Respect for The Queen

Posted on | October 31, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Chardonnay remains America’s #1 white wine. When it comes to selling it, the secret is selection.

Nowadays many merchants sing the praises of sweet Moscato, zeroing in on the varietal’s soaring growth rate, albeit on a small but growing base. Meanwhile, sommeliers near and far ardently talk up the bff (“best food-friendly”) appeal of Riesling and Albariño and Grüner Veltliner.

But let’s get real here.

Year in, year out, it’s Chardonnay that accounts for a monumental one-of-five bottles of wine sold in the United States, according to the California-based wine research firm Gomberg, Frederikson & Associates. Despite the perennial ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) litany trumpeted by numerous wine critics and beverage buyers (who may all be numbed, it’s true, from tasting far too many Chardonnays), this variety has nevertheless charmed both discerning and amateur palates across the globe like no other noble white grape in history. Old world, new world; Dijon clone or Wente; oaked or un-oaked; aged or youthful… make no mistake: Chardonnay remains the Queen of White Wines, and she corners consumer cash!

Combating Boredom

Some retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers wonder, however: Has Chardonnay’s ubiquity bred complacency, even a certain degree of contempt in the wine trade? A number of industry executives believe this to be the case, contending that too many merchants devote only perfunctory attention to the world’s best-selling varietal.

“In wine geekdom, many industry professionals have declared Chardonnay is dead; but it is still the number-one choice. It’s important for operators to remember Chardonnay still has a very strong guest preference,” says Dan Hoffman, director of beverage specifications for Marriott International. Hoffman adds that during 2011 and 2012, Marriott’s American guests have been drinking more Chardonnay as a percentage of total wine sales, with Sonoma-Cutrer and Clos du Bois as its two best-sellers.

“Chardonnay dwarfs all the other categories, certainly by dollar volume,” says Jasper Russo, director of wine marketing at Sigel’s, a 12-store group based in Dallas, TX. “We sell everything from $7.99 imported and domestic screwtops to $400 bottles of Grand Cru white Burgundy.” Russo says great selection backed by in-store tastings are the most effective tools to interest customers in Chardonnays of all styles and prices.

Big as it already is, Chardonnay seems to be strengthening its grip on mainstream wine in America. Donna Hood Crecco, senior director at the Chicago-based hospitality research firm Technomic Inc., reports, “The incidence of Chardonnay offerings on chain restaurant beverage menus has increased 4.4% from the first six months of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012.”

At Cool Springs, a wine and spirits store in Franklin, TN, an affluent suburb of Nashville, General Manager Philip Thompson says: “It’s such an important varietal. Chardonnay has a major presence in our market. It’s the number-one choice during summer.” Thompson cites Kendall-Jackson, Sebastiani and magnums of Yellow Tail and Woodbridge as the category’s best sellers. Beyond these staples, a broad selection across all price points and styles plus ongoing staff training translate into Cool Springs’ ability to up-sell customers to new and different styles of Chardonnay.

Putting Variety to Work

Emily Wines, wine director for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a San Francisco-based company comprised of 56 hotels and 54 restaurants in 24 cities, says, “I see a trend among our guests and customers going away from over-oaked, high-alcohol Chardonnays to leaner, more understated bottlings, especially those from Napa Valley.”

Her comment serves as an important reminder that it has become unrealistic to discuss the category of Chardonnay without clarifying the style(s) at hand. While oaky-buttery-rich monsters are still being produced in California (and are still adored by a core of loyal imbibers), Chardonnay’s astounding ability to take on multiple personalities gives it a power of stylistic diversity few other grape  varieties possess.

Noting the evolution apparent in California Chardonnay, Katie Bundschu, partner at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery in Sonoma Valley, says: “Chardonnay is a huge category with broad appeal and diverse styles, and that in itself is an exciting change from the days of homogenous, oak-driven California Chards.” Her experience in working with accounts in many states leads her to add, “Many top retail and restaurant accounts are trending toward a fresher style that uses less malolactic and less new oak. [Malolactic treatment during vinification adds rich, buttery flavors to  Chardonnay wines.] The most important thing is to offer your customers a choice of styles that display unique characters—and then be able to help people decide what they prefer. California Chardonnay producers have come a long way in offering wines that showcase unique vineyard sites and winemaking styles, and we should celebrate and explore that range of options,” notes Bundschu.

Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma’s Green Valley (which produces as many as seven separate Chardonnays in a vintage) shares her formula for selling: “The single most important way to promote Chardonnay is with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff—on-premise, off-premise or at the winery. The beauty of Chardonnay is that it is a conversation. Do you like dry? Do you like oaky? As you know, once you are in conversation, you are in a selling situation.”
Artists and Appellations

Sketching a vivid way to describe the principal styles of French Chardonnay to the trade as well as to consumers, Martin Sinkoff, director of marketing for the fine wine division of Frederick S. Wildman & Sons, Ltd., thinks Burgundy’s appellations can best be grasped using parallels to famous artists.

Says Sinkoff, whose firm imports a wide selection of Burgundian wines from Christian Moreau Père & Fils, Domaine Faively and Olivier Leflaive, among others: “Imagine Chablis like a Giacometti sculpture. It’s edgy, a bit austere, and steely like the artist’s stick-like works in metal; this comparison conveys the character of Chablis’s un-oaked, essentially minerally character. Or consider a great Côte de Beaune as if it’s a portrait by Raphael, the famed Renaissance painter. His art is of unimpeachable quality, classic, traditional, and long-lived; and that is exactly like a Premier or Grand Cru white Burgundy. Finally, for the Chardonnay wines of the Mâconnais: Recall a colorful Rubens nude, here’s a style of wine that is just like one of those lovely ladies pictured on a velvet divan: full-bodied, fun and sexy.”

Given this metaphorical framework, perhaps a big, oaky, buttery California Chardonnay would equate to Picasso in a bottle. The real point, of course, is that selling Chardonnay today means embracing its diversity. One wine drinker’s “too big” is another’s “just right.” For some people, the riper the fruit the better, while others are looking for nuances beyond fruit. So the trick, then, for both on- and off-premise merchants is to offer as many styles of Chardonnay as possible.

When it comes to Chardonnay,more is more, so to speak. Feature more Chardonnays in your in-store tastings or wine-by-the-glass promotions.

Showcase various brands in your catalogs, on your menus, in your email promotions and newsletters. And always, always, don’t forget staff tastings and training.

As big as Chardonnay is already, with a bit more attention and focus on all its palatable permutations, this versatile grape is more than capable of delivering barrels full of steady sales and profits. Chardonnay success is all about selection—and it never was much of a secret in the first place.


Bar Talk: Garden Party

Posted on | October 31, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Aimee Olexy elevated Philadelphia’s BYOB scene when she opened the Society Hill restaurant Django back in 2001. Today, in partnership with Stephen Starr, she brings seasonal-minded dining to new heights at Talula’s Garden. Here, sustainable wine and sophisticated cocktails are just as important as the farmers’ market greens and artisanal cheese.

Aimee Olexy, owner, Talula’s Garden, 


THE BEVERAGE NETWORK:  Philadelphia is known for BYOB restaurants yet there are many vibrant wine lists and cocktail menus as well. How do you approach your beverage program?

AIMEE OLEXY: I sit down and think about what we want to serve, what customers are interested in and what is current. I love talking to producers, asking them how we can begin serving their wine.  

TBN: What is the inspiration for selecting your wines?

AO: My starting ground comes from personal experiences, because as a restaurant, we want to share the personality of our team and staff.  Traveling to different regions like the southwest of France, California and New York has inspired my knowledge. I would keep scrapbooks from my travels to vineyards and turn to them when I wanted to have their wines on our menu.

TBN: Do you see your wine list as a platform for earth-conscious wines?

AO: As with our food, we want to bring producers that practice good farming to the forefront. We want our wines to be a catalyst of tableside discussion between both the guests and our staff.
TBN: What are some of the wines you have introduced that seem to be especially popular with your diners?

AO: The Millbrook Cabernet Franc from New York is a great varietal and appellation; the family farmed wines from the tiny producer Va La Vineyards in Pennsylvania; and the Soos Creek “Sundance” from Columbia Valley, Washington, which has great texture and juiciness. I also want to return faith back to the elegance of Chardonnay with two great wines on our list: Lioco from Sonoma and Bergstrom Old Stones from the Willamette Valley.
TBN: Anything new you’re excited about?

AO: Wines from Georgia and Greece. There are some great food-friendly wines coming out of these regions, bringing value back to the guest as well.
TBN: Beyond the wine list, you also have devised a cocktail menu that pays mind to the seasons. How do you think your wine knowledge has helped inform your cocktails?

AO: Just as with wine, cocktails should have real punch and make an impact: full flavored, higher alcohol with a more petite serving. We create them to be food-friendly and exciting to the palate; lots of high acid and juicy fruit with freshness.
TBN: Any cocktails on the fall menu you are particularly excited about?

AO: The Loner. It is a take on a Cranberry Smash featuring wonderful hand-harvested cranberries from New Jersey with rye, black walnut bitters and fresh fruit. We also have our version of a Sidecar with local Art in the Age’s [ginger] Snap, brandy and a cinnamon-sugar rim. The Haymaker, a muddled pear cooler, is also a great representation of fall, featuring pear vodka with citrus and clove.
TBN: For a restaurant that is so wine-centric how do you encourage guests to enter cocktail territory?

AO: Like everything we do, we keep things changing, which reflects our inspiration to the guests. We believe in the elegance of our cocktails and try to keep them simply understated. One example is The Purist, our margarita made with tequila, lime, agave and spiced salt, full of freshness and flavor.
TBN: How do you think the definition of hospitality has evolved since you first embarked on Django?

AO: My principle is to connect with the staff and our diners. Their stories, travels and palates inform our view of hospitality. Through our menus we are constantly creating a strong connection and sense of dialogue.  

AWS Master of Whiskey Presents Scotch Pairings to Food Network

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On October 9th, Spike McClure, Atlantic Wine & Spirits Master of Whiskey, conducted a Johnnie Walker, Oban, Lagavulin and Talisker tasting for chefs and writers at Food Network. The Food Network participants were very engaged by the presentation and found a great deal of takeaway for pairing ideas, learning how versatile and food-friendly Scotch can be.

Atlantic W&S Presents Masters of Whisky Blitz

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Atlantic W&S, a division of Empire Merchants held a kick-off meeting for whiskies in its portfolio, including the Diageo Classic Malts collection, Bushmills Irish Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye.

Nicolas Feuillatte Sponsors Hamptons Film Festival Events

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte sponsored several events during the Hamptons Film Festival in early October. Guests enjoyed flutes of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV throughout the weekend of star-studded events.

Today’s Bordeaux (2012 edition) Unveiled

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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The Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) hosted a tasting of this year’s “Today’s Bordeaux” on October 4th at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. The 100 wines featured are priced between $9 and $35 retail and are part of a campaign, now in its seventh year, highlighting the range of affordable Bordeaux wines available in the U.S. This year, three guest judges blind-tasted 300 wines submitted by importers. The judges were: John Osborne, wine director at Raoul’s bistro in Soho; Levi Dalton, host of the “I’ll Drink to That!” podcast series; and Carson Demmond, associate editor of Wine & Spirits. More info on the 100 wines can be found at

Amarone Families Celebrate 20 Years of Amarone with Tasting

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On October 2nd, industry members and fans of Amarone gathered at The New York Public Library for a unique tasting event. Guests enjoyed a seminar and seated tasting, “The Gentle Giant Awakens: 1988-2008, Twenty Years of Amarone.” Then, in a walkaround format, wines from the 12 Amarone families were poured by family members. They included: Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Masi, Musella, Nicolis, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Venturini and Zenato.

Metro Package Store Association Hosts Reception for Dean Skelos

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On September 27th, the Metropolitan Package Store Association hosted a reception honoring Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos at Wheatley Hills Golf Club. The event was also sponsored and hosted by Abbott Laboratories, Castagna Realty, Steve Malito Esq., Davidoff Hutcher and Citron LLP; Nassau PBA, New York State Troopers PBA and Robert A. Unger and Associates. Special guests included Senators Jack Martins, Carl Marcellino, Kemp Hannon and Charles Fuschillo.

Heineken Celebrates 15 Year James Bond Partnership

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On September 24th, Heineken held a “Crack the Case” event at the MTA Museum in Brooklyn to celebrate its 15 year partnership with James Bond and to toast the release of the latest film in the franchise, Skyfall. Guests enjoyed specially labeled bottles of Heineken as they danced to the tunes provided by DJ Wonder and DJ D-Nice.

Campo Eliseo Goes Vertical

Posted on | October 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Trade and media gathered at Benoit Restaurant on September 20th to taste through a vertical selection of wines from the Campo Eliseo project (100% Tinto de Toro, a variant of Tempranillo) that was started in the DO of Toro, Spain, by François Lurton and consultant Michel Rolland in 2000. In addition to Spain, Lurton currently also has wine estates in Argentina, Chile, Portugal and his native France.

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