Friday, October 24, 2008

Case Study: Describing Wines by the Glass

For a chef-driven restaurant I opened in Memphis in 2007 it seemed appropriate to offer a wine list with just over 125 wine selections, some fifty of which were offered by the glass. Of those fifty glass selections, guests could choose a tasting of any three in a flight of 2 oz. portions for just $12. Just about all our glass selections were chosen specifically because we needed something to recommend with a particular dish, not because we felt we that had to have this or we had to have that. A sampling from the first page:

globally sourced dry whites

glass/ bottle

Burgãns, Albariño 2005 (Spain) $7/$28
The Albariño grape exudes fresh peach and lemony zest while screaming “crawfish”

Loimer, “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2006 (Austria) $9 /$36
The Veltliner grape makes a medium-full, green apple/lemon-lime/edelweiss fresh, fragrant wine; and a terrific, alternative style “oyster” white

Kuentz-Bas, Riesling “Cuvée Tradition” 2004 (Alsace, France) $10/$40
Is dry Alsatian Riesling the greatest “food” wine in the world? Maybe, maybe not. The main thing is this wine's buoyant, silky fine texture and insanely delicious lime and peach intensity that embellish foods we love most (like our Tennessee chèvre)

Mason, Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Napa Valley, California) $10/$40
Pungent, herby, melony fresh and pure style by winemaker Randy Mason

Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanghina 2004 (Campania, Italy) $11/$44
Falanghina is an ancient grape, but makes a wine that is thoroughly sleek, crisp, modern, with intimations of silk, anise, wild honey, stone fruits and soft shell crab

Minet, Pouilly-Fumé 2005 (Loire River, France) $12/$48
Pure, refined, dry French Sauvignon Blanc; zesty, flinty, flowing flavors

Kris, Pinot Grigio 2006 (Alto Adige, Italy) $9/$36
Scarlet Johannson in lace:
refreshingly pure, transparently tart

Heger, Pinot Gris 2005 (Baden, Germany) $12/$48
If you dig Pinot Grigio, you might consider “graduating” to Pinot Gris – same grape,
but more seriously scented, layered with minerals, light as air yet intensely flavorful


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Scarlet Johansson in lace could be one of the best wine descriptions I have ever heard! Brilliant set up for that particular wine list.

Samuel Roe C.S.

What Are Sommeliers for, If Not for Training?

It means taking a hefty cut in pay, but I've decided to accept the position of God of Wine (New Yorker)

Professional sommeliers represent such an investment on the part of serious "wine restaurants" that they are compelled to perform far more duties than simply serving, ordering and restocking wine.

Many of them are compelled to assist or even stand in for everyone from SAs and food runners to mâitre d's and floor managers, book banquets and large parties, conceive and execute special events, write newsletters, open and close restaurants, and even run back to the kitchen when someone on the line keels over. It's the nature of the beast: as costs rise and management salaries are crunched, the "sommelier" is either the first to go, or the easiest one to call on for double or triple duties. Tell me about it.

But where the modern day sommelier can most effectively prove his or her worth is in the area of staff wine and food training. After all, with specialized knowledge of both wine and the food components matching wine comes a responsibility: to share that knowledge, and make direct impact on sales, profits, and the critical success of the restaurant.

As one of those quasi-manager/sommeliers I've been teaching wine sales in restaurants for over thirty years. I know everyone, of course, has their own approach, and I've observed many other magnificent restaurant wine trainers with incredible records of success to prove it. Based upon all that, here are the ten basic steps to the way I approach staff training:

1. Begin by passing out a basic wine "primer" (if you haven't composed one yourself, you can assign a book), requiring them to read it, and tell them they will be tested.

2. Start your own training addressing the "language" of wine sales by teaching and tasting the staff on the basic sensory components of wine (dry, sweet, full, light, tart, soft, oaky, fruity, and all the important variations of grapes and aromas).

3. Progress by teaching/tasting them on how the basic sensory components interact with food (concepts like similarity, contrast, and physical textures); preferably, of course, with sample dishes.

4. Administer that basic "primer" test you threatened them with earlier, and make them take it over and over again until they pass 100%.

5. Once that minimal comfort level is met, introduce staff to the world of wines (grapes, countries, AVAs, terroirs, winemakers styles, etc.), one wine at a time, slowly-but-surely (you cannot rush this part... it goes on forever).

6. Yes, during each wine training meeting (preferably at least weekly), you always discuss the basic selling points of each wine, the profile of guests who will most likely appreciate each wine (a big Cabernet for longtime big wine connoisseurs, a Cornas for Francophiles, Gruner Veltliner for guests ordering oysters or fish in vinaigrette, Riesling for the first-time wine drinker, etc.), and basic methodology of sales (basically, when and how to volunteer the wine information that you have to share). It's simple. After you taste each wine, you ask your staff, what makes this wine special... how do we sell it... who would be turned on by it... what dishes would it be ideal with?

7. Assign individual research papers (one page reports, a copy for each team member, are fine) to staff on a specific subject, to be presented to the rest of staff at the start of each wine training meeting.

8. Ultimately, during each meeting, you should also be encouraging participation from staff (don't make meetings one-way discussions!); allowing them to share particular sales experiences with each other, personal experiences of wines they've enjoyed outside of work (or wines tasted in other restaurants), and even their opinions about the best wines for certain foods and guests.

9. Test, test, and re-test at least several times a year (enthusiastic staffs love the challenge anyway).

10. Finally, when opportunities to attend distributor/supplier wine tastings come up, you need to encourage your staff to not only attend, but also to report back their findings (i.e. recommendations for the wine list). If you can't attend a tasting, you should assign people to attend "for you." If you really want to know how to get staff to be not just competent but also personally invested in your restaurant and wine program, this final step is the way to go.

In any case, I've developed many sharp, enthusiastic, ambitious wine buyer/managers from virtually "nothing" (i.e. kids fresh out of high school) over the years by following this methodology. Hope it helps you establish your own!


Composing Menus for Winemaker Dinners

For many years I worked with chefs with limited repertoires, imagination and desire, yet we managed to create some decent wine menus anyway by following the most basic principles of food and wine matching.


Conceiving and executing new dishes for specific components in wines is the more difficult but by far most satisfying way to build a food and wine menu. Whereas there will always be a limited number of wines to choose for a dish, the combination of ingredients and techniques that can go into an originally conceived dish are virtually endless. You’ll always get a better match when you create a dish specifically for a wine rather than choose a wine for a ready-made dish.


Case study: in 1992 we hosted legendary winemaker Tony Soter in two of our restaurants; Soter acclaimed for his Etude Wines, as well as for his work as the original consulting winemaker at Spottswoode in Napa Valley.

The Soter winemaker dinners presented us with a unique opportunity because the menus for each of these dinners were planned by two different chefs: chef/owner Roy Yamaguchi in one restaurant, and his longtime chef de cuisine Gordon Hopkins in the other. As I always did during the thirteen years that I worked with both of them, I followed these two rules of thumb every sommelier or wine manager needs to do when working with a chef (no matter how wine savvy the chef):

1. Begin by putting everything down on paper -- beginning with the order of service and all the basic components of each wine -- which will give your chef the opportunity to visualize the makeup and direction of the courses.

2. Based upon the wine components and basic principles of similarity and contrast, list as many food related ideas and dish suggestions as possible in order to give your chef the widest possible latitude in which to apply his/her personal style and creativity.

Further details, utilizing the Soter/Etude/Spottswoode scenario:

ESTABLISHING ORDER OF SERVICE

Step one in the planning of every winemaker dinner is listing the wines in your projected order of service. Although the traditionally accepted order is white wines before reds, lighter before full, and dry before sweet, keep in mind that the actual palate is not necessarily constrained as such as long as each course’s food and wine match is in harmony and balance. David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson deserve a lot of credit for establishing this premise in their classic book, Red Wine with Fish (Simon & Schuster 1989).

In any case, for our particular dinner with Tony Soter we decided to follow a conventional pattern:

1st: Spottswoode, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 1990

2nd: Etude, Carneros Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

3rd: Etude, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989; Spottswoode, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1988

4th (dessert): Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon 1989

BREAKING DOWN THE WINES &
SUGGESTED FOOD COMPONENTS

Step two is isolating the basic taste sensations, tactile qualities, and aroma/flavor components of each wine; and based upon that, drawing up your matching food ideas utilizing the principles of similarities and contrast. The ideal method is to break everything down on paper for your chef; allowing him to take the bits and pieces that stimulate his own thought process, and referencing them with his own culinary mental library. For the Soter dinners, these are parameters I outlined for the chefs:

1. Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc

Description: Bone dry white; medium body (not light, not heavy); perceptively crisp, medium acidity (lightly tart); fine, smooth (silky) texture; fresh fruit fragrances of melon and citrus; lighter aromatic nuances of green grass and vanillin oak

Suggested dishes: Mildly spiced, summery sweet shellfish appetizer (i.e. shrimp, scallops, crab, etc.)

Similar ingredients: Mildly acidic fruits (tomato, lime, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate); mildly acidic cheese (Chèvre or Feta); leafy green herbs (oregano, thyme, parsley, tarragon); pungent herbs (chive, cilantro Mexican mint marigold, lemon grass, kaffir lime); vegetal components (olives, bell peppers); very mild vinegars (if balanced with wine’s acidity)

Contrasting ingredients: Vine ripened tomatoes (lomi lomi or concasée); sweet Maui onions (in moderation); moderate spice (restrained use of chili or chiles); aromatics (mild curries, mustards, tumeric, achiote)

Extremes to avoid: Heavy cream or butter (will make wine taste thin and acidic); high salt (brining) or soy

2. Etude, Pinot Noirs

Descriptions: Lush, round, fleshy, succulent California style reds; medium body (not light, not heavy); moderate (towards low) acidity; rounded, soft tannin (but filling); black cherry perfume (fruit quality flavor over layered tannin); tinge of peppermint spice and warm, smoky/vanilla oakiness

Suggested dishes: Salad using smoked meat (beef, duck or quail), or smoked seafood course (salmon, calamari, tako), or modified cioppino (meaty fish, mussels, clams, octopus)

Similar ingredients: Wild berries or cherry; baby greens (very tender, mildly peppery); mild caramelization of meats; smoky notes (re grilling or charring)

Contrasting ingredients: Mushrooms, onions (especially pearl or caramelized); sausages (fresh or mildly cured); alliums (shallots, garlic, green onion); spices (cinnamon, clove, cumin, nutmeg, celery); mild (like Big Island) goat cheese; mustards

Extremes to avoid: Sharp vinegars (winy balsamics only in moderation); salty/sharp cheeses (blue, Feta, etc.); more lethal herbs (dill, cilantro)

3. Etude, Cabernet Sauvignon & Spottswoode, Cabernet Sauvignon

Descriptions: Two chunky, black toned, hefty, dry red wines; full body; low acidity; full, generous tannin (rounded, but almost palate drying at the core); combination of flesh and muscle in texture; deeply aromatic blackberry/cassis-like aromas (black cherry nuances); rich, charred oak, faintly minty and green olive/pepper aromas/flavors

Suggested dishes: Lamb with a twist (in pot-a-feu, garlic sausage, or combined with sweetbreads or white beans), or marinated loins or wood grilled chops stuffed with olives or soft ripened cheese, or fanciful “lamb sandwich” (Napoleon style utilizing offal, couscous, semolina, crusted polenta, etc.)

Similar ingredients: Wood smoke; natural reductions (concentrated without sweetness); wild berries; bell peppers (plays off wines’ herbal notes); smoked green chiles; olives; peppercorn, walnut, hazelnut (tannin neutralizers); eggplant, mustards; deep, aged cheeses (Cheddars, Manchego, Gouda, Parmigiano, etc.)

Contrasting ingredients: Earthy vegetables (fungus, beets, alliums, garlic); scented herbs (mint, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, mint); tomatoes, stewed or in nage (stripped of sugar, acid); double or triple crème cheeses (in moderation)

Extremes to avoid: Salty blue-veined cheeses; immature (ammonia-like) Chèvre and Brie; pervasive herbs, spices (dill, cilantro, ginger, kaffir,); sun dried fruits or tomatoes (too sweet/tart); sharp leafy vegetables (spinach, sorrel, napa cabbage); stinging dried chilies, powders or curries

4. Topaz, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon

Description: Sweet (approximately 10% residual sugar) dessert wine; full body (not delicate, about 13% alcohol); elevated, lip smacking balancing acidity; long, viscous (high glycerol), silky smooth texture; concentrated fig and honey-like aromas/flavors; underlying green grassy and apricot-like fragrances

Suggested dish: Creamy dessert with fresh fruit

Similar ingredients: Sweet/moderately tart fruits (berries, cherry); creams (custards) or crème fraiche; honey and fruit liqueurs (moderation)

Contrasting ingredients: Mild dessert spices (vanilla, nutmeg, almond, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, anise); citrus (i.e. lemon as flavoring, not dominant fruit); fresh mints


END RESULT:
TWO CHEFS, TWO MENUS

As you may have surmised, the interesting part of this exercise is that we had two chefs following the same parameters with the same wines, who ending up preparing prepare two different dinners on two consecutive nights. Here’s how it went:

Roy Yamaguchi’s Menu:


Kahuku Shrimp with Crispy Spinach & Spicy Lemon Grass Curry
Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc 1990

House Cured Duck Salad with Caramelized Pearl Onions & Shallot Sauce
Etude, Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

Napoleon of Lamb with Sweetbread Spring Roll & Roasted Beet Sauce
Spottswoode, Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

Compote of Poached Bing Cherry with Kirsch Crème Fraiche
Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon 1989

Gordon Hopkins’ Menu:

Herbed Soft Shell Crab Salad with Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa in Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc 1990


Spicy Cioppino with Seafood Sausage, Crispy Squid, White Beans & Pizza Crusts
Etude, Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

Braised Lamb Shanks in Natural Juices, with Black Figs & Couscous

Etude, Cabernet Sauvignon 1989


Napoleon of Almond Wafers with Wild Berries & Lemon Vanilla Bean Sauce

Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon 1989


Although he always described himself as an Euro-Asian style chef, for winemaker dinners Yamaguchi typically exerted restraint on his Asian side, giving a classical sense of balance to his dishes through technique as much as seamlessly woven ingredients.

I always loved, however, Hopkins’ aggressive, oft-times challenging or unorthodox matches; particularly in his mildly spiced cioppino (in its execution, the scented morsels of seafood sat in a pasta bowl over a small puddle of concentrated broth) and his visions of Morocco (the fragrantly brown spiced lamb was particularly luscious with sleek, oak spiced, dried fruit-like concentration of the Etude Cabernet).

In both dinners, the chefs amplified the crisp yet creamy textured, melony scented dimensions of the Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc by striking notes of similarity with the grape’s intrinsically herbal, acidic nature: the lemon grass in Yamaguchi’s shrimp, and the mildly vinegary, red peppers and crusted green herbs in Hopkins’ soft shell crab salad. By layering dishes to match a wine’s nuances, you can push forth its most flattering qualities while drawing attention to its complexity.

Contrast, on the other hand, is an approach fraught with risk, but which can raise a match to exhilarating heights. Re the mildly salty and acidic tastes of Yamaguchi’s house cured duck salad in a jus-laced vinaigrette: surely, not to be expected for a basically low acid, dry red wine (the Etude Pinot Noirs) with a modicum of bitter tannin. But because the wines are in themselves balanced (Soter always places lush, almost sweet fruit qualities above the tannin in his red winemaking style), and because Yamaguchi deftly balances salt and acidity with sweetness (caramelized onions), earthy flavors (shallots, oils and duck stock), and moderate bitterness (use of young, leafy mesclun leaves), the sum total of the course comes up fresh, lively, and enervating.

This is why when crafting dishes for wine, you need to always go back to the first principle of wine and food matching: just like good cooking involves a balancing of ingredients and technique, good wine/food matching involves focusing on how specific components in wines interact and achieve a sense of balance and harmony with specific components in dishes.

And the key to that, of course, is making sure that you start off with a wine that is balanced and a dish that is balanced, before going on to create a dish and a wine that are balanced together with multiple dimensions of similarity and contrast.

CLASSIC & CONTEMPORARY MATCHES

There are many old standby, tried-and-true wine and food matches, as well as a number of others reflecting more contemporary style dining, all based upon the basic, commonsense principles of similarity and contrast in food and wine matching. As food and wine for thought, a few interesting examples:

  • Full bodied, dry, richly flavorful white wines (like Chardonnay and Viognier) with meatier “other white” meats (like pork, veal and chicken) in richly flavorful sauces
  • White wines with zesty acidity (i.e. Sauvignon Blanc) with foods with matching degrees of acidity (like salads in mildly sharp vinaigrettes, or cheeses like Chèvre)
  • Slightly sweet yet zesty white wines (like German Rieslings) with seafoods prepared with slightly sweet, sour, salty, and even spicy-hot sauces and ingredients (since sugar in wine and as a food ingredient brings contrasting balance to spicy, salty or acidic sensations)
  • Soft red wines (like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais) with soft but full flavored red fish (like salmon and tuna)
  • Zesty, pungent, earthy/foresty red wines (like Chianti Classico and Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany) with zesty, Italian influenced dishes (use of pasta, tomato, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and resiny herbs like oregano and rosemary)
  • High tannin reds (like a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon) with slight bitterness or astringency with red meats prepared with slightly bitter peppercorns, vegetables, or char from wood grilling
  • Bright, zesty, sweetly fruit scented red wines (like red Zinfandel and Syrah) with fatty meats in zesty, sweet or even spicy sauces and marinades (re barbecued or even teriyaki style beef or pork ribs)
  • Big, herbaceous, minty or cedary Cabernet Sauvignon based reds (from France’s Bordeaux, California or Australia) with red meats in sauces reduced with aromatic green herbs (mint, thyme, sage, etc.)
  • Smoky, toasty, aggressively oaked wines (like many Chardonnays, and most ultrapremium reds) with white or red meats that are aggressively grilled, roasted or wood-smoked
  • Sweet, high acid, intensely fruity “late harvest” whites with sweet desserts made with fruits retaining natural fruit acidity (berries and stone fruits peach and pear)
  • Sweet, full bodied wines (fortified reds like Port and Banyuls from France, or golden colored Sauternes from France) contrasting with salty blue cheeses (like Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Maytag Blue)
  • Sweet, full bodied fortified reds (like Port and Banyuls) with bitter/sweet chocolate desserts

Common Wine Accents (and How to Apply Them)

Although as Americans, probably none of us (including me) are as good as we should be about placement of correct accents in European wine related words, there’s really no excuse. It’s as important as spelling potato as potato, not potatoe (according to a certain former Vice President, who also once said "I stand behind all the misstatements I've ever made").

Let’s put it another way: if you are serious about your wine program, then you’re serious about your spelling of European wine names and terms with their customary accents.

So first, utilizing most Microsoft Word/Windows applications, the quickest ways (apart from usage of Symbols in the Insert toolbar) of applying the most common accents:

CTR + ', the letter

á, é, í, ó, ú
Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú

CTR + `(accent grave), the letter

à, è, ì, ò, ù
À, È, Ì, Ò, Ù

CTR + SHIFT + ^(caret), the letter

â, ê, î, ô, û
Â, Ê, Î, Ô, Û

CTR + SHIFT + :(colon), the letter

ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, ÿ
Ä, Ë, Ï, Ö¸Ü, Ÿ

CTR + SHIFT + ~(tilde), the letter

ã, ñ, õ
Ã, Ñ, Õ

CTR + , (comma), c or C

ç, Ç

Here are some common (and maybe not so commonly seen) wine names and terms in need of correct accents:

á:

Aligoté
apéritif
cépage
Calon-Ségur
Chénas
Comte de Vogüé
Crémant de Bourgogne
Crépy
cuvée
Dom Pérignon
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe
Echézeaux
Épernay
Fumé Blanc
Grand Cru Classé
Grands-Echézeaux
Irouléguy
Juliénas
Médoc
Méthode Champenoise
Léoville-Las-Cases
Léoville-Poyferré
Mencía
Pedro Ximénez
pétillant
Pétrus
Pouilly-Fumé
Pouilly-Fuissé
Régnié
réserve
rosé
saigné
Saint-Émilion
Saint-Véran
saké
Sélection de Grains Nobles
Sémillon
Supérieur
Torrontés
Valdiguié
Vaudésir
Vosne-Romanée

à:

Beaux Frères
Canon-la-Gaffelière
Carménère
Cirò
Clos de Bèze
Corbières
Faugères
Genevrières
La Louvière
Latricières-Chambertin
Les Folatières
Les Perrières
Moulin-à-Vent
Mourvèdre
Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Penedès
Savennières
père et fils
Saint-Estèphe

â:

Bâtard-Montrachet
château
Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Côte de Beaune
Côte de Brouilly
Côte de Nuits
Côte d’Or
Côte-Rôtie
Côtes-du-Rhône
Dôle
La Tâche
Mâcon
Mâconnais
Rhône Valley
tête de cuvée

ä:

Comte de Vogüé
Blaufränkisch
Deidesheimer Leinhöhle
Forster Kirchenstück
Gewürztraminer
Grüner Veltliner
Maximum Grünhauser
Moët & Chandon
Müller-Thurgau
Perrier-Jouët
Piesporter Goldtröpchen
Quälitatswein mit Prädikat
Rüdesheimer Berg
Rülander
Schloss Schönborn
Spätburgunder
Spätlese
Ürziger Würzgarten
Weingut Künstler
Weingut Mönchhof
Wiltinger Hölle

ã:

Albariño
Cariñena
Tinto Cão
Valdepeñas

ç:

Jurançon
Provençal
Valençay