When the weather turns, some wines are more important than others.
Even though the thermometer might flirt with the 100 degree mark, there are those customers who absolutely must drink big fat reds or overly fatty Chardonnays. Silly folk. Don’t they know that there’s a serious trend afoot to watch the seasons, the temperature and drink accordingly?
When the outdoor cafés open up and the thermometer soars, that’s the time to make a change. It’s wise to listen to the few brave wine directors who know about summer wines, who aren’t afraid to offer rosés or wines from unfamiliar sounding grapes or regions suitable for summer sipping. These are the people who want to consider and celebrate the seasons, enhance their chef’s cooking and educate their patrons. Remember; the luxury of drinking massive red and white wines in the heat is only a possibility due to air-conditioning. If your AC isn’t cranking as hard as it did in the old days, and if your chef is offering some cold soups and terrific salads as well as lighter tangier sauces, you just might want to explore the world of wine on the light side. You don’t want to lose your wine sales to mineral water, do you?
Summertime is particularly a fine time for a glass of sparkling wine, yet many wine directors scramble to figure out how to move a glass as an aperitif or as a food and wine match. The audience remains Champagne/sparkling wine resistant. If sparkling wine is close to your heart, you might think of certain ways to piggy back a glass with a dish or an event. Glenn Tanner, wine director for Todd English’s Olive Group (14 Olives and Figs restaurants) laments that sparkling wine doesn’t sell well outside of celebrations and December, yet he still tries. “I think that an idea close to heaven is sitting outside at King Fish Hall with a lobster roll and a glass of champagne. In fact, that would be a great promotion–and I hadn’t thought about it till this minute.”
Wine directors in South Beach are lucky. There, the amount of sparkling wine served per square mile is second only to Las Vegas. Drew Peterson, of South Beach’s Hotel Astor, says, “We do quite well with a champagne and alternatives like the Zardetto Prosecco. In the summer with the gospel jazz brunch, we push mimosas. Well, we don’t have to push; we just sell lots of them.”
Fressen, a trendy place in NYC’s suddenly hot meatpacking district, offers great, stylish and organically-minded food matched with a terrific wine list. The successful wine program is due to Jerri Banks, founder of restaurant consultancy “Ladies who Launch.” Banks maintains a catchy and seasonally oriented list. She scours the market for good flavor and value.
Last year one of her favorite summer whites was a Ligurian Pigato. Rosés? Of course. Believing in the refreshing power of bubbly, she does her best to expand her diner’s sparkling horizons past Champagne, especially during the warmer months where nothing quenches like a fizzy wine. “I’ve got a Vin du Bugey Cerdon a heartbreakingly pretty sparkler from the region adjacent to the Savoie, made from Gamay and Poulsard and is low in alcohol, 8%. In addition to low alcohol, this wine shares something in common with two of my favorite Italian sparklers, Moscato d’Asti & Brachetto d’Acqui residual sugar. RS is treated almost as an obscenity by many (even those in the wine trade) if the wines in question are not intended as post-prandial selections. This is unfortunate, as I consider many of these light, fruity, low alcohol wines perfect summer quaffers which can be consumed easily with breakfast/brunch, as aperitifs or with fresh fruit as dessert.”
ROSéS AND LIGHTS, READY FOR SUMMER
The more a restaurant cares about food the more they try to harmonize their wine list with their cuisine. Chef/owner Cory Schrieber of Portland, Oregon’s Wildwood Café, is a total season kind of guy. His wine director, Randy Goodman, makes sure that the wine list offers excellent counterpoint for the menu. He said, “To follow Corey’s lighter summer food, I make some definite additions to the list. I add a dry riesling, a sweeter riesling as well. A high acid, low oak wine from semillon, or chenin blanc, a dry pinot noir rosé. After whipping the staff to let them know rose wasn’t white zin, they now can move rosé. I mean, they really do move the stuff.”
“This spring, in late April, we had a gorgeous day, 70 degrees,” said Goodman. “Someone actually asked, ‘Do you guys have your dry rosé in yet?’ It also helps that I write short taunting descriptions like, ‘don’t be afraid of dry pink wine.’ I also let them know, “This is what all the cool people are drinking and so should you!”
Glenn Tanner agrees on the necessity of a summer rosé. “All of the Olives and Figs offer a pink wine but the sugar level varies depends on the city the restaurant is in. At the Charlestown Olives, I ran the Muga rosé, the antithesis of white zin. It did extremely well. Even though summer means tourist in Boston, I don’t dumb the wines down though I do look for flavors that are accessible. I’m not afraid to put something like an Austrian gruner veltliner on the list; a great summer wine.”
Tanner notes, though, that you can do certain damage control by keeping an eye on the weather report. “If we know we’re heading into a hot period, we will look at the wines by the glass and pull the heavy syrah by-the-glass and add a pinot. We’ll quickly add a riesling. We’ll pull the oaky chardonnays, and look to one vinified in stainless that is refreshing and lower in alcohol.”
SANGRIA AND OTHER CHOICES
Five Points in NoHo, NYC, has a sophisticated seasonal Mediterranean-accented menu, a flexible price point, and a wine list that regularly changes. The loyal neighbors stay interested and the international tourists are charmed. Co-owner Vicki Freeman carefully guards her wine list that includes twelve wines by the glass. She has absolutely no problem moving rosés; in fact there’s often multiple choices available.
“This summer both the list and the glass is geared towards Alsatians and Germans. I was a little afraid at first but it’s working.” This year’s experiment is a scheurbe. She says she almost offered her staff a hundred bucks bonus to the person who scores the first sale. She didn’t have to. Her clients caught on to the opportunity and the wine is selling. Even though, as she says, “people can’t pronounce it.”
But the drink that really is off the charts in the summer? Sangria. “We sell gallons and gallons and we actually use a pretty decent Rioja and high quality juices but we still make a lot of money on it,’ says Freeman.
Another way to turn summer wines into money makers is to take advantage of some very interesting summer closeouts. Cases of wine like a Saumur or a Quincy or a Jurancon Sec might suddenly become available at a breezy price. This is the time to take an inexpensive opportunity to show your patrons something new.
“Right now,” says Hotel Astor’s Drew Peterson, “I’m putting on whites from the Loire– crispy, appley chenins in particular. For reds I’m offering some lighter bodied wines and spinning them with a chill.” He’s not the only one putting the chill on reds. Reds that chill up beautifully include some lighter- bodied pinot noirs like a red Sancerre or a Menetou Salon or even Passetoutgrain (gamay and pinot noir assemblage)
And remember Beaujolais? It’s eminently chillable. Glenn Tanner participated last year in Food and Wine from France’s promotion called “Chill out with Beaujolais.” “The staff at Figs got behind the story about why this red wine is served chilled and we sold three times as much Beaujolais in the summer. It still does well and now at all the restaurants there’s always Beaujolais by the glass.
Though a chilled red in the summer is actually a sophisticated idea, you’ll have to follow Tanner’s cue and educate your staff to sell them. As Wildwood’s Goodman would say, “That all the cool people drink it this way.” And, truly all the cool people are lightening up their wine lists this season. Think about it.