Wine drinkers are getting restless, changing their preferences and making it harder today for restaurants to know what to offer. At the recent VIBE Conference in San Diego, wine educator and sommelier Madeline Triffon, MS, of Plum Market in Detroit and Chicago, showed how “What’s Old is New” today in wine, and how today’s guests crave more variety than those of the past.
Ancient varietals, Madeline explained, are no longer well-kept secrets. Rather, they’ve become particularly attractive to certain customers. Many of the so-called forgotten grapes represent a different style than the standard restaurant offerings, providing comfort and new guest experiences in texture and delicious flavor, along with flexible price points. Pushing the envelope, says Madeline, is good business.
She suggested that blind tasting of these wines can help any seller decide whether the wine is a good fit or not, once the playing field is leveled in comparison to wines and varietals with established reputations.
Madeline made mention of how dry rosé wines have increased in popularity. Their attractive look and casual feel – along with their deeply international roots – suggest a connection to southern Europe, where pink wines are frequently consumed.
As for alternatives to powerhouse Pinot Grigio, Madeline suggested that unoaked whites mirror the bar and restaurant standard white. White wines fermented in steel rather than oak feature appealing tree fruit flavor characteristics, refreshing acidity, a light touch on the palate, and moderate body. Wines to consider are Albariños from Spain, or Marsanne/Viognier blends from the Central Coast of California.
Old World wines often considered outside of the American comfort zone are set for a return, suggested Madeline, who explained that the earthy, unusual aromas and prominent acid and/or tannins are perfect food wines. Spanish Rioja or Tuscan blends were examples.
Of course, the Cabernet Sauvignon drinker looking for big bold flavors has long demanded several options, leaving many wine lists with dozens of choices made of the same grape in very similar styles. Madeline said making Cab drinkers happy can be achieved through several other red wines, as long as they are dark, opaque, weighty, and oaky, with a familiar dark berry style. For these wines, she suggested a Malbec reserve from Argentina.
As for other whites to consider, the list is long and international: Torrontés, Grüner Veltliner, dry Riesling, dry Chenin Blanc, Sémillon, Arneis, and Assyrtiko. For reds, Gamay, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Aglianico, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc and Agiorgitiko lead her list.