Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Roses are Red, Table for Two

RMGT Article published February 2012

From up-selling to oysters, how romance can raise revenue.

You can almost predict the encroaching night of service months in advance. Every reservation is for two. The new parents have splurged on a babysitter for their first night out in months. The fawning lovebirds are pawing at each other between courses. And the old curmudgeonly couple are struggling to converse, much less refrain from bickering. Regardless of age or palate, they are going to expect … no, demand, that every detail match their eager expectations. This Hallmark holiday can make any restaurant manager nervous.

“It's important to have simple, delicious, and memorable food because as we all know in this industry, Valentine’s Day is one of the ‘rookie nights’ that we get throughout the year,” says Chuy Galvan, sommelier at SIP at Flavor Del Mar restaurant in Del Mar, California.

Galvan says that to keep these “rookie” guests coming back for more, you need proper service, good value, and tables turned at a good pace so the following diner isn’t forced to wait.

Bernard Sun, corporate beverage director at Jean-Georges Management LLC in New York City, uses “lots of heart-themed items like red cocktails, Château Calon-Ségur, and Rosé Champagne” to deliver the wow factor to guests on Valentine’s Day.

Guests’ high expectations can also be used to your advantage. What started off as the Christian feast of Saint Valentine in the Middle Ages has evolved into a showering of handcrafted chocolates, overpriced roses, and candle-lit dinners. The pressure is on guests to impress their dates, and they don’t want to appear cheap. So do them a favor, and help them look like pros. I have three words for you: upsell, upsell, upsell.

“When you offer items that have fantastic price-to-quality ratio, upselling will take care of itself,” Sun says.

Besides featuring quality products, train your entire front-of-the-house staff to offer beverages to start. With this routine, Champagne, beer, or cocktails should almost sell themselves. This is a foolproof way to increase the per-person check average by anywhere from $15 to $35 depending on what is offered.

Another idea to increase sales is to offer menu pairings. “A great chef should be able to create a menu that is ideal to pair with wine,” Galvan says.

If possible, offer a standard and premium menu and wine pairing. People like to think they are in control, but they also don’t want to make too many decisions. After all, they are there to enjoy themselves and indulge. People also like to feel entitled to luxury. On a celebratory occasion such as Valentine’s Day, selling luxury should almost come naturally.

Now, are you ready for a shocker? Sex sells. I know, I know. Crazy, right? Embrace it and emphasize the aphrodisiac ingredients or courses on your menu. The classic aphrodisiac is said to awaken and stir feelings that would be inappropriate to act upon in a public restaurant. The mysterious side effects of aphrodisiacs increasing the libido have been touted since the ancient Roman scientist and historian Pliny the Elder’s classic, Natural History.

“Like many things, the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs can be very individual,” says Amy Reiley, a Master of Gastronomy and aphrodisiac advocate. “Give me some oysters and Champagne, and I’m yours for the night. But that doesn’t work for everyone.”

Reiley does recommend keeping meals relatively light, with simple tricks like swapping out beef and lamb shank for wild game. While it even sounds sexier, wild game pairs well with a wide range of wines, both red and white.

“I think beverages are a huge part of the romantic meal experience,” Reiley says. “You’d be surprised to discover how many aphrodisiac properties there are in certain wines (mostly qualities of aromas) that can enhance the experience.”

Although the list is quite long, some of my favorite aphrodisiacs from Reiley’s website Eat Something Sexy were chocolate (of course), oysters (duh), sea urchin, lobster, mussels, figs, avocados, pumpkins, truffles, vanilla, ginger, honey, saffron, nutmeg, licorice, and lavender.
It is interesting to learn that the word aphrodisiac stems from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Apparently, ancient Greeks believed that potions made from seafood enhanced arousal, since Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Hence, the cliché pairing of Champagne and oysters!

Valentine's Day has become one of the most successful nights of the year for restaurants around the world. If your restaurant staff puts in half the effort of its romantically inclined guests, everyone will walk away happy. By upselling menu pairings and embracing creative aphrodisiacs, your efforts will be rewarded with greater numbers and eager return business. Just ask Pliny the Elder.

New Movie Lifts Lids on Master Sommeliers

The article published January 23

A new film about to be released shines a spotlight on the gruelling world of the Master Sommelier qualification – an exam less than 200 people have ever passed.

Somm tells the stories of Brian McClintic, Dustin Wilson, Ian Cauble and DLynn Proctor as they prepare for the entrance exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Described as ‘the new rockstars’, ‘prophets’, ‘egomaniacs’, and ‘sickly gifted’, the four Americans go through ‘thousands and thousands of hours’ of wine tasting, wine theory and practice.

The trailer is reminiscent of The Apprentice and dozens of other reality TV shows, Somm – as sommeliers are sometimes called in the US – showing them in the depths of despair, as well as approaching what they concede is a ‘brutal’ ordeal with masochistic relish.

‘Somm highlights not only their extreme level of commitment but the all-encompassing effect it has on their lives,’ Geoff Kruth, chief operating officer of the Guild of Sommeliers says.

The film also features interviews with some major wine producers, including Andrea Cecci of Tuscany, Hano Zilliken of Saar in Germany, Paul Graf von Schönborn of Schloss Schönborn, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, and Wilhelm Haag of Fritz Haag in the Mosel.

As to whether the four hopefuls are ultimately successful, nothing is being given away.

The film, directed by Jason Wise, does not have a release date yet, though it is slated to premiere on the East Coast. Wise has submitted it to the Tribeca and Edinburgh film festivals.

‘The acceptance rate [for festivals] is incredibly low but we’re hoping for the best,’ he said.

Wise remains enthusiastic about its potential. ‘I have been overwhelmingly surprised at the response we’ve had since the trailer was released, with over 15,000 unique page views within the first two days,’ he said.

In the UK, Master Sommeliers contacted by were positive about a film which may lay to rest some misconceptions about their profession.

Ronan Sayburn MS, wine director at Hotel du Vin, said, ‘Demystifying wine is good for the industry as a whole’ – although he firmly denied any pretensions to star status: ‘Maybe I feel like a rock star for about ten minutes when I’m decanting a bottle of Latour, but not at two am when I’m polishing glasses. In the Court of Master Sommeliers, we try to teach humility.’

Gerard Basset, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, said, ‘I’m an aging rock star. There are certainly some parts of our lives where you are like a rock star, travelling a lot, visiting vineyards and working late at night.’

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My First Week in London Interning at Decanter Magazine

Although this blog has predominantly been used to post links to my published articles, I am now additionally going to use it to chronicle my time in London interning for Decanter Magazine. This will help keep my loved ones in the loop and inform potential future employers of what I am gaining from this experience. But I will have to keep the logistics of my tasks at Decanter to a minimum due to confidential information. 

Although I want to tell you about this week, I want to start from the beginning to provide context. Let’s just say that getting here wasn’t easy. This whole journey started off six months ago when I hastily sent my CV, bio and links to my published work to the editor of Decanter, the most respected wine publication in the world. I was on my way to completing my Master of Science in Journalism from the highly acclaimed Medill School of Journalism of Northwestern University and nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my dream.

I never thought in a million years that I would even receive a response. But to my surprise, they responded AND were interested in arranging an interview! After completing an hour phone interview with three managers (in English and French) and a timed wine exam, they were interested in creating an internship for me.

Although they had interns before, they had never hired an American. Little did both of us know, the road ahead (aka – getting a visa) would not be easy. Roughly 100 emails (not an exaggeration) and a rollercoaster of ups and downs later, I received confirmation to apply for my visa…two weeks before my departure date.

When I finally had my visa in hand, I believe I shed a small tear and hugged it closely. My journey was just around the corner and I could taste it.

When I boarded the plane, I ran through the checklist in my head one last time to ensure I was fully prepared. My nap pillow was comfortably around my neck, my book “The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries” was propped open in my lap and I popped my sleeping pill down the hatch and was ready to sink into a state of slumber for the next 8 and a half hour plane ride.

Then the announcement was made; the plane we were on was unfit for travel across the Atlantic Ocean and we were going to have to switch planes. Groan.

Two and a half hours later, we were on our merry way.

I was pleased to see a familiar face when I landed. Alessa, who I studied with in Paris in 2006 and now calls London home, was at the airport to greet me. I was also thankful to have assistance with my two large suitcases going up and down the many sets of stairs on the tube.

When we arrived to the flat in Clapham, it all sunk in. I was here. All of the minor setbacks along the way became a distant memory and I was thrilled to go explore.

The flat was much nicer than was advertised. It is five stories (the bathroom has its own floor) and three bedrooms. It is in a safe area and within walking distance to everything I could possible need (grocery stores, restaurants, bars and most importantly, the Northern line tube).

That evening, I met up with Alessa, her boyfriend Dave and Bethany (a fellow Medill graduate in London for a three-month internship) for drinks and dinner. We went to a pub in Borough for a few rounds of beer and a nice Moroccan restaurant for dinner that had splendid hand-crafted cocktails.

I slept in the next morning until 11 am due to jetlag. But I had an accomplished day running errands such as grocery shopping, going to the bank and purchasing a blow-dryer. Bethany and I both had orientation at BUNAC, the visa sponsoring company, at 3 pm. I successfully made my way there using the public transit system, and was very proud of myself. (But I should have knocked on wood) We went to purchase a phone and grabbed dinner at a pub in Angel, a cute area with a lot of shops.

The next day, my direction-challenged self shined through. I decided to take a bus to the Victoria and Albert Museum to meet up with Alessa, despite her recommendation of using the tube. I got on the 345 bus and climbed to the top floor sitting in the very front. In my head, I thought this would be a perfect way to get a lay of the land and sight-see on the way. Killing two birds with one stone – yes please!

Little did I know, the bus was headed in the wrong direction. Three hours and two bus rides later, I arrived at my destination two and a half hours late.

The museum was lovely and right next door to the natural history museum (pictured). We explored the Renaissance paintings and sculptures, jewelry (of course), 20th century art, and British furniture.

The entrance has a breathtaking blown-glass hanging chandelier by Dale Chihuly (pictured), the same artist who designed the chandeliers at NoMI, the Park Hyatt Chicago.

The museum also holds the most extensive collection of Cast courts, divided into casts of Northern European and Spanish sculpture and Trajan's column (pictured) in the west court and casts of Italian monuments in the east.

Trajan Cast court column's to the left and a close-up shot to the right.

The next day was my first day at Decanter. Breath. I decided to dress business casual per my friend Marnie’s recommendation. I wore black tweed slacks with a mustard yellow cashmere cardigan and my grandmothers’ long gold chain. I did get lost on the way there, but it was only a 10-minute detour this time. Phew! The office is inside the Blue Fin building in Southwark, which is home to 60 of IPC Media’s magazines and to Time Inc’s Time (where friend from Medill, Lauren, will be interning) and Fortune Magazines.

The first day consisting of being introduced to everyone, getting a tour and becoming acquainted with my set tasks for the month. Everyone was extremely warm and hospitable. I was beaming with happiness inside and in shock that I was finally there. On the way home, I purchased a bottle of Carta Roja, Jumilla, Monastrell, Gran Reserva 2005 for a whopping 6 pounds to celebrate. I highly recommend it, but only on the first day open.

The second day at Decanter (Friday) was just as exciting. I wore a vintage tan canvas collared dress with tall brown boots (pictured). I had my list of tasks and already felt comfortable fulfilling them. I have been extremely pleased with my boss and how well she communicates what she needs accomplished.

They have already invited me to a few Burgundy en premiere tastings in the city next week which I am very much looking forward to. I have a feeling that I will be learning invaluable lessons while I am here and making strong networking connections.

Last night, Alessa, her boyfriend Dave, Bethany and I went to the Savoy Hotel for cocktails. The Savoy is in the city of Westminster in central London, is the oldest hotel in London opened August 6, 1889, and has the only street leading up to its lobby entrance where it is required to drive on the right-hand side of the road.

It was made famous by the "Savoy Cocktail Book," published in 1930, and having invented the white lady cocktail. The lobby was absolutely breathtaking and the cocktails were deliciously well-balanced.

My mixologist friends would be proud of me for branching out to a genever gin-based beverage called the Piano Man, named after the Frank Sinatra-style of music being played in the bar.

Tonight we are going to explore SoHo and I am planning on being a tourist tomorrow (if I finish my RMGT column in time).

I am one week into this incredible adventure and thankful for every moment. Thank you to my loving parents for making this possible.

Until my next posting…


Amy Payne

Ps. Here are two signs that I found entertaining this week.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

No Siesta in Sight For Spanish Growth

Link to RMGT article published January 2012

Director of Wines from Spain, Katrin Naelapaa, reveals the hot regions and trends to expect this year.

The pendulum continues to swing. The consumer preference toward balanced wines is growing as a result of the urging from the sommelier community. As is widely understood, the full-bodied and flabby (or acid-deficient) styles of wine retired with Robert Parker, a wine critic who stopped reviewing California wine for The Wine Advocate and as of February 1, 2011. With this trend, we will start to see a return to classic representations, including Spanish wine.

“The pendulum is swinging back to wines that are less dense, have higher acidity and are better with food,” says Katrin Naelapaa, director of Wines from Spain, a division of the Trade Commission of Spain. Northwest Spain provides that style of wine because the terrain is so difficult to farm. Specifically, a lot of wine buyers are venturing into newer regions such as Galicia and Bierzo. According to Naelapaa, the Priorat wine region has suffered a bit by the push back.

As I quoted in my last article about wine trends to look for in 2012, “One of the up-and-coming regions to look for value is wines from Spain,” says Master Sommelier Patrick Okubo, managing partner for Formaggio Grill in Kailua, Hawaii.

However, this isn’t exactly Spain’s first rodeo. During the 1850s and 1860s, oidium and phylloxera ravaged the grape vines of France. Winemakers supplemented the disease-ridden vineyards by using Spanish wine, particularly from Rioja, in their blend. Over the past 10 years, domestic demand for Spanish wine has risen dramatically because its alluring lower price point in comparison to other classic old world European regions.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission, $265 million worth of Spanish wine was imported into the U.S. in 2010, up 158 percent from 2000 and 28 percent from 2005. The U.S. imported 53 million liters of Spanish wine in 2010, growing 175 percent since 2000 and 38 percent since 2005.

“Perhaps influenced by the state of the economy, we have seen a trending down in price,” says Naelapaa. The value wines, between $8.99 and $20, have seen a lot more growth than the luxury category. Falling prices have spurred two other trends in Spain: more wines that fall under the qualification of Vino de la Tierra and increased production of younger wines.

According to Naelapaa, importers are creating their own brands and sourcing from larger production areas under the qualifications of Vino de la Tierra, or wine of the land. This system was invented for wines that do not fulfill the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) requirements of grapes and aging, but must be from a specific region. Because they are not regulated as strictly, the winemaker has more flexibility.

“Rioja has ramped up production of younger wines that see a lot less time [in oak] due to demand,” Naelapaa says.

In response to the trend of lower-priced wines, winemakers are producing more joven or crianza. Red wine labeled crianza must be aged two years, including six months in cask. Red wines labeled joven require less aging than crianza. These wines hit the sweet spot of value wines. Red wines labeled reserva are aged three years, including one year in cask, and gran reservas are aged five years, including 18 months in cask. Falling above the value-wine category, they typically sell for between $30 and $50. However, for the consumer seeking mature wine, Spain still offers better quality for the price than most other countries.

According to Naelapaa, we can expect to see a continued growth of white wines from Spain. In 2010, 1.9 million liters of Albariño was exported to the U.S. (a 259 percent increase from 2004, making it the No. 1 international market for Albariño). Cornerstone Communications Ltd. launched a Rías Baixas Albariño wine marketing campaign in the U.S. last November. The campaign will run through 2013 with a budget of $2 million, using a marketing concept called the Albariño Explorers Club, or AEC. With increased domestic awareness, Albariño exports can be expected to grow.

The latest initiative of Wines from Spain to promote awareness was a soft launch of its new website on Dec. 14, 2011. With the help of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Doug Frost, the Wines from Spain wine guide is now available online. Other features include an interactive map to find Spain’s 69 D.O.’s as well as wine-locating services. Those informative services provide the name of the importer and stores that sell the product.

“The website brings the consumer much closer to being able to purchase the product than ever before,” Naelapaa says. She also says Spain is the only country promoting such capabilities. The website currently features 160 wines, but the plan is to double that number by next year. The interactive map will eventually help users locate and contact wineries directly. All in all, this resurgence means nothing but positive growth for some of the best wine producers in Spain, which will keep its many fans happy for some time to come.

Wine Trends for 2012

Link to RMGT article published December 2011

Keep your wine program fresh and stay up with the latest trends to keep your customer’s coming back for more.

Next year is expected to see a resurgence of the classics, such as Château Margaux, Bordeaux (above).

Thanksgiving festivities have passed, but the leftovers keep on giving. The Christmas wreaths are hung, and the smell of fresh pine fills the air. Champagne is stocked in the cellar in anticipation of the celebratory midnight toast. Holiday carols play on repeat as the crackling fireplace defrosts December’s chill, and your wine list reflects the warm winter flavors. But now it’s time to prepare for next year’s trends.

Just as bell-bottom jeans were popular in the ’70s and de rigueur last spring, so are wine trends cyclical. Malbec has seen its heyday; Merlot still has a bad reputation. And people either love or think they hate Chardonnay. Next year, we can expect to see a return to the classics.

“One of the up-and-coming regions to look for value is wines from Spain,” says Patrick Okubo, managing partner for Formaggio Grill in Kailua, Hawaii. “Areas such as Priorat, Navarra and Aragon are places that grow French varieties that we're comfortable with, such as Grenache, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are often blended with Spanish varieties such as Verdelho or Tempranillo, mixing comfort with something unique.” Okubo recommends Abadia Retuerta Rivola made from Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, an affordable selection for under $20.

Eric Crane, who does training and development for Empire Distributors Inc., focused in Georgia and North Carolina, agrees that people will go back to drinking wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Ribera del Duero, Loire and Alsace.

Charlie Plummer, regional manager in California and Nevada for Jackson Family Enterprises, says the superb vintages of 2006 and 2007 have inspired growing popularity for classic Napa and Sonoma wineries. “I'm starting to see a renewed interest from buyers looking to add depth to their list by way of library wines (mostly ’90s and early 2000s). Particularly wineries like Freemark Abbey's single-vineyard Rutherford Cabernets, La Jota's Howell Mountain Cabernets and Arrowood Cabernets.”

Plummer says buyers are drawn in by the current releases and eager to learn and share the winery’s history by making library wines, or older vintages, available on their list. “It's a walk back in time for your restaurant guests,” he says.

To find library selections for your list, I encourage you to inquire with the winery directly. Buyers need to be aware that only a handful can accommodate such requests. According to Plummer, most of the bigger corporate wine companies have purged their libraries before 2000. The continued consolidation of corporate wine companies limits the number of Napa and Sonoma wineries that actually carry library wines back to the late ’70s and early ’80s.

For value wines, South America still trumps any other region. “I think if people aren’t entertaining South America, they are really missing out on making money for themselves,” Crane says. “In this economy, restaurateurs need to make money, and sommeliers should run the program this way.”
Don’t be scared to please the crowds, but don’t compromise your standards. You can find wines that are going to be comfortable and provide a robust experience for your guest.

“Malbec from Argentina still represents the best price-to-value on the market,” Plummer says. Instead of the typical Malbec from Mendoza, try a Tannat from Uruguay, Carménère from Chile, or Pinot Noir from Patagonia. Or try an international-style Malbec, such as Cot from Cahors, France. Either way, Malbec and South American wines haven’t lost popularity yet.

Another region to consider for mid-priced wines is Australia. The country has been enthusiastically promoting a regional identity in the U.S. Take the neighborhood wine shop, for example. Australia used to have one lonely shelf among its competitors. Today, however, it is separated into different regions such as Margaret River, McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley.

“I think we will see more sommeliers talking about the $30 to $50 Australian wine that is pretty darn delicious at an everyday level,” Crane says. “If you spend $100, you can get a really well-balanced wine that works great with food.”

For the first time ever last year, Americans consumed more wine overall than the French (who still lead in per-capita consumption). According to the Wine Institute in San Francisco, domestic wine sales grew by 7 percent. Americans also spent more per bottle. People are growing increasingly curious about wine and want to learn more. Where there’s a demand, the supply will soon follow.

“Education in our industry is starting to get rolling,” Crane says. “Sommeliers are a fantastic resource, and the service staff is starting to understand the importance of wine knowledge.”

Whether you have a sommelier or a well-educated staff, staff training and awareness are musts for 2012. The dining experience is becoming more involved. Guests expect to learn more about the wines they already love. Or they want to be introduced to new wines that fit their palate preferences.
To keep customers happy, it’s important to keep your wine program fresh and stay up with the trends. Wine is just as vital an accompaniment to a meal as salt and pepper, adding a new dimension to the dining experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to provide a rich experience with the latest trends.

Wines for Holiday Parties

Link to RMGT article published November 2011

Getting through the holidays one glass at a time.

This holiday season, think outside the typical wine box and leave your guests talking.

Each passing holiday season allows the opportunity to imbibe our favorite seasonal cocktails. Whether it be hot buttered rum at the annual party, eggnog by the wood-burning fireplace or hot spiced cider while opening presents, these drinks become a part of our collective memory. As wide ranging in style, size and cultural backgrounds as holiday parties can be, there are equally as many wines to suit each occasion.

“One of my favorite things during the holidays is going home to visit family and sitting around the fireplace,” says Rachael Lowe, beverage director of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago. “We start with Champagne, move to a white, and then a red while sitting by the Christmas tree at the dinner table.”

Affordable wines for large scale wine parties

The holidays provide an opportunity to share holiday cheer with coworkers. Without the proper execution, these moments can quickly turn sour. In a Christmas episode of The Office, manager Michael Scott ruined the yuletide mood after sabotaging a secret Santa gift exchange. To say that it resulted in an uncomfortable situation would be an understatement. His attempt to recover by plying his employees with cheap vodka created an even worse situation. In his own defense: “Stupid corporate wet blankets. Like booze ever killed anybody."

To avoid an awkward holiday party moment like this, make sure the wine is flowing so the conversation will follow suit. The ideal work party wine is something that goes down smoothly and is easy on the corporate budget.
“Look for affordable areas that people don’t necessarily recognize,” says Lowe. “I like wine from small regions where you can get good value, like southwest France, southern Italy and Spain.” She recommends Domaine la Croix-Belle, Vins de Pays, Côtes de Thongue les Calades Syrah from Languedoc, France.

Dining Room Manager of Kendall College in Chicago, Wanda Cole, advocates sparkling wine. “It serves many purposes,” says Cole. “It is food friendly and provides an ambience of celebration and prosperity. You don’t just have to be celebrating New Year’s Eve to drink bubbly.”

She recommends either a Prosecco or a Cava that is approachable and not too sweet, such as Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, Italy.

Off the beaten tracks wines to impress even the wine snob

Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating or cut into your retirement account. It is a story. Whether that is about a family tradition, a unique terroir, or an off the beaten track gem, the enthusiast wants to be surprised and delighted. Look for a wine with a story when you are debating your gift for the wine enthusiasts’ holiday soiree.

Lowe recommends Azienda Agricola Cos, Nero d'Avola from Sicily, Italy 2001. “It is really well-rounded and drinks beautifully,” says Lowe. “I have shown it to friends who are ardent Burgundy fanatics that loved it.”
The winery is located on the southeastern peak of Sicily on the plateau of Victoria. The vines are 50 years old and were historically cultivated before the birth of Vittoria in 1607. The wines are produced from the only DOCG of Sicily and located 820 feet above sea level.

“I recommend Pierre Péters Champagne because it is a smaller grower and is able to maintain its house style consistently,” says Cole.

The Pierre Péters Estate, located in the Côte des Blancs in Le Mesnil sur Oger, has a rich history and has been producing the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne since 1919. The 45 acres of chardonnay, located in Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant, average to be 30 years old. It is a grower-producer house, meaning it makes Champagne from at least 95 percent of estate-grown fruit. It produces 13,000 cases annually, in comparison to1.4 million cases for the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.

Wines for celebratory occasions

The holidays are a time for family gatherings, celebration and lifting a glass to toast. What better than Champagne to enjoy moments of celebration with your loved ones? In the words of the Notorious B.I.G. himself: “Birthdays was the worst days; now we sip champagne when we thirsty.”

Cole prefers the Veuve Clicquot Rosé for a mid-range priced Champagne, although her favorite higher-end is the Fleur de Champagne by Perrier-Jouët. “The first time I had it was the day that I passed the level one exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers. It was very clean, had good fruit, nice depth, great acidity, and a beautiful mousse.”

Tan Huynh, CEO and Sommelier of Crudo, a consulting firm for the Willamette Valley wine industry, recommends Argyle for a new world sparkling wine, but his preferred Champagne is Bollinger Grande Année 2000. “It goes well with Asian cuisine, and deep fried, smoky, and salty food. It refreshes your palate and gets you ready for another bite.”

When pairing wine for an event, Huynh considers the main dish. He builds the food around that, taking sauces into consideration as well. Last year, he paired a 2000 Margaux with prime rib that guests are still raving about.
“My belief is that a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine,” says Huynh.

Transitioning Into Fall With Wine

Link to RMGT article published October 2011

As the season changes, so should your wine list. Learn what’s hot for this fall season.

It is that time of year again. The leaves are turning yellow, football season has commenced and the Pumpkin Spice latte is back on the Starbucks menu. As your menu changes to reflect fall flavors, your wine list should too.

“Fall wines tend to emanate the signs of fall, both in color and in taste,” says Michael Taylor Senior Wine Director of ENO Wine Room in Chicago’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Alsatian Riesling

Many people stereotype Riesling as sweet, but Alsatian Rieslings are fermented to dryness. They have fuller body and higher alcohol than their German counterparts due to the “rain shadow effect” created by the Vosges Mountains. It is one of France’s driest and sunniest wine regions with a semi-continental climate. This allows the grapes to ripen to higher sugar levels while retaining their naturally high acidity. Typical aromas include dried apricot, overripe peach, candied ginger, honey, petrol, and slate.

“My favorite fall wine is Riesling which is great transitionalwine from the hot and sticky summer season to the cold and wet winter months,” says Scott Smith, Sommelier and Managing Partner of the Rockford-based SBS Consulting Group. “It pairs exceptionally well with traditional late summer and early winter dishes.”

Food Pairing: scallops, turkey, veal, curried butternut squash soup

Burgundy Pinot Noir

Wine production in Burgundy dates back to 200 AD and fetches some of the highest prices at auction internationally. For example, in June 2011 during an auction at Christie's Geneva a private American buyer bid $123,889 for a 750 ml bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945. Pinot Noir is a thin skin varietal, making it a pre-Madonna demanding perfect conditions. The quality is heavily dependent on producer, vineyard and vintage, creating the allure for the perfect Burgundy. Typical aromas for Pinot Noir include red fruit like cherries, strawberries, and cranberries, violets, tomato leaf, cured meats and black tea.

“In preparation for fall, I am putting away the Sauvignon Blanc glasses to prime the Burgundies,” says Taylor. His favorite Burgundy for fall is by François Mikulski from Pommard, which is located in the Côte de Beaune.

Food Pairing: chicken, turkey, duck, truffles, risotto


Châteauneuf-du-Pape, meaning new castle of the Pope, is located in the Southern Rhone Valley. Bottles that are embossed with a papal crest on the shoulder are 100 percent estate-bottled. The region has a Mediterranean climate and is known for the pudding stones, or galets, that are made of quartzite and smoothed by the river. The galets store the day’s heat, keeping the vines warm at night. Although 13 varietals are permitted in the final blend, the main grapes used are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Typical aromas include strawberry compote, raspberry, black cherry, raisins, powdered sugar, grenadine, black pepper, and picholine olives. The palate is slightly sweet and oxidative, which makes it pair well with spicy or hearty cuisine.

“I tend to choose medium bodied reds this time of the year, such as Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and various blends from the Rhone,” says Taylor. He recommends Domaine de Marcoux from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Food Pairing: cassoulet, duck, short ribs, lamb

Piedmont Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo, named after the morning fog, nebbia, is a thin-skinned grape varietal that thrives in Piedmont. The region has a continental climate and the Alps provide a rain shadow effect. Although the region has more Denominazione di origine controllata, or DOC, zones than any other region in Italy with 16 DOCG’s and over 40 DOC’s, the two most prestigious are Barolo and Barbaresco. Typical aromas include dried sour red cherry, tar, dried rose petal, red licorice, fennel bulb, truffle, clay, and cinnamon. Structurally, it has high tannins, high acidity, with medium plus to high alcohol. All of which make it ideal for pairing with food, especially rich protein to tone down the tannins.

Andres Munoz Honiball, restaurant manager of Chicago-based NoMI, recommends Elio Grasso Langhe Nebbiolo. “You don’t have to wait a decade to let it open up and taste like what the grape is supposed to taste like,” says Honiball. “It is soft and subtle with rose and tar notes and has enough acidity and tannins to complement a fall cuisine.”

Food Pairing: black truffles, risotto, stew, rich meat and game

Spanish Tempranillo

Rioja, located in North-Central Spain, is the most well-known region for Tempranillo. The wine can be blended with Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. When phylloxera struck France in the 1850’s, French winemakers purchased juice from Rioja to bridge the gap of their loss. Rioja is traditionally aged in American oak barriques due to the history of transatlantic colonial trade, which gives it the distinct aromas of vanilla, dill and coconut. Other aromas include
stewed strawberry, tart raspberry, Twizzlers, sun-dried tomato, bay leaf, and green tobacco. Structurally, it has medium plus acidity and ranges between medium and medium plus alcohol.

“My favorite fall wines are ones that complement the wonderful food, such as Côtes du Rhône, Burgundian Pinot Noirs, and Spanish Tempranillo,”says wine director for Margaux Bistro & Wine Bar in Sheboygan, WI. Jaclyn Stuart. “At Margaux, I change the wine by the glass each time the menu changes, which is seasonally. This ensures that the wines offered will pair with chef's menu selections and the current season.”

Food Pairing: grilled octopus, poultry, barbequed meats, steak