In With the New

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How spring cleaning can help energize your menu.

Orchids, calla lilies, and cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. Gazpacho, ceviche, pea salad, and river-caught salmon have started appearing on restaurant menus. Spring is here, as is the rebirth that comes with the transition of the seasons. Use this year’s spring-cleaning to rev up your wine list!

“I immediately think green,” says Amy Troutmiller, beverage development for Marriott International in Washington, D.C. “I also think baseball and start contemplating the lunacy in wanting to pay to ship Old Style to Washington, D.C.”

As nature becomes greener, wines by the glass and by the bottle should reflect the changing season. It’s time for picnicking–and thus the season for floral, refreshing, and aromatic wines.

Troutmiller likes to introduce Beaujolais, a lighter-bodied red wine made from Gamay in Burgundy, France. “A lot of people want to transition from their heavy winter reds but aren't willing to give up the hue in their glass,” she says. “Most people don't know or understand Beaujolais beyond the end cap at the grocer. And it's a great way to introduce and explore Gamay.”

Elizabeth Mendez, sommelier and owner of Vera in Chicago, agrees with Troutmiller: “A fun light red to add to wine programs. It can be a fraction of the cost [compared with other red wine], while still maintaining quality.”

Troutmiller says that another one of her favorite spring selections for by-the-glass is an approachable rosé. Her favorite is Commanderie de la Bargemone from Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, France, which costs about $11 retail.

Michael Ireland, wine director of the restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, California, says he just brought on Eric Sussman's (of Radio-Coteau) Anderson Family Vineyards County Line Pinot Noir rosé from Mendocino County. ($13 retail)

“It is ultra-low alcohol and ridiculously delicious,” he says. “Made from champagne grapes, this is not your typical 'afterthought' rosé where the producer drains off some juice to intensify the 'first' wine. Eric makes this specifically as a rosé. The results speak for themselves. I'm not sure how much will make it to the dining room since I keep taking bottles home!”

Better get your hands on this wine soon, before Ireland hoards it all!

Another trend for the spring is low-alcohol wines that are refreshing and don’t leave you weighted down. In research conducted by the German wine trade fair Prowein, analysts Wine Intelligence surveyed 1,000 regular wine drinkers in the United States, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The results, released February 2012, found that there is a growing trend for wines with less than 12 percent alcohol.

The results were most noticeable in China–a drastic 91 percent of consumers said they preferred wines with 8.5 percent to 10.5 percent alcohol by volume. Although low alcohol is a growing trend, grape variety was still cited as the No. 1 most important factor when purchasing wine. More than 93 percent of respondents in the U.S. said grape variety influenced their buying decision.

Vera’s Mendez supports this movement of lower alcohol wines. “So many wine programs around the country are really embracing balance in wines first and foremost, which is inspiring,” she says. “And the wines of spring really do embrace that balance.”

Meadowood’s Ireland says that his restaurant will focus on Mediterranean wines this spring. “Places like Corsica, Greece, and the Amalfi coast bring an unparalleled value-to-quality ratio if you do the work to find the best wines,” he says.

Ireland recently brought back the Domaine Antoine Arena Carco Patrimonio Blanc from Corsica ($35 retail) and Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece ($21 retail). “They both can be simple quaffers or something more complex, offering a depth of character not typically seen from these regions,” he says.

Marriott International’s Troutmiller thinks that we will see a lot more sparkling options this spring and summer. “People are venturing away from Champagne and Prosecco to try Lambrusco, ciders, Vinho Verde, and domestic producers experimenting with nontraditional champagne grapes like Pacific Rim Sparkling Riesling ($13.99 retail),” she says.

Vera’s Mendez expects to see more Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Spanish Fino sherry, Rias Baixas Albariño, and Riesling.

“As more programs embrace the versatility of Riesling, in various price points, guests can start to understand that not all Riesling is sweet, and a little bit of sugar is a great pairing with the food of spring such as artichokes,” she says. “Riesling with all its various sugar levels and soaring acidity from both new and old world wines show Riesling as a the ‘world is your oyster’ when it comes to spring pairings.”

Spring can be one of the most challenging seasons to pair wine with, with the abundance of artichokes and asparagus, neither of which lend themselves directly to pairing. It is also a season that allows you to think outside the traditional food-pairing box. Use this spring to develop a forward-thinking wine program that excites and entices your guests!

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