Old World Wine: What's Old is New

Old

Beyond the usual suspects: Satisfying the variety that guests crave.

The topic of wine is not always the most popular. Many operators are more focused on building winning beer lists, building cocktail programs around unusual or unexpected spirits, and keeping up with the craft beer craze. But wine is still very much a valuable revenue stream, one that no operator can afford to ignore. At the risk of sounding like a skipping hipster record, Millennials have proven they’re interested in wine. They simply don’t want the wines that were (and still are) popular with Boomers and other generations.

It’s time for operators to take a good, hard look at their wine lists. How many Chardonnays are there? How many Merlots? Cabernet Sauvignons, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs? Do guests really need a half-dozen or more options of each of the standard varietals? Or is it far more effective, attractive and interesting to them to be able to choose between 2 or 3 attention-grabbing varietals? With a little research and effort and the help of your distributors, any restaurant can become a wine destination.

The simple truth is that the ancient or “forgotten” grapes are no longer secrets. In this day and age, what is? Rather than play with price points by offering many options within the standard restaurant wines, play with price points through regional selections. Regardless of how small a wine list may be, it’s a valuable revenue stream and the real estate it occupies on the menu should be boosted through must-have wines. Pushing the envelope is the order of the day.

One variety worthy of serious consideration is dry rosé. Americans have shown an interest in these wines due to their appearance, casual perception, and the general opinion that they share characteristics with both and red and white wines. Those who have traveled through southern Europe are also likely ordering these wines because they remind them of the time spent overseas.

Unoaked white wines are another style that should be on the radar of operators. Their refreshing acidity, moderate body, and pear and apple flavors are popular with consumers and easy to drink. Operators should also consider fruity white wines. To be clear, fruity does not mean sweet. These wines are characterized by exotic aromas and flavors, a full, round mouthfeel, and the illusion of sweetness.

There are also the Old World wines. These wines are outside of the comfort zone of most Americans, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sell. The fact that these wines seem unusual and exotic are what make them appealing, along with their earthy and unique aromas and big, bold flavors and bodies. And then there are the fence riders, those wines that feature elements of both classic and modern varietals. Wines that fall into this category are interesting but approachable. Acid is toned down, they’ve only been kissed by oak, they have ripe fruit flavors, and their earthy characteristics are less pronounced. Operators need to consider blends as well. Not only is “blend” a buzzword in the wine community, this category is full of Bordeaux- and Rhône-style wines many consumers find approachable and comfortable. The hallmarks of these wines are flavors of jammy fruits, dried herbs, warm spices, smoke, and vanilla.

When choosing reds it’s important that operators keep their Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers in mind. In America, the title of “King of Wines” is no misnomer. So, when tasting reds and searching for wines that will appeal to Cab drinkers, dark berry fruit, bold flavors and big body should be top of mind. In terms of appearance, the darker the better.

Other reds to consider are Gamay, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, and Agiorgitiko (which is also labeled as St. George). Whites to try are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sémillon, and Torrontés. Bubbly includes more than Champagne, with Prosecco and Cava leading the charge for sparkling alternatives to the usual French suspects.