996 or 1997 vintage. A surprising 14 wines from 1993 through 1995 vintages are still in the market; unfortunately, as my tastings showed, all the 1993s and 1994s and most of the 1995s were oxidized. Quite a few were corked as well, leading me to believe that not as much care is emphasized in the production and bottling of these wines. Given that these mature rosés often linger on restaurant winelists, it’s no wonder that a large portion of the public thinks rosés aren’t all that pleasant to drink.

Grape variety also played a big part in the quality and shelflife of rosés. Grenache, or Garnacha, tends to oxidize quickly. Other grapes, such as Syrah, seem to keep their fruit longer, but, for whatever reason, are made in a style that produces sweet watermelon and bubblegum flavors, and they’re not my favorites for restaurant drinking.

The most important conclusion I can draw from my reviews is that age is the number one purchasing factor. Bluntly, if you are offered pink wine that is more than one vintage “out-of-date,” you’re running a high probability of doing yourself and your customers a disservice. That means that as of the time of this article, anything but a 1996 or 1997 is probably a mistake. If you still have 1995s on your list, it’s time to pour them off by the glass, checking bottle by bottle for oxidation.

The number two factor, though, in truth, it should always be your number one, is to taste the wines before buying. Make sure the style is something that fits with your cuisine. With wines ranging from light, crisp, delicate and bone-dry, to fruity, off-dry and sometimes even a touch fizzy, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

In the end, the rewards are worth the research. I have to admit, that when I see a good selection of quality, youthful rosés on a wine list, I know that someone has done their homework. It perks my interest up in their list immediately, and I’ll probably order one. Maybe you will too.


REVIEWER’S CHOICE

Martinez Bujanda Valdemar Vino Rosado / 1997 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Proving the point that youth is critical in good rosé, this is vibrant, full of fresh cherry and berry flavors, a touch of spice and absolutely delicious before or during a meal.

Castello di Ama Rosato / 1996 / Toscana
100% Sangiovese
Dark cherries and a touch of spice. Always a favorite and makes a great bar pour and/or apertif.

Domaine Bruno Clair Rosé / 1996 / Marsannay
100% Pinot Noir
One of my favorite pink wines of the world. Deep berry fruit, earthy, spicy, the perfect foil for salmon and other “meaty” fish.


Value:

Castello di Ama Rosato / 1996 / Toscana
100% Sangiovese
Dark cherries and a touch of spice. Always a favorite and makes a great bar pour and/or apertif.

Bonny Doon Vineyard “Vin Gris de Cigare / 1997 / California
36% Syrah, 28% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Cinsault, 6% Sangiovese, 6% Other
A juicy blend of orchard fruits and berries. One of the most complex in the tasting and quite able to stand up to most meals.

Laurent Charles Brotte Syrah Dry Rosé / 1996 / Côtes-du-Rhône
100% Syrah
Fresh berries and a touch of lime juice. Bright, vibrant flavors, the way a good rosé should be. I’d be happy with this on any list.

Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine des Terres Dorées” Rosé de Saignée / 1996 / Beaujolais
100% Gamay
Red currants and spice. A tasty quaff with some seafood to balance the acidity.

Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Rosé / 1997 / Navarra
100% Garnacha
Cherries, strawberries and cream. A delicious, fruity package.

Georges Dubœuf Syrah Rosé / 1996 / Vin de Pays d’Oc
100% Syrah
A beautiful rare salmon color. Imagine watermelon squirted with a touch of lemon juice and just a faint hint of rose petals. For the genre, this one is tough to beat.

Eberle Counoise Rose / 1996 / Paso Robles
100% Counoise
Fresh cream, a touch of cherries. Try it with a grilled chicken breast.

Illuminati “Campirosá” / 1996 / Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
100% Montepulciano
Black cherries, light spice and good complexity. Definitely a winner on its own or with poultry or veal.

Domaine Lafond Tavel / 1996
60% Grenache, Cinsault 10%, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Mourvedre, Carignan
Creamy smooth with flavors of cherry and blueberry and just a touch of a spritz. Quite a pleasant quaff before or with dinner.

Domaine de Longval Tavel / 1996
Watermelon, strawberries and a touch of creaminess. For the price, as an apertif, this would delight anyone.

McDowell Grenache Rosé / 1996 / Mendocino
100% Grenache
Vanilla, cherries and a touch of spice. A great choice for a bar pour or with lighter fish dishes.

Castillo Perelada Rosado / 1996 / Empordà – Costa Brava
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Plums, light earth and a touch of spice. Delicious throughout the meal.

Real Companhia Vinicola “Lagosta” Rosé / N.V. / Portugal
Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional
A whole cocktail of fruit flavors, dry, well balanced, and for the price, an outstanding value for bar pours. The packaging is too cool for words.

Regaleali Rosé / 1996 / Rosato Sicilia
Delicious strawberry fruit and a touch of spice. Always a favorite as an apertif.

Réserve St. Martin “Val d’Orbieu” Rosé de Syrah / 1997 / Vin de Pays d’Oc
100% Syrah
A fresh, fruity, strawberry bubblegum flavor makes this a nice choice for those who like the white zin style but want to try something new.

Roussel “Domaine des Jonciers” / 1996 / Lirac
A nice earthy nose, lots of fresh cherry fruit and a touch of spice. A bit bolder and bigger than most of the wine tasted and holds up well with dishes that have a bit more weight themselves.

Château Routas “Rouvière” / 1996 / Coteaux Varois
65% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, 10% Syrah
Slightly bitter cherry fruit, light spice, and a good finish. One of the more pleasant southern French rosés tasted.

Mas Sainte Berthe “Cuvée Passe-Rose” / 1996 / Les Baux de Provence
40% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 13% each Cinsault, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon
Good acidity, fresh berries with a squirt of lime juice – a whole fruit salad in a glass. The most impressive of the southern French rosés.

Jaume Serra Rosado / 1997 / Penedès
100% Tempranillo
Lightly earthy, bright berry fruit. A nice choice with lighter meats.

Martinez Bujanda Valdemar Vino Rosado / 1997 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Proving the point that youth is critical in good rosé, this is vibrant, full of fresh cherry and berry flavors, a touch of spice and absolutely delicious before or during a meal.

Vega Sindoa Rosado / 1996 / Navarra
Tempranillo, Garnacha
Raspberries and cinnamon in a light, easy drinking style. Good acidity makes it a nice partner for seafood dishes.

Moderate:

Château d”Aqueria Tavel / 1996
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Clairette
Cherries and cream, with a bit of spice and green tea on the finish. Very enjoyable, especially with spicier fish dishes.

Michele Calo e Figli “Mjère” / 1996 / Alezio Rosato
80% Negroamaro, 20% Leccese Malvasia
Creamy smooth, plums and a touch of cilantro. One of the more intriguing rosés tasted and a great complement to spicier cuisine.

Domaine Bruno Clair Rosé / 1996 / Marsannay
100% Pinot Noir
One of my favorite pink wines of the world. Deep berry fruit, earthy, spicy, the perfect foil for salmon and other “meaty” fish.

Château de L’Engarran “St. Georges d’Orques” / 1996 / Coteaux du Languedoc
Bright strawberry fruit and a touch of creaminess make this one of my favorites from southern Franc.

Etude Rosé / 1996 / Carneros
100% Pinot Noir
Bright, lively fruit, spice and a touch of graham. Delicious on its own or with lighter meats.

Domaines Bunan Scea “Mas de la Rouvière” / 1996 / Bandol
Grenache, Cinsault
Light, delicate fruit with a nice minerally component. A great creamy mouthfeel. A nice pairing with your first course.

Prestige:

Swanson Rosato / 1997 / Napa Valley
100% Sangiovese
Strawberries, spice and a touch of candy corn. Great with pasta and cream sauces.


The following wines (leaving out those that were oxidized or corked) were in my original submission but were edited out by the magazine:

J. Vidal-Fleury Tavel / 1996
50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, 10% Clairette, 5% Other
Light berry flavors, a bit of yeast, and very delicate. As an apertif or with hors d’oeurves.

Château Ferry Lacombe “Cuvée Lou Cascaï” / 1996 / Cotes de Provence
Bright cherry fruit and a touch of lime flowers. There is a faint greeness on the finish which is not unpleasant. A nice apertif or salad partner.

Les Clos de Paulilles / 1996 / Collioure
Strawberry and watermelon bubblegum in spades. If you’re looking from a light, fruity quaff, this makes a nice alternative to the usual white zin.

Canei Mellow Rosé / N.V. / Italy
Grapey, orange marmalade, definitely off-dry and a touch of spice.

Fonseca “Lancers” Rosé / N.V. / Portugal
Fizzy, off-dry, and tasting of strawberries and cream. Surprisingly better than expected.

Sogrape “Mateus” Rose / N.V. / Portugal
Slightly fizzy, dry, with flavors of rasperries and citrus. Far better quality than many far more expensive white zins…

Marqués de Cáceres Dry Rose / 1996 / Rioja
Light earthiness, strong floral notes and slightly underripe cherries. As an apertif this makes a tasty glass of wine.

Bodegas Montecillo Rosado / 1996 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Sour cherries with a touch of spice and wood. A little too high in acidity to balance well for my tastes.

Firestone Vineyard “Gemstone” / 1995 / Santa Ynez Valley
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 4% Muscat
Toasted marshmallows, a touch of earth and a hint of flowers. Just a touch of oxidation. An oddity, recommended with duck and game birds.

Heitz Cellar Grignolino Rosé / 1996 / Napa Valley
100% Grignolino
Strawberry jam and a touch of lime juice. A nice choice with lighter poultry dishes.

Pedroncelli Zinfandel Rosé / 1997 / Sonoma County
100% Zinfandel
Sweet honey, light berry fruit – no different from the typical white zin.

Saintsbury Vin Gris / 1997 / Carneros
100% Pinot Noir
Green fruit, a bit of a spritz, not particularly exciting.

Sokol Blosser Vin Gris / 1997 / Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
Raspberries, lemon juice and a bit of earth. Also has a bit of a spritz. An interesting apertif.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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The Challenge of “Cheap, Light Whites”

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
April/May 1998
Page 32-33, 62-65

The Challenge of “Cheap, Light Whites”

You know the question. You dread hearing it. “Do you have a dry white wine? I only drink dry wines. And not too fruity.”

You already know that they’re on a budget. You can see it in their eyes. Nonetheless, someone at the table will make sure to make a joke about how poor they are and how inexpensive you should keep the bottle. Someone else at the table will tell you they like really light wines, like “Chardonnay or White Burgundy”. Where’s a sommelier to go from here?

Playing the Game

I’d like to say that it’s time for us to set the rules, but you know that isn’t going to happen. The customer sets the rules, we get to play the game. How we play the game is up to us. We have two options. We can opt for the easy route, the low road – pick them a nice, cheap, Chardonnay that will be the same as the last hundred bottles of wine they’ve had out in restaurants. Or, we can remember why we got into this business in the first place – the fun of educating and introducing our customers to wines they might otherwise not try. So what’s it going to be? Are you up for the game? Is your wine list?

There are thousands of inexpensive white wines out there in the world, and a huge portion of them are probably available in your market. Hopefully, you’ve found yourself some quality salespeople from your local distributors. You can give them the parameters, and they will show up with stuff actually worth drinking.

Unfortunately, too often, in too many parts of this country, salespeople are given quotas to fill. You don’t have the time to point them in the direction you’d really like to go, so you both end up settling for “a deal.” In simple terms, you end up with swill on your list that nobody really likes. The worst part is that your customers probably won’t tell you they didn’t like the cheap bar wine, or low-end bottle, but they will tell their friends.

Calling the Shots

My first challenge, in putting together a sampling of wines for “$30 and under light whites” was to figure out what they were. Pricing schemes around the country are so variable, even within any given market, that selecting a cut-off point is nearly impossible. A brief survey of quality restaurants here in New York City reveals markups that range from less than twice to over seven times cost.

I ended up opting for using my own restaurant’s pricing policy (twice plus $10), which gave me a cut-off somewhere in the $120-130 per case range. Although I didn’t set out to place a lower limit on cost, I found that in looking for quality wines that showed good varietal character (i.e., were not just innocuous, unidentifiable white wine), nothing under $60 per case made the cut.

“Light” is obviously just as subjective. My initial urge was to eliminate all Chardonnays, Viogniers and Semillons, because, in general, they are a bit fuller, but I decided that was unfair to the wineries that don’t go that route. Then I thought that I’d go for only wines that have no oak contact, but sometimes a little bit of oak just rounds out the wine.

I finally decided on a random selection and figured that I’d end up eliminating a few as I tasted. This turned out to be the case; two wines that I particularly enjoyed and highly recommend, Marqués de Murrieta’s “Ygay” Rioja Reserva, 1992 and Peter Lehmann’s Barossa Semillon, 1996, couldn’t be considered “light” by any definition of the word.

The Scoreboard

For my money, honors go to Sauvignon Blanc. Consistently, I found good varietal character, whether it was the classic Old World grassy style or the New World melon-scented and -flavored style. They were also, all around, a delight to drink, working well both on their own as aperitifs and pairing with a wide variety of cuisines.

In the minds of the public, and probably a large number of restaurant wine buyers, Italian white wines are automatically classified as light, simple, and undistinguished. Working with a predominately Italian winelist, I know that this is mostly myth. Not only are there numerous, fuller-bodied Italian whites, but more importantly, simple and undistinguished is anything but on target.

Surprisingly, only one pure Pinot Grigio made the cut. For the most part, those with enough quality to be of interest are priced out of the range I was reviewing. The majority of inexpensive Pinot Grigio could have just been labeled “white wine to wash food down with.” The most interesting whites from Italy were those that combined the talents of several grape varieties; some of them, such as the schizophrenic Franco-Italian blend in Montecarlo, have been made this way for years.

I was especially interested to see the white Rioja’s. I know that a lot of the producers have put an enormous investment in time and money into improving them over the last two decades. Gone, for the most part, is the heavy, oxidized style that characterized both white and red in this part of Spain. But reds have overshadowed the whites in the wine media, and it was delightful to discover the fresh, clean flavors these wines now have.

I’ve always liked really aromatic white wines, and Riesling and Gewürztraminer pretty much top the list. There aren’t many in the lower end range, especially for Gewürz, but it was a pleasure to find that there were some truly delicious choices available. Viognier, in a lighter style from southern France, also made the hit list.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was some of the odd-lot varietals that showed up on my doorstep. Colombard showed that it had the stuff to be something more than a blending grape. Chenin Blanc, a Loire Valley fave, really shines in some lower-end Californians. Chasan, a cross between Chardonnay and Palomino, was something I’d never tasted before, but hope to again.

The Post Game Show

None of us has a lot of free time. Between managing a wine cellar, managing our floor staff, writing and reading memos, and three thousand sundry chores that pop-up weekly, who has time to really taste through quantities of wine? Not to mention, and don’t let your restaurant owner see this, some of us want a social life.

Hopefully, I’ve done a little bit of the work for you, but the wines I’ve chosen are my own personal tastes, and may not even be available in your marketplace. You will need to put in a bit of time yourself: seeing what’s available locally, guiding your sales reps in what you want to add to your list, and, simply, tasting.

The tasting is key, of course. Because your customers will be doing just that when you pop a cork. Remember, whether your low-end light whites, or for that matter full whites, light reds or full reds, are good or bad, they’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends, who will… Game’s over.


REVIEWER’S CHOICE

Carmenet / 1995 Edna Valley, Paragon Vineyard / Reserve / California
75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon
Delicious orchard fruit, beeswax and honey make this one of the better white meritages that I’ve tasted. Borderline to be called light-bodied, but it could go either way.

Mazzini / 1996 Montecarlo Bianco / Tuscany, Italy
Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Trebbiano
Apples, pineapple and melons in a delicious round package. The complexity of the variety of grapes really shines through in this classic. Perfect with poultry.

Santa Rita / 1997 Sauvignon Blanc / Reserva / Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Like its non-reserve counterpart, grapefruit and lemon, with grass and herbs, but more concentrated, more extracted, and, well, just more. Absolutely delicious with chicken or veal dishes.


The Full Line-up

Bertani Duè Uvè / 1995 / Italy
50% Pinot Grigio, 50% Sauvignon Blanc
Very green and grassy, grapefruit rind and a touch of spritz. Fresh and clean, this will work with stronger shellfish, especially with herbal sauces. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc, 516-362-9642, $92/case]

Bouchaine Dry Gewürztraminer / 1996 / Russian River Valley, California
100% Gewürztraminer
In classic style, this is chock full of lychees and rose petals in a bone-dry package. The acidity works beautifully with cheese dishes. [Bouchaine Vineyards, 707-252-9065, $100/case]

Carmenet / 1996 Colombard / Old Vines, Saviez Vineyard / Napa Valley, California
100% Colombard
Yeast, butter and fresh strawberries and raspberries made this a tasty surprise – it’s not often that Colombard shows this quality. A perfect brunch wine on a warm weekend afternoon. [Chalone Wine Group, 707-254-4250, $72/case]

Carmenet / 1995 Reserve, Paragon Vineyard / Edna Valley, California
75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon
Delicious orchard fruit, beeswax and honey make this one of the better white meritages I’ve tasted. Borderline to be called light-bodied, but it could go either way. [Chalone Wine Group, 707-254-4250, $128/case]

Casa Julia / 1996 Sauvignon Blanc / Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Fresh grapefruit, grapefruit rind and a touch of graham cracker sweetness. Perfect for sitting on the front stoop, steamy hot weather, watching the world go by. If you have an outdoor seating area, make this your summer bar pour. [T. Edward Wines, Ltd., 212-233-1504, $72/case]

Castello di Tassarolo / 1996 S Gavi / Italy
100% Cortese
Honeydew melon, lime juice and flowers with a slightly bitter finish – basically what Gavi should be. Try this with vegetable dishes, it will brighten the flavors all around. [Empson (U.S.A.) Inc., $124/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Coriole / 1996 Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc / McLaren Vale, South Australia
60% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc
Honey, beeswax, orange rind and spices, an absolutely delicious example of this blend. It worked beautifully with a chicken in orange sauce. [New World Wines Pty., Ltd., 202-244-3040, $120/case]

Duca di Salaparuta / 1995 Colomba Platino / Italy
80% Inzolia, 20% Grecanico
Honeydew melon, light spice and a touch of asparagus. A nice apertif wine, and a decent choice with lighter composed salads. [Paterno Imports, Ltd., 847-604-8900, $124/case]

Dry Creek Vineyards / 1996 Dry Chenin Blanc / Clarksburg, California
100% Chenin Blanc
Classic green apple and honey with a touch of yeastiness, this is what good Chenin Blanc is all about. Try the traditional match with oysters or clams on the half shell, or any good cold seafood platter. [Dry Creek Vineyard, 707-433-1000, $76/case]

Fillaboa / 1996 Albariño/ Rias Baixas, Spain
100% Albariño
Cantaloupe and limes, always a great combination. The bright acidity and smooth flavors worked really nicely with spicy, garlicky tapas. [European Cellars Direct, $128/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Georges Dubœuf / 1996 Saint-Véran / Burgundy, France
100% Chardonnay
Freshly picked apples and a touch of herbs – a great alternative when you don’t want a lot of oak and butter in your Chardonnay. [W.J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd., $89/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Gini / 1996 Soave Classico Superiore / Veneto, Italy
100% Garganega
Fresh lemons and citrus flowers with a bit of that Italian zip. Nice with lighter pastas, especially with a touch of cream or butter. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $108/case]

Grand Cru Vineyards / 1996 Chardonnay / California
100% Chardonnay
Buttery oak, pears and a touch of spice. Nicely put together and a truly decent choice with a lighter dinner. [Classic Wines of California, 800-692-5780, $80/case]

Hacienda / 1997 Clair de Lune Chardonnay / California
100% Chardonnay
Flat and watery, with little more to offer than too much new oak. Not recommended. [Hacienda Wine Cellars, $66/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Hidden Cellars / 1996 Sauvignon Blanc / Mendocino, California
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Saltwater taffy, cantaloupe and a touch of lemon zest show a radically different style than the typical Sauvignon Blanc, but it does say California white wine in spades. Nobody would be upset to be served a bottle of this. [Hidden Cellars Winery, 707-462-0301, $112/case]

Lolonis / 1996 Fumé Blanc / Redwood Valley, California
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Very forward melons and pears with a touch of yeast. Pairing this with a touch of chicken seems a perfect choice. [Lolonis Winery, 510-938-8066, $112/case]

Lungarotti / 1996 Bianco di Torgiano Torre di Giano / Umbria, Italy
70% Trebbiano, 30% Grechetto
Light and basic with lime zest and lime blossom notes and just a hint of spice. Good with lighter fare; try it with sushi! [Paterno Imports, Ltd., 847-604-8900, $96/case]

Marco Felluga / 1996 Pinot Grigio / Friuli, Italy
100% Pinot Grigio
Crisp apples and spice with just a faint hint of metallic minerals. Delicious as a house pour and pairs beautifully with fish and lighter pasta dishes. [Felluga USA, Inc., 707-257-7453, $112/case]

Marqués de Cáceres / 1996 Rioja / Spain
100% Viura
Citrus, herbal and a touch of honey all blend together in this bright, easy drinking wine that is perfect as an apertif. It may be cliché, but try it with good tapas. [Vineyard Brands, Inc., 205-980-8802, $62/case]

Mazzini / 1996 Montecarlo Bianco / Tuscany, Italy
Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino, Trebbiano
Apples, pineapple and melons in a delicious round package. The complexity of the variety of grapes really shines through in this classic. Perfect with poultry. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $88/case]

Bodegas Montecillo / 1996 Rioja Viña Cumbrero / Spain
100% Viura
Honey, herbs, and citrus with just a touch of spritz. Perfect as an apertif or with lighter shellfish dishes. [W.J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd., 914-273-1221, $62/case]

Perrin / 1995 Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône / France
Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc
Floral with a touch of honey and citrus, this is a simple, easy drinking wine. Works well as an apertif or slightly premium bar pour. [Vineyard Brands, Inc., $96] (this review was left out of the final print article)

S.A.T. Los Curros / 1996 Rueda Tierra Buena / Spain
50% Verdejo, 50% Viura
Toast and herbs dominate a touch of orchard fruits with a long, spicy finish. A nicely balanced package that will stand up to boldly flavored foods. [The Barcelona Collection, Ltd., 904-280-1156, $56/case]

S.A.T. Los Curros / 1996 Rueda Viña Cantosán / Spain
100% Verdejo
Honeydew melon and straw with bright acidity, this is a very pleasant, easy drinking wine that I would be most happy with as an apertif. [The Barcelona Collection, Ltd., 904-280-1156, $61/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Sanford / 1996 Sauvignon Blanc / Central Coast, California
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Butter and honey dominate the nose, but the palate is balanced by bright melon and spice flavors. An interesting choice for those who like fruitier wines, pairs well with spicy foods. [Sanford Winery, 805-688-3300, $100/case]

Santa Rita / 1997 Sauvignon Blanc 120 / Maule Valley, Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Zesty grapefruit and lemon juices with a touch of grass and herbs. Perfect with a chicken salad lunch or just to drink as an apertif. [Vineyard Brands, Inc., 205-980-8802, $65/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Santa Rita / 1997 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva / Maule Valley, Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Like its non-reserve counterpart, grapefruit and lemon, with grass and herbs, but more concentrated, more extracted, and, well, just more. Absolutely delicious with chicken or veal dishes. [Vineyard Brands, Inc., 205-980-8802, $90/case]

Sella & Mosca / 1995 Vermentino di Sardegna / Sardinia, Italy
100% Vermentino
Consistent with the house style, this wine has nice herbal and citrus flavors and a bit of wheat germ on the nose. More of a spritz and slightly simpler than the “La Cala”, but quite similar. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 561-362-9642, $60/case] (this review was left out of the final print article)

Sella & Mosca / 1996 Vermentino di Sardegna La Cala / Sardinia, Italy
100% Vermentino
Light and crisp with a touch of a spritz. Citrus and herbal flavors with an interesting note of wheat germ. This works nicely with lighter pastas. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 561-362-9642, $80/case]

Stoneleigh / 1996 Sauvignon Blanc / New Zealand
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Intense grassiness and fresh raspberries are the hallmark of this classic. Delightful with shellfish and salads with strong vinaigrettes. [Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., 212-818-0770, $88/case]

Trefethen / 1996 Dry Riesling / Napa Valley, California
100% White Riesling
Light petrolly notes and a touch of orange rind, but somewhat neutral overall. An acceptable hot afternoon quaff. [Trefethen Vineyards, 707-255-7700, $108/case]

Vichon Mediterranean / 1995 Chasan / France
100% Chasan
Light and crisp with lots of bright citrus flavors and just a touch of herbs. This makes a really nice hot afternoon quaff and a delightful apertif. [Robert Mondavi Winery, 707-226-1395, $90/case]

Vichon Mediterranean / 1995 Viognier / France
100% Viognier
Classic aromas of peaches and cream in a fresh, light styled package. The perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken (and it stood up to a mustard sauce). {Robert Mondavi Winery, 707-226-1395, $90/case]

Weingut Kurt Darting / 1996 Riesling Kabinett Ungsteiner Bettelhaus / Germany
100% Johannisberg Riesling
Rose petals and sweet orange marmalade are as mouth-filling as the wine’s moniker. For someone who wants an off-dry wine, this is hard to beat. [Michael Skurnik Wines, Inc., 516-677-9300, $112/case]

Willamette Valley Vineyards / 1996 Pinot Gris / Oregon
97.5% Pinot Gris, 2.5% Chardonnay
Creamy smooth, with subtle flavors of tangerine and pepper, this wine stands up nicely to creamier cheeses, smoked or cured fish; in short, the perfect brunch wine. [Willamette Valley Vineyards, 800-344-9463, $120/case]

Willamette Valley Vineyards / 1996 Riesling / Oregon
90% Riesling, 9% Müller-Thurgau, 1% Muscat
Peaches and cream, floral notes and limes, the latter especially on the finish. Notedly sweet, though with good acidity to balance. Great with a cold shellfish platter. [Willamette Valley Vineyards, 800-344-9463, $80/case]

Yarra Ridge / 1996 Sauvignon Blanc / Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Butter, grass and concentrated cantaloupe – the style screams Australia. The balance is just right for a chilled shellfish platter. [Mildara Blass Wines, Inc., 919-846-5800, $98/case]


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Fine Tuning

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
May/June 1997
Pages 37-39

Wine List Makeover
Fine Tuning

Despite having spent many years in the restaurant business, and most of them as a chef, the term “organic” in relation to a restaurant summons a connection with “health food”, which in turn conjures up associations like tasteless, brown, and chewy. It is a rare eating establishment that breaks with the traditional “if it tastes good it can’t be good for you” attitude. Most of us want, and expect, good food that’s good for us, too.

Lincoln Center is not the first venue that springs to mind for restaurants that take up this calling. Home to some of the top performances of ballet, opera and symphony orchestra, this is an enclave where tuxes per square yard measure in santejosephina1the double digits. The cultural aficionados who gather here don’t want to sleep through performances. They want food that will wake them up and keep them going through three acts and two intermissions.

The Restaurant
Across the street, Josephina has more than met the challenge. The term casual elegance was coined for this atmosphere. Bold, colorful murals of produce and street scenes from southern Italy splash across the walls. Tabletops, chair fabrics, and colorful woods make the room alive and vibrant. Josephina herself, grandmother of owner Louis Lanza, looms over the bar as an image in a mural. Location makes Josephina the perfect pre-performance dinner spot. With 175 seats, the staff handles 200-300 covers a night, twothirds of that between 5:00 and 8:00. This is a neighborhood that rolls up the sidewalks at the same time they hoist the curtains.

Food is focused on seafood and produce. Butter and cream are rarely used in cooking here. Spicing is important, and the chef has a generous hand with them. Each part of the dish is carefully cooked and seasoned on its own, so even thos of us who tend to pick apart dishes don’t miss out on the spirited flavors.

The Wine Program
All of this has made for an unusual wine program. Because most diners are off to a three or more hour performance, they don’t drink heavily. Wine by the glass outsells wine by the bottle by astronomical proportions. While three to four cases of wine are typically sold each evening, less than one of those is sent to the table in bottle.

Edward Ting, along with managing the restaurant’s general operations, has been charged with upgrading the wine list. Prior to his arrival, the list was not a priority for management. Customers were happy just having “a glass of wine,” and the dozen item selection reflected that reality. But with the opening of his new fine-dining restaurant, Ansonia, owner Lanza saw the opportunity to simultaneously upgrade the quality at Josephina.

Over the last year, Ting has eliminated off-vintage specials, poor producers and a dependence on California Chardonnay and Cabernet. The list now features forty wines; other grape varietals, quality producers and a small but growing selection of entries from the rest of the world have been introduced. Staff training and tasting sessions have become part of the daily regimen. With the focus on glass sales, a range of styles are now offered, currently six whites, six reds, and two sparkling wines. A beer list was added, with attention to a variety of styles.

Wine pricing here is somewhat erratic and probably is a reason for the low sales volume. The official pricing plan is 2.75 times cost, but in truth, wines are priced from two to nearly seven times cost. By-the-glass prices are a little high at a bit more than one-quarter the cost of a bottle for a small, four-to-five ounce pour.

Much of what sells does so on name recognition: Sonoma-Cutrer, Mondavi, Hess and Gloria Ferrer. But the two biggest movers, Bonterra Chardonnay and Jenard Merlot, easily outsell the other wines. They fly into the glasses for what would seem to be an obvious reason: they’re both marked on the list as “organic.” Not only do customers pick them on their own, but for the waitstaff, it’s a readily available “hook” when it comes to making a recommendation.

An Adjustment, Not an Overhaul
Everone knows the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For the most part, Josephina’s wine list works: customers seem to be happy with the general approach to wine, as evidenced by gradually increasing sales, and the staff is excited about the offerings. What’s needed her is some fine tuning.

santejosephina2Presentation is everything in sales, and a good product with a good presentation is golden. Josephina’s wine list is presented simply in a plain, clear plastic cover with a dark red border. The beer list is on the front, and the wine list comprises the inside two pages. The cover itself is fine, being simple and non-threatening. ON the other hand, the list is printed on white copier paper and contains several minor spelling, accenting, and formatting errors. Even for casual elegance, this is too casual.

It would be worthwhile for the restaurant to invest in a better grade of paper, something reflective of the environment in which the list is presented. Around the colorful murals, tabletops and fabrics, the walls of osephina are designed with a simple, dark cream colored faux marble. This is a readily available paper style and is more reflective of the class of the restaurant, and this simple change would enhance the overall experience. The layout of the list is easy to follow and read. Sticking with the overall format, but switching to a more interesting and elegant font, will contribute to the quality feel of the list.

Who among us hasn’t shared and laughed over some error in translation or description that lef a dish or wine sounding more humorous than ingestible? Simple mistakes in wine names may be noticed only by those of us in the business, but, hey, we’re customers too. Attention to correct spelling and accenting are easy fixes. More important here is the inconsistency in listing of wines. Some are listed with producer first, some with varietal or name and some with region of origin. Again, a simple tune-up will cure this problem.

As noted earlier, one of the selling points for wines here is the tag “organic.” There are numerous organic wines on the market, many of them of excellent quality. It doesn’t pay, however, to dump everything else that works in pursuit of such a focused idea – too much of a good thing and all that. A sound approach would be to showcase a few wine selections that are noted as quality organic wines.

Although Ting would like to expand the list to around fifty selections and to offer a more worldwide representation, his storage space is limited.Given its by-the-glass success, Josephina needs na expansion of that program, not an increase of the overall list. All wines should be available on a by-the-glass basis.

The Josephina list also includes a few higher end items. Simply, these don’t sell. They have not been offered by the glass, because waste would be too costly. Although they are a minimal investment for Ting (they are supplied in small quantities of two or three bottles at a time by the owner’s other restaurant, Ansonia), they take up unnecessary space on the list and contribute to a feeling that the list is a bit higher priced than it ought to be. Paring these to a minimum is a priority and offering what remains by the glass will yield a sales alternative that will attract attention from customers. A worthwhile investment might be a small, home style gas-preservation system for these few, more expensive wines.

Pricing Recommendations
Pricing is the last, but by no means the least, important issue. The primary problem is one of consistency. Two wines that cost the restaurant the same amount ought to be priced on the list at the same amount. A simple example – Fortant de France White Merlot costs $4.67 and is offered at $18.50 while Columbia Cresta Merlot costs $4.50 and is priced at $26.00. It is always difficult to come up with a fair pricing scheme; some opt for flat increases, others for certain percentages in ranges of costs (e.g., 2.5 times if it costs $5-10, 3 times if less, 2 times if more). I generally recommend a sliding scale, in this case two times costs plus $8. This keeps the higher end wines right around the twice cost markup, and the lower end wines generally end up in the 3-4 times range.

By-the-glass pricing in New York is typically one-quarter of bottle price, but pours are more often around six ounces than the four-to-five that Josephina offers. With its significant investment in smaller sized glassware, the restaurant should consider lowering their prices on glass sales. Owners are rightly entitled to a profit, and in this case, the customers don’t seem to object. This is a decision that Josephina’s management will have to consider over time.

All-in-all, Josephina has a winning structure here. Fine tuning provides a way to increase customer and staff enthusiasm, build profits, and generally make the whole dining experience more enticing. After all, that’s why we’re all in this business.

Josephina's revised wine list after Perlman's fine tuning.

Josephina’s revised wine list after Perlman’s fine tuning.


santejosephina4


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Remember the 80s?

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
March/April 1997
Page 15

table fables
Remember the 80s?

Dan Perlman is the Wine Director at Felidia Ristorante in New York City, a columnist and food and wine editor for Q San Francisco magazine, and a private chef

Dan Perlman is the Wine Director at Felidia Ristorante in New York City, a columnist and food and wine editor for Q San Francisco magazine, and a private chef

Chefs threw multicolored, multilayered, phallic architecture on a plate and charged an extra sawbuck.

Caviar, foie gras, truffles and champagne went from movie screen fantasy to daily fare at the diner down the block. Drinks that were rack became call and then top shelf. Top shelf itself came into being and proliferated on every bar back. Tips were as big as the drinks themselves. A sommelier needed knowledge of little more than the five first growths, DRC, Gaja and maybe how to lever out a cork. If the Court of Master Sommeliers had based their exams on a true “need to know” basis, we’d have thousands of MS’s running around the country.

Everyone was spending money on becoming a foodie or trendy drinker. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors and anyone else with a professional title were using corporate credit cards to satisfy the slightest culinary craving. Even the file clerk down the hall had an expense account.

Welcome to the 90’s. Tax reform and economic trends have stripped those magical sign-now-pay-later phantasms from all but the top echelon. The question has gone from “what vintage Bordeaux?” to “what bargain Merlot?” Cellar management has become an exercise in breadth rather than depth and sales have gone from a snap of the corkscrew blade back to the art of diplomacy.


Welcome to the ’90s… The question has gone from “what vintage Bordeaux?” to “what bargain Merlot?”


But the top stuff still sells. Who’s buying it? The one class of professional that has the leveraged financing to pull it off is still ordering. The one class that retains those mystical expense accounts are investment bankers – young, hotshot, generally but not always male, looking for that meteoric rise in income, knowing that it won’t last, but enjoying life’s pleasures while it does.

Now, I preface the next bit with the caveat that this is a generalization. (Any investment banker who is quite sure he or she doesn’t fit this description, please consider yourself an exception.) Let’s face it, as wine buyers, we’ve all attended auctions and seen prices skyrocket as guys with too much cash pay outrageous sums based on vintage charts from their magazine of choice. We’ve all had one who ordered a bottle from the right-hand side of the page without a clue as to its content and then announced to his friends at the table what he was paying for whatever he was getting. High school locker room-size comparisons just change form, they don’t go away.

I give you, however, a particular evening. It was a typical night. A party of four late-twenty-somethings popped in, the host a weekly visitor, each time with a new trio in tow. Without fail, our leader ordered his usual bottle of ‘76 Lafite. I presented the bottle for his inspection, and, as always, presented it to each of this evening’s friends so that they could see what he had bought for them to toss down after a couple rounds of martinis. As I served the bottle, I quietly mentioned to the young gentleman that this was the last in our cellar. He stopped the conversation at the table with a wave of his hand and asked me when I intended to get more. I said, regretfully, that it was unlikely that any more was available for our purchase. Without a pause, he slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “Do you know who I am?! Call the factory and have them make more!”


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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Step-by-Step Wine Service

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
November-December 1996
Pages 42-43

The Sommelier Society of America had a regular column in the magazine towards the beginning, and I believe this was actually the first issue. Two of us from the society who were part of the Education Committee were asked to put this together – I did the writing and my recollection is that the lovely hand model was Joe Scalice.

Step-by-Step Wine Service

There are many ways to open a bottle of wine, ranging from casual to very formal. Behind them is a tradition of “correct” service, which draws on decades of experience. Remember, the “host” is whomever ordere the wine, unless you are instructed that someone else will taste it.

❶ Carry the bottle carefully to the table and present it from the host's right side. Cardle the bottle in a clean cloth and make sure the label is facing the host at an angle easy to read. Reconfirm the host's order by stating the producer's name, type of wine and vintage.

❶ Carry the bottle carefully to the table and present it from the host’s right side. Cardle the bottle in a clean cloth and make sure the label is facing the host at an angle easy to read. Reconfirm the host’s order by stating the producer’s name, type of wine and vintage.


❷ With the blade of your corkscrew, cut the capsule below the lip of the bottle. This prevents contamination of the wine from residue under the capsule. Note: For steps 2 through 4, if you are serving in a more formal environment, place the bottle on a side table while opening it.

❷ With the blade of your corkscrew, cut the capsule below the lip of the bottle. This prevents contamination of the wine from residue under the capsule. Note: For steps 2 through 4, if you are serving in a more formal environment, place the bottle on a side table while opening it.


❸ Wipe the top of the bottle with a clean cloth. Insert the tip of your corkscrew into the center of the cork and twist in a clockwise direction. Insert the corkscrew deep enough to get good leverage, but be careful not to puncture through the bottom of the cork.

❸ Wipe the top of the bottle with a clean cloth. Insert the tip of your corkscrew into the center of the cork and twist in a clockwise direction. Insert the corkscrew deep enough to get good leverage, but be careful not to puncture through the bottom of the cork.


❹ Hold the corkscrew level securely against the bottle lip with your other hand. Slowly draw the cork out. You may need to rotate the corkscrew a quarter or half turn to help draw the cork out evenly. At the end, grasp and gently push the cork from the side with your thumb to remove it.

❹ Hold the corkscrew level securely against the bottle lip with your other hand. Slowly draw the cork out. You may need to rotate the corkscrew a quarter or half turn to help draw the cork out evenly. At the end, grasp and gently push the cork from the side with your thumb to remove it.


❺ Wipe the outside and inside of the lip of the bottle with a clean cloth. Make sure to clean away any residue or bits of cork that may be left behind. It helps if you dampen a corner of the cloth with water.

❺ Wipe the outside and inside of the lip of the bottle with a clean cloth. Make sure to clean away any residue or bits of cork that may be left behind. It helps if you dampen a corner of the cloth with water.


❻ Present the cork to the host on a small plate or underliner for his or her inspection. If you have opened the bottle away from the table, present it again.

❻ Present the cork to the host on a small plate or underliner for his or her inspection. If you have opened the bottle away from the table, present it again.


❼ Pour a taste of the wine for the host. A proper taste (approximately one ounce) should be enough for the host to get a true sense of the wine. While the host is tasting, hold the bottle so he or she can read the label.

❼ Pour a taste of the wine for the host. A proper taste (approximately one ounce) should be enough for the host to get a true sense of the wine. While the host is tasting, hold the bottle so he or she can read the label.


❽ ❽ Have a clean cloth in hand to wipe the lip of the bottle after each pour. This prevents drips on the table or streaks down the side of the bottle.

❽ Have a clean cloth in hand to wipe the lip of the bottle after each pour. This prevents drips on the table or streaks down the side of the bottle.


❾  After the host accepts the wine, pour for the others at the table, always from the right side. Serve in a clockwise direction, beginning with the person to the hosts's left. In a more formal setting, pour all women at the table first, then a  second time around for the men.

❾ After the host accepts the wine, pour for the others at the table, always from the right side. Serve in a clockwise direction, beginning with the person to the hosts’s left. In a more formal setting, pour all women at the table first, then a second time around for the men.


❿ The host is always poured last, regardless of gender. Fill glasses only to between ⅓ and ½ full. This allows room for the bouquet of the wine to develop in the glass.

❿ The host is always poured last, regardless of gender. Fill glasses only to between ⅓ and ½ full. This allows room for the bouquet of the wine to develop in the glass.


⓫ White, sparkling and most dessert wines should be place in an ice bucket on or near the customers' table. The bottle should be easily visible to the host.

⓫ White, sparkling and most dessert wines should be place in an ice bucket on or near the customers’ table. The bottle should be easily visible to the host.


⓬ Red wines (or others at the host's request) should be placed on an underliner or small plate on or near the table. Again, the bottle and label should be easily visible to the host.

⓬ Red wines (or others at the host’s request) should be placed on an underliner or small plate on or near the table. Again, the bottle and label should be easily visible to the host.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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