Jeffery Lindenmuth - January/February 2010
Wine pro heavies weigh in on the next decade of restaurant wine service.
It seems only yesterday we were collectively counting down the millennial clock, poised to clink glasses. Looking back, who could have predicted that a $2 California Chardonnay would become a cult favorite and carve a place for wine at middle America's table (2002); a Hollywood film would evangelize for Santa Barbara and deify Pinot Noir (2004); wine would reign as America's preferred drink, for a fleeting moment overtaking beer and spirits (2005); the mainstreaming of green and biodynamic wine, plus the entirety of Wine Spectator ratings in your mobile phone (2008); an economic downturn coupled with a glut of grapes in California, Australia, and even New York (2009); or wineries as our "friends," with Facebook fan pages and harvest updates via Twitter? With the arrival of 2010, we've gathered some leading wine directors from restaurants across the United States, asking them to peer into their crystal stemware and pour a generous glass of prognostication as to foreseeable restaurant wine programs and consumer trends in the next decade.
What trends do you see for the future in restaurant wine selection, organization, or service?
Melissa Monosoff, sommelier & beverage manager, Savona and Bar Savona, Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania: Wine lists are getting smaller. Restaurants with tighter concepts can afford to have a concise 100-wine list. This allows sommeliers to organize their lists by style, which often translates better to consumers. For organization, computers or handhelds that are updated constantly based on inventory may become more pervasive.
Drew Munro, wine director, Dry Creek Kitchen, Healdsburg, California: Most restaurants will always have something for everyone, whether they like buttery or non-buttery Chardonnays, wineries that are familiar or small boutique wineries. But I think we're already seeing an increase in consumer preference for small-production boutique wineries. I also see lower alcohol wines in higher demand. On the organization front, I think wine directors in the U.S. might make lists more readable, categorized by flavor characteristics and grape varieties over region.
Chantelle Pabros, sommelier, L2O, Chicago: Nothing will ever replace the face-to-face communication a sommelier has with the guest. However, technology can save you from spending the first 30 minutes of your meal reading the wine list to make a selection, when you would rather be enjoying the company of your dining companion. It is my dream to create an interactive wine list that guests can preview online. Wines could be highlighted and added to a shopping cart. That list could be e-mailed to my phone, a list I could see prior to the guest even walking into the restaurant.
What defines the next generation of wine lovers, and how will serving them be different?
The next generation is more knowledgeable than before and more interested in learning. They're better educated, but they are also more curious. They understand that the role of the sommelier is to help, and they are more comfortable admitting that they don't know a lot. Guests are also less entranced by brand names and more interested in finding value. Service is more focused on winning the customer's trust through comfortable yet professional service, formal yet familiar. —M.M.
Maybe one of the reasons mixology has taken off is because our generation has never fully embraced classics like Sherry, Madeira, Cognac, eau-de-vie, or aged rum. It's easy to buy what everyone else does, or what everyone else is drinking. It's a challenge to present a classic and keep it alive. The beauty of our generation is an extremely open-minded inclination to experience something new. Consumers of all ages are so much more knowledgeable about wine, and are well versed in describing what they are seeking. —C.P. Z
Which regions, varietal wines, or styles will offer value?
John Fanning, general manager, Accademia di Vino, New York City: I am going out on a limb here: I predict a reversing trend. For the last few years we've seen tremendous improvement and thrust from the far corners of the wine world--Australia, Argentina, South Africa. Now that they've made their presence known, I believe that we shall see a renewed effort from the "big boys." I see Italy, France, and Spain getting a big wake-up call and a dose of humility. We could see some of their gorgeous products at a price that can be afforded by mere mortals such as ourselves.
I see Eastern European wines becoming more popular. They're not as well-known, are in less demand, and their land is more affordable. All this is passed on to the consumer. There are new frontiers in the U.S. as well that will continue to offer value, especially in the Northwest. Southern Italy also has undiscovered regions that still represent a good value. —D.M.
Jesse Rodriguez, wine director, Addison at The Grand Del Mar, San Diego: Look to countries with up-and-coming regions. No longer is Mendoza the buzzword for all of Argentina. It's specifically Luján de Cuyo and also the province of San Juan. In Patagonia, Neuquén and Rio Negro.
I find tremendous value in Pinot Noir from New Zealand. I fancy the Pinot Noir from Martinborough and Gisborne on the North Island, and Bannockburn in Otago on the South Island. They are approachable in their youth, pair excellently with food, and are ready to drink while you wait patiently for your Burgundies. I love what is happening in the South of France and throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon. There is a buzz around the whites based on Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonnay, Picpoul, and Grenache. —C.P.M
Which wines will offer value and popularity by-the-glass?
I have a very keen interest in the regions of the South of Italy. I love the wines of Campagnia, Puglia, and Sicily--great flavors with mineral complexity and hints of heat, ash, and salt, as well as deep rich fruits. Since they don't necessarily need long bottle aging, the prices can be a bit more agreeable. —J.F.
Look to producers from Spain's Monsant region, family growers in Germany and Austria, and young family descendants from Burgundy's prized growing communes. These up-and-comers are making incredible wines, not for press ratings and money, but out of passion. Whatever they're able to harvest, they do, and do it quite well. —J.R.
The wines from Montlouis, Vouvray, and Sancerre in the Loire Valley are quite popular at L2O. Also upcoming are Eastern European whites like Grasevina from Croatia, Ranina and Pinot Gris from Slovenia, and Királyleányka from Hungary. —C.P.
People want to use this menu as a way to explore other areas, looking for food-friendly wines like Grüner Veltliner. Italy still produces the best food-pairing wines, and people are starting to get a better understanding of wines from lesser known regions that offer great value like Sardinia, Campagnia, and from Alba, Barbera. —M.M.
What are you buying right now to invest in your cellar?
Wines from great vintages. 2007 was a great year for Sonoma County! —D.M.
Look at private collectors and see what they want to liquidate. Some wineries are also doing the same. It's best to sock away marquee vintages from small producers or off-vintages from marquee producers. This allows for the classics to have representation on your wine list, while offering the highly touted vintages from small producers as well. This type of buying offers value, while saving money. —J.R.
How might the sommelier's job description change?
I hope the pendulum swings back in favor of knowledge, experience, and education. At the moment, everyone who ever tended bar with a wine list is shopping themselves as a "somm." It's insane! At Accademia di Vino, the title is officially that of "wine guy." I felt it was necessary to take the starch out of the shorts on that position. The character is no longer some remote, disdainful old fart with a cup and chain around his neck. I'd like to see that affability coupled with the goods. —J.F.
Wine directors will need to wear many hats and perform more than the typical duties such as making recommendations and purchasing wine. They will need to be innovative and creative with their programs to differentiate themselves and their restaurants from others. Keeping up with culinary trends and understanding food at a chef level is valuable so you can address specific pairing questions. The more I can understand about food chemistry, the better pairings I will make. —D.M.
The sommelier will need to be a pro at combining technical prowess, product knowledge, and salesmanship, while looking in dark recesses of where wine is being produced. —J.R.
For those who do not have a full-time mixologist, it will be necessary to either hire one or get into the kitchen. I work with our chef to create cocktails for L2O. I look for advice on flavors. Everything is fair game: spirits, beer, cigars, tea, sake, and the culture and traditions that surround food and wine. The work of a sommelier is not black and white. —C.P.