Tag Archive: Marketing

The razzle-dazzle resto brigade

Time Out
Insider’s Guide 2009
Page 21


The razzle-dazzle resto brigade
Ramp up the drama and dine in spectacular surroundings

There’s no question that the food is of paramount importance to most people when dining out; but for many, even those who don’t stop to think about it, the ambiance is of equal value. It brings an added dimension to the dining experience when you’re seated in a beautiful room, be it opulent or simple, with good lighting, where not only is it attractive to view your surroundings, but you and your guests look just that little bit better. After all, even if we profess to like eating in little hole-in-the-walls, we do try to avoid looking around too much, or too closely.

At the truly opulent end of BA dining, there are a few standouts, and one well known to lovers of interior decor is El Bistro at the Faena Hotel + Universe, (Martha Salotti 445 in Puerto Madero Este, 4010-9200). This Phillipe Starck fantasy in white, gold and dashes of red, with unicorns gazing down from the walls, leaves you and yours to provide the color. Set against this backdrop, we all look good – and what better environment could there be for the chef’s presentations of that darling of the culinary vanguard, molecular gastronomy? Another, far less well-known dazzling dining room is at the century-old Club Español (Bernardo Irigyoyen 180, 4342-4380), and its restaurant, Palacio Español. Behind the building’s beautiful tiled facade is a highly ornate salon with vaulted ceiling, tall columns, gold filigree, beautiful lighting, stunning painting and statuary, and a balcony area for semi-private dining. Classic dishes of Spain are the main event in terms of food, including a don’t miss paella.

Not all opulence has to come with a high price-tag, and where Buenos Aires excels in this area are its cafés from a bygone era. While every guidebook out there will point you towards the center of town and the touristy atmosphere of the famed Café Tortoni, we’d like to recommend some more offbeat locales for sipping an espresso and watching the world walk by. The first, L’Orangerie, is the garden salon in the Alvear Palace Hotel in Recoleta, where white-gloved waiting staff still serve afternoon tea at 5pm, complete with tiers of dainty sandwiches, delicate pastries and custom blended teas, as they have for nearly 80 years. Another café well worth the trip is Las Violetas (Rivadavia 3899, 4958 7387), where you sit nursing your coffee in a three-story high café of white and gold that could easily be the fantasy setting for a Hollywood movie. Or if you truly want an ambiance from days gone by, a trip to the somewhat seedy Retiro Train Station offers up the chance to seek out the old Café Retiro at one end, a former ballroom and site of state events that still sports unexpectedly lovely interior architecture under a vaulted glass cupola built in the late 1800s. Several nights a week the café offers up live jazz and tango shows, cultural activities and art exhibitions in the soft glow of the elaborate chandeliers.

Paradoxically, many of the most beautiful ambiances in which to dine are hidden away behind plain façades, often with a bit of graffiti, or a touch of decay – perhaps to hide the fact that behind these simple walls are modern takes on spots to see and be seen in. Local star chef Germán Martitegui of Casa Cruz and Olsen fame has recently opened his own spot, Tegui (Costa Rica 5852, 5291-3333), in Palermo, with bold swathes of black, white, glass and chrome, a garden area, a gleaming open kitchen, and pinpoint perfect lighting that makes guests as much the stars as the exquisite food. Still upscale, but significantly less expensive, is Recoleta’s Teatriz (Riobamba 1220, 4811-1915), a relaxed, somewhat dreamy room, hidden behind gauzy curtains, reminiscent of an old Paris bistro where you can dine on elegantly presented, creative local cuisine. Taking a similar approach, but with a latin twist is the new PozoSanto (El Salvador 4968, Palermo, 4833-1611), with its soaring glass and brick architecture decked out with artifacts and handicrafts from southern Peru. From the outside, you’d never know that one of the city’s most handsome rooms is hidden behind a red-painted concrete wall. Likewise, behind a slightly rundown old façade is the understated yet elegant dining room at Pura Tierra (3 de Febrero 1167, in Belgrano, 4899-2007), where it’s well worth setting yourself down for dinner. In addition to chef Martín Molteni’s exquisite cuisine, the open wood-burning hearth, the pressed tin ceilings, and the gorgeous stained glass windows make for a memorable evening.

Last but by no means least, there’s the simple, minimalist style of several Asian dining spots. One of our favorites is BuddhaBA (Arribeños 2288, 4706-2382) in Belgrano’s Barrio Chino, with its vermillion walls, Buddha statues and beautiful floral arrangements, a separate tea garden, and small art gallery. We’re also quite fond of the traditional home style of the best (and hardest to get into) sushi bar in the city, Yuki (Pasco 740, 4942-7510). Right out of a movie set, the rice paper and bamboo walls, with sliding partitions, give a sense of both intimacy and community. Likewise the geisha house atmosphere of Nihonbashi (Moreno 2095, 4951-7381) with kimono-clad waitresses, constant pampering, and excellent Japanese food, particularly the shabu-shabu hot pot, never fails to remind us of one or another James Bond movies.

In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.


Mercado del Progreso

What’s Up Buenos Aires
October 9, 2007

Mercado del Progreso

Mercado del Progreso

A lot can change in two hundred years. The Plaza de Mayo, then the Plaza Mayor, was a different place – the central gathering point for a small city – surrounded by a customs house, post office, church, and fortress, lined up with rows of merchants from the west, with their covered wagons. Butchers, bakers, well… candlestick makers… all in town, gathering to sell their wares to the local populace. Not far away, in what is now the Plaza del Congreso, gathered the merchants of the north, forming the Mercado Indio, and, no surprise, another locale was set aside for those in town from the south, in what is now Plaza del Constitución. But that was all to change… By the mid-1800s, various decrees ended up banishing the merchants from any plaza designated as public use, and a new system had to be found for offering food, straight from the farms and ranches, to restock the local larders.

Mercado del Progreso
Mercado del Progreso
The first step was the creation of a Mercado authority, which then moved the three principal markets to indoor locations, providing each merchant with a small stand from which to sell his wares – a trio of buildings all near to the Plaza de Mayo, the Mercados “del Centro”, “Lorea”, and “del Plata”. From there, and as the city grew in size, the new system spread outwards, and by the end of the century, there were 21 official indoor markets operating in various parts of the city. A few of those still remain, the one most commonly seen by visitors probably being the Mercado de San Telmo, which still houses a number of food vendors, but has mostly been taken over by antique and junk dealers. Another easy to find, and smaller example, is the Mercado de San Cristobal, just off the corner of Córdoba and Callao.

Mercado del Progreso
Mercado del ProgresoBut the true market aficionado will want to “take the A-train” to its last stop in the barrio of Caballito, where the last remaining fully operational and full sized mercado, the Mercado del Progreso (Av. Rivadavia 5430), opened “at five in the afternoon on the 9th of November, 1889” and other than a revamp in 1894 and a full renovation in 1957 – which included providing every market stand with a running water supply and electricity – has been up and running ever since. True, small encroachments are happening along its sides – what were once integral cafes, meeting spots, and offices have been converted to small shops and restaurants, no longer part of the Mercado itself; and yes, over there is a stand that’s offering up blank CD and DVD discs; but the heart of the market remains true – food. Vegetable stands, fruit stands – all selling produce direct from the farm are dotted throughout the block square edifice. The mainstays are the butchers – each with their own specialty, be it beef, or veal, pork, or chicken and rabbits, even a couple of fishmongers. Here they gather, and here shop the local populace, much as they did nearly 120 years ago – haggling over prices, discussing preparation tips, meeting neighbors to chat – and most importantly, keeping a two century old tradition alive in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Dan Perlman is a former New York based chef, sommelier, food and wine writer who now lives in Buenos Aires. For more of his scribblings on food, wine, and restaurants visit his blog at www.saltshaker.net


A good story makes the product better

marketersOkay, this isn’t my own, it’s an excerpt from a new book called All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Goldin. The excerpt appeared in the May 2005 issue of Fortune: Small Business, so I’m not sure if it’s exactly what will appear in the final book (to be published this month). But, since it relates to my career, and I liked it, I’m just posting it. By the way, the rest of the excerpt is truly fascinating – look for the book in stores soon!

Georg Riedel is a fibber—an honest spinner of tales. He tells his customers something that isn’t true—his wineglasses make wine taste better—and then the very act of believing it makes the statement true. Because drinkers believe the wine tastes better, it does taste better.

Georg is a tenth-generation glass blower, an artisan pursuing an age-old craft. I’m told he’s a very nice guy. And he’s very good at telling stories. His company makes wineglasses (also whiskey glasses, espresso glasses, and even water glasses). He and his staff fervently believe that there is a perfect (and different) shape for every beverage. According to Riedel’s website, “The delivery of a wine’s ‘message,’ its bouquet and taste, depends on the form of the glass. It is the responsibility of a glass to convey the wine’s messages in the best manner to the human senses.”

Thomas Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine, said, “Everybody who ventures into a Riedel tasting starts as a skeptic. I did.” The skepticism doesn’t last long. Robert Parker Jr., the king of wine reviewers, said, “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” Parker and Matthews and hundreds of other wine luminaries are now believers (and as a result, they are Riedel’s best word-of-mouth marketers). Millions of wine drinkers around the world have been persuaded that a $200 bottle of Opus One (or a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck) tastes better when served in the proper Riedel glass.

Yet when tests are done scientifically—double-blind tests that eliminate any chance that the subject would know the shape of the glass—there is absolutely zero detectable difference among glasses. A $1 glass and a $20 glass deliver precisely the same impact on the wine: none.

So what’s going on? Why do wine experts insist that the wine tastes better in a Riedel glass at the same time that scientists can easily prove it doesn’t? The flaw in the experiment, as outlined by Daniel Zwerdling in Gourmet magazine, is that the reason the wine tastes better is that people believe it should. This makes sense, of course. Taste is subjective. Riedel sells millions of dollars’ worth of glasses every year. It sells glasses to intelligent, well-off wine lovers, who then proceed to enjoy their wine more than they did before. Marketing, in the form of an expensive glass and the story that goes with it, has more impact on the taste of wine than oak casks or fancy corks or the rain in June. Georg Riedel makes your wine taste better by telling you a story.


Politically Correct Wine

In the midst of a particularly egregious period of time when every presentation I went to on wine was focused on one or another “politically correct” factors, be it “natural”, “organic”, “no sulfites added”, “fair trade grapes”, or a winemaker or winery owner of color or alternative gender, I drew up a wine label for what I felt to be the ideal wine at the time. Strangely, none of the wine publications I submitted it to were willing to publish it. Perhaps they were afraid of the PC backlash.



Read Any Good Wine Lists Lately?

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.


Postcards from the edge…

I don’t really recall how, as the beverage director for restaurants AZ and pazo, I ended up with the job of creating marketing postcards. I think maybe we just had a lot of time on our hands during construction phases and the owner asked us to come up with things to keep ourselves busy. Regardless, these ended up being the marketing cards for both restaurants (the AZ ones are from much earlier, I’m dating this with the later ones from pazo).



Putting It All Together

The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
April/May 1999
Page 59

Putting It All Together

The Veritas team, back row from left, Sommelier David Singer, Sommelier Ben Breen, Owner Gino Diaferia, front row from left, Wine Director Dan Perlman, General Mananger Ron Lybeck

The Veritas team, back row from left, Sommelier David Singer, Sommelier Ben Breen, Owner Gino Diaferia, front row from left, Wine Director Dan Perlman, General Mananger Ron Lybeck

The phone rings early. The voice on the line says, “X told us to call you. We’re opening a restaurant. We have a private collection of 70,000 bottles of wine to create a reserve list, but if you want to add to it, you can buy what you think you need. We’re going to do low markups to attract people who are into wine. The chef is really talented. Even though it’s a 65-seat restaurant, you’re going to have two assistant sommeliers. We’re opening in four weeks. Interested?”

I’ve just finished my first pot of coffee. The caffein hasn’t quite kicked in. I’m highly susceptible to both flattery and intrigue. At least I can go talk to these guys. It’s not as if I’m committing to anything… Yeah, sure.

I go chat. Two weeks later, I’m at 20th Street in Manhattan, sitting in the basement of a construction site that will become Veritas, wondering just where I’m going to put 1,500 selections of wine. I have room for 500 – if I squeeze.

Taking Stock

Reality can bring tears to your eyes. There are personalities involved – four owners, three of whom are offering their personal wine collections for me to cull through. What complicates matters is that each of them has their own idea about what should be on the list. One partner hands over his entire collection. A second sends a list of what he is contributing to the restaurant. Partner number three knows what he has – it just isn’t written down anywhere. I make a trip to his cellar, and we comb through his collection.

I end up with over 1,200 selections of wine. They are heavily concentrated in “trophy” wines – top-growth Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône, California cult Cabs, Barolo, scattered selections from Spain (a large vertical of Unico) and Australia (ditto for Grange). There are few whites, lots of big bottles (25 percent is in magnum or larger) and virtually no half-bottles.

My two cellar rooms are both temperature controlled. I create “red” and “white” roooms, with double-depth, single-bottle racking. Initially, my reaction is one of dismay; how am I going to create bins?, there’s a lot of wasted space, etc. When I stop to think about how the wines are coming in, however, I realize that this configuration is necessary. Traditional bins would end up with five or six different wines piled on top of each other. On the other hand, because of the “selection” process, I can’t preassign bin numbers and spacing to wines. I end up creating bin number categories (e.g., 2000-2200 for red Bordeaux) and then assigning the bin numbers as the wines arrive.


There are two assistants to hire, one capable of creating the bar that will carry eclectic and interesting selections, not “well”brands and not even standard “call” brands. Also, I want someone who can manage a small, constantly changing, wine-by-the-glass program. We interview and hire, and we put one of the assistants, David Singer, on payroll and get him working. Between the two of us and General Manager Ron Lybeck, also a sommelier, we hammer out the concept, and Singer starts making selections. My second assistant, Ben Breen, joins us. He not only will handle floor service, but also much of the restaurant’s computerization, including the redesign of the preliminary web site where our wine list and menus are posted.

Lybeck and I come up with the concept of a “market” list. We approach it like a chef going shopping, finding ingredients and then creating a menu. I’m not going to worry about filling holes in this list. I look for wines that I like, that I can get at good values and offer at prices that beat the competition. We collect wine lists from all over the city and start comparing prices. If someone bought something years ago, we may not be able to beat the price. Instead, we go for giving the best value that we can.

There’s the menu to consider. Executive Chef/Owner Scott Bryan and I worked together years ago in another restaurant. Initially, his menu looks like typical fusion cuisine, but he has his own twists. Aiming for simplicity in a city where more is better, he pairs a minimum of ingredients to create a maximum effect. We taste through the menu with the staff – the food is amazing! From my perspective as Wine Director, however, most of what’s on the reserve list doesn’t pair with the food. A huge percentage of these are big, “chewy”wines. The food is lighter and simpler with touches of Asian spices. There are lighter, more elegant wines to add.

I’m a huge fan of half-bottles. We already have a ton of large bottles. I start collecting halves, and I ask one of the partners to do the same. He heads for the auction houses and starts bidding.


I wish that I could remember the thought processes that went into the list design. I do remember waking up in a cold sweat at four in the morning and jotting down nightmares. Some of the presentation was dictated by prior decisions; a designer already had selected the physical book that would contain the list. It’s a half-width ring binder holding sheets of paper that are 4¼ by 11 inches. I decide to print pages on one side and fold them in half. The physical design allows me to update the list daily, a necessity given the wine-crazed clientele that we attract. Customers expect that the wine they see on the list to be there; being out of one item is guaranteed to convince them that we’re all smoke and mirrors.

veritas3I decide on a reference section for the list. Customers are always asking questions about bottle sizes, geography and wine trivia. I create a chart of bottle sizes, and I add some maps. Inspiration strikes, and I spend a couple of days researching an idea. I gather reviews of a recently released wine. As we all know, wine reviews vary considerably. I insert a blurb about the importance of trusting one’s own palate and quote from the reviews. Every flavor profile is different and the ratings vary widely. I show it to colleagues. They love it.

I want color on the list – just enough to accent the pages. I purchase an inkjet printer, which means slow printouts and regular replacement of pages when someone smears the ink with wet or greasy fingers, but we all like the look. I want to feature wines by the glass up front. A last minute call to the designer yields a pocket added to the inside cover.

We decide that we’re going to have the market and reserve lists in the same book. We want a certain level of impact in dining and wining here. We don’t want people to feel intimidated asking for the reserve list.

I gather a hundred selections or so as an opening market list. Given our “market” approach, I opt for separating them by varietal, not geography. I write a one-sentence blurb for each wine, but as time goes on, we’ll use commentary from staff tastings.

[Veritas – marketlist]

veritas2The reserve list requires a different approach. I go after it with a copy of a wine atlas in one hand. I try different formats until I find one that we all like. The page width requires certain decisions. I don’t want individual wines to take up two or three lines of text. My solution amounts to an outline of the wine world; true, customers must look at the top of the page to know where they are on the planet, but my scheme gives a simple categorization to the list.


I have to deal with staff training. I decide that, over time, we will cover the equivalent of a sommelier’s course for the entire staff. Most of the wine education will be handled by me. I decide to leave the spirits education in Singer’s hands; though he’s new to managing a bar and teaching, it is a perfect opportunity for him to grow into a position.

The chef is approached. He’d love to have the kitchen staff participate. We plan classes and tastings, a demanding schedule that will tax the staff’s time and energy. The waitstaff is hired with that in mind. We look for people wo are personally into wine right from the start.

First Returns

Opening day arrives. The reserve list will open with holes intact. It will be a constantly evolving list, as any good wine list should be. Everyone says that their list is constantly evolving, but most aren’t. They become static creations because no one has the time to constantly update them. Our approach has to be different, and my assistants will free more of my time to do that.

I wish I had months to add more whites and to add wines from other parts of the world. I’d like to see more wines representing the lighter side of life. Balance will come with time. On the other hand, we know that the public, and the critics, will come looking for the holes and, finding them, will assume that we haven’t thought it through.

I add an opening statement onto the first page of the wine list, explaining our concept and evolutionary approach. It has no effect on a restaurant critic who arrives before we open, looks at a draft of the list and pronounces judgment on it. One shows up the day after we open and announces that we don’t the wine that the reviewer wants. We have 11 other vintages of the very wine, but… yawn… well, an interesting list. A neighborhood restaurateur comes in, combs through the list and asks for an obscure wine. “You don’t have it? I though tyou were going to cver everything.” He leaves, no doubt to return to his own restaurant and pass the word about Veritas’ inadequate wine list.

After a day or two, I realize that when you come into the New York City market with what we are offering, this reaction is unavoidable. Most patrons and colleagues are excited for us. There are always going to be those who feel that they have to criticize. We have over 1,300 wines on a brand new list. We’ll never cover everything. If we tried to cover everything in a list this size, we’d have one selection from each appellation, and that’s about it. Who’d be interested? Who’d be excited?

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.


Veneto: Outstanding Originals

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.