Grape FindsMay 1, 2009 By: Kelly Magyarics Night Club and Bar Magazine
As wine drinkers become more confident with unpronounceable wine regions and grape names, operators are adding more off-the-beaten-path Italian varietals alongside traditional favorites like Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Barolo. Cannon has successfully introduced light red drinkers to Sicilian grapes such as the Nero d’Avola-based 2005 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria, positioned to sip with roasted meats, charcuterie and heartier seafood like striped bass or scallops. Since Italian cuisine now is often marketed with a focus on region, it makes sense to offer local varietals alongside native dishes.
No matter the grape, education and sample tastes are paramount to marketing new or less familiar varietals to guests. On most nights at Bacar, management opens a few bottles not typically poured by the glass, offering samples to guests seeking something different but unwilling to commit to a full glass or bottle sight unseen. At OYA, monthly wine sales are about $75,000, and promotion is a big focus. With really obscure wines, Stover likens them to something familiar, describing, for example, Basque Txakoli as similar to Pinot Grigio. Guests can taste any of the by-the-glass options; in this section of the highly descriptive wine menu is where patrons find most of the unfamiliar grape varietals.
Washington state Syrah is popular at Purple Wine Bar locations.
Menu wording and placement definitely draw attention to noteworthy but yet unexplored wines. At Bourbon Steak, Parr lists such wines under sections labeled “Secrets of the Sommelier” and “Wines of Consequence.” Bacar offers 60 wines by the glass, and some of the lesser-known grapes appear on the “Fifty Under $50” section or flights such as “Staff Favorites” and “Exotics.”
How can operators stay ahead of the wine curve yet maintain consumer satisfaction? Cannon recommends focusing on terroir and winemaker style in addition to varietal. Stover agrees, and adds, “I focus mainly on the quality and food pairing-ability of the varietal. I like to think of myself as a trendsetter and therefore like to show guests up-and-coming wines that may be trendy in the future.” Indeed, rather than selling wines solely because they are buzz-worthy, constant tasting and researching by the wine director assures abundant options that live up to any surrounding hype. NCB