Publishers Page January 2015 News & Views

Posted on | December 23, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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It is with heartfelt sadness that we remember Jay Andretta, an endearing presence in the wine and spirits industry in Upstate New York for more than 30 years. In 1983, Jay joined his dad, Vincent “Jimmy” Andretta Jr., in the family business—then Colony Liquor & Wine Distributors—and had a distinguished career, most recently serving as president of Empire Merchants North, LLC, a member of The Charmer Sunbelt Group.

Jay’s enthusiasm about life was contagious and we were fortunate to enjoy many years of conversation with him at industry events. His pride in being from Upstate New York always shined through; and he was consistently our best source for information on all Upstate fronts: political, social and economic.

We had the privilege of seeing him last month at the Brotherhood Winery in the quiet little town of Washingtonville, NY. Seeing Jay there to celebrate Brotherhood’s 175th Anniversary says much about who Jay was. No supplier or customer was too big or small for Jay—he treated everyone equally with great integrity, respect and class.

We also marveled at his ability to stay in terrific condition despite his long work hours and travel schedule. We can recall more than a few WSWA conventions, having woken up exceptionally early to beat the crowd at the gym, only to find Jay already on the treadmill and well into his workout routine.

Judging by the outpouring of love and support we heard for Jay in the wake of his sudden passing, we know the industry joins us in sending our sincere condolences to his wife Lauri, their family, and the entire Charmer Sunbelt family.

William G. Slone    
Chairman

Jason A. Glasser
Chief Executive Officer

OFF TO A FAST START

The first month of a new year is perfect for gauging new trends. That’s why we made rye our cover story. Even in the booming general category of brown goods, rye stands out, growing even faster than bourbon.

Of course, a new year always tends to generate predictions. You’ll find quite an interesting cross-section of ideas—touching on wine, spirits and technology—in “Crystal Ball 2015” on page 30.

Garnacha, aka Grenache, has long been enjoyed both as a varietal wine and in blends, but without the recognition of so-called noble grapes (page 24). Its incognito days are numbered, though, thanks to a surge in quality, a fresh commitment to market it more directly, and a style that fits American palates to a T. (Or a G?)

We think you’ll find lots of practical inspiration in our guide to selling wines for all occasions. If your staff is ready to help these customers efficiently, you stand a good chance of winning new repeat business, month after month (page 44).

Jody Slone-Spitalnik
Chief Operating Officer

Southern W&S Honors Ten-Year Veterans of Metro and Upstate NY

Posted on | December 23, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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This past fall, Southern Wine & Spirits of New York celebrated its ten-year veterans. Southern Metro NY veterans enjoyed a luncheon in their honor at Crest Hollow Country Club on Long Island with a live band. Southern Upstate NY veterans also enjoyed a special luncheon at Shenandoah Country Club at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, with entertainment from a magician and a live jazz band.

Crystal Ball 2015: Industry Veterans Peer Into the Near-ish Future

Posted on | December 22, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Seems like ages ago that people were worrying about the advent of the Millennium bug, and that the bursting of the dotcom bubble had tarnished the prospect of the Internet as a hub for business transactions. Of course, those were also the days when cell phones were only used as a temporary communications device until we got back to our land lines.

The alcoholic beverage industry has also changed rapidly during those 15 years—in terms of what brands we sell, how we sell them, how we price them and who buys them.

So what comes next?  We asked a cross-section of industry experts what they saw in their crystal balls for 2015 —what trends would accelerate and which ones are in danger. Here are their thoughts.

 

TECHNOLOGY

Our focus will turn  from Millennials toward….

“Of interest for 2015 is that by the end of the year, every person defined as a Millennial will be of legal drinking age. In January of 2016, we’ll all be talking about the ‘iGeneration’ and whether they will become wine drinkers. Stay tuned for that.”
– John Gillespie, Wine Market Council

Devices will expand as primary information channels.

“The impact of mobile devices and tablets for receiving and communicating wine information will continue to increase mainly in areas of accessibility [‘Help me get information where I am…’] and immediacy [‘Give it to me now’].”

– Michael Mondavi,

Michael Mondavi Family businesses

Mobile or bust?

“Word of mouth isn’t word of mouth any more. The only way you can reach the younger demographics is on their smart phone.”
– David Moore,
Moore Brothers retail wine stores

Tech will have a  humanizing impact.

“The younger generation sits at the bar with a drink in one hand and a cell phone in the other. They can Google anything at the bar and get information.  They want to be talked to, not talked at. They want stories.”

– Norman Bonchick, Van Gogh Imports

 

SPIRITS

Watch craft distillers for leading indicators.

“Big producers will be forced to consider the small producers more seriously, and not only as competition, but also as a low-cost means to test products before launching.”

– Ralph Erenzo, Tuthilltown Spirits

Next up in craft?

“Applejack will be reinvented, and a whole palette of flavors will spread out with brandy and eau-de-vies.”

– William Owens,

American Distilling Institute

[He cautions, however, that shortages may slow craft spirits expansion: Orders for premium stills are taking a year or more to fill; aging barrels from American oak are on back order; and most aged bulk whiskey for blending has been bought up.]

The spirits market  is nearing saturation.

“In the last two years, there have been 1,500 new spirits products or product extensions. People are risking a lot of money because the market can’t absorb that. The bar isn’t getting any longer.”

– Norman Bonchick

Craft distilling will bring positive changes to rural America.

“In addition to increased tax revenues, craft production will create an increase in rural employment opportunities, new markets for small farmers and blossoming of tourism activity.”

– Ralph Erenzo

Craft spirits will prosper…and be gobbled up.

“As with craft beers, entrepreneurial craft spirits will continue their retail-driven growth, with many inevitably being acquisition targets by the established distillers.”

– Peter Morrell, industry consultant, former CEO, Morrell and Co

Where is vodka Headed?

“It’s great that someone wants to sit down and savor a craft rye. But instant gratification is part of going out and having a good time, and vodka

provides that.”

– Norman Bonchick

 

WINE

Stock is rising for smaller Champagne producers.

“Any major restaurant will have a selection of grower Champagnes on its wine menu these days to be taken seriously. Just having Dom Perignon won’t cut it anymore.”

– David Moore

Green will gain momentum.

“‘Organic’ and ‘sustainable’ will continue to gather more momentum as quality signifiers, despite the fact that they are in and of themselves pretty empty of meaning. Biodynamic certification, I believe, carries far more gravitas, and ‘dry-farmed’ will also, I predict, carry a strong qualitative connotation.”

– Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyard

Direct-to-consumer wine sales will expand.

“The growth of direct-to-consumer sales both from wineries and Internet sources is very impressive, even if from a small base. Most industry observers expect this growth to continue.”

– John Gillespie

Ties between wineries and consumers will continue to get closer as more winemakers serve as brand ambassadors.

“Our business is unusual in that respect. You don’t see the president of GM going out to meet customers.”
– Brian Larky,

Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Provenance will be more relevant than ever.

“American drinkers want to know where their wines come from, whether it’s Cabernet Sauvignon from DiamondMountain, Chardonnay from Dry Creek or Champagne from only Champagne.”

Sam Heitner, Champagne Bureau US

There will be a pushback (finally) against high-alcohol wine.

“It may be too early to predict this with certainty, but there has to be a backlash against all of the high-alcohol Napa Valley Cabernets.”

– Randall Grahm

Classic aperitifs are coming back.

“In the most-sophisticated U.S. urban markets, French and Italian aperitifs will see greater opportunities, especially when driven by on-premise somms and cocktail gurus. More and more, Campari, Lillet Blonde and Punt e Mes will find their [justified] place in home bars.”

 – Peter Morrell

The split between the big guys and little guys will grow.

“Consolidation at the top will continue to serve consumers who just want something affordable and good to drink, while the small producer and distributor will rely more on personal relations with consumers who want to know the story behind what they are drinking.”

– Brian Larky

 

Time to Buy Rye

Posted on | December 22, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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If there were an endangered species act for American spirits, rye certainly would have qualified for protection at the turn of this century. Down to only a few brands that were mainly stuck on the periphery of the shelf or out of the line of sight on the back bar, rye had fallen far from its pretty perch as arguably the original American spirit. While bourbon had survived Prohibition and later the vodka craze, rye had slowly but surely faded from relevance.

But since its lowest point, rye has come roaring back, growing by double digits each year for the past few and up more than 35% in the 52 weeks through October 2014 according to recent figures, building on numerous trends that have created the perfect climate for the American spirit more closely associated with Maryland and Pennsylvania than Kentucky.

Of those trends, the return of classic cocktails in which rye often plays a prominent role has been most important. Manhattans and Old Fashioneds aside, the international American whiskey boom has returned focus to authentic styles of bourbons and ryes alike. And finally, contributing is the contemporary craving for authentic products with real stories and the concurrent surge of micro-distillers, who in many cases are working with rye (or selling rye made elsewhere,or both).

Even Canadian whisky makers, who have lagged behind their U.S. counterparts in featuring rye as a key component of their wares, have gotten into the mix. Pernod Ricard has in the past year or so started to push J.P. Wiser’s Rye, with smaller brands Lot 40 Pot Still Rye and Pike Creek also receiving attention. Canada has already been the source of two of the minor success stories in the category: WhistlePig and Lock, Stock & Barrel. (Different rules in the two countries can create confusion, however; while in this country, to be called a rye a product must be at least 51% made from that grain, Canadian rules are less bothersome and allow almost any product containing some rye to be called “rye.”)

Not to be outdone, Kentucky is starting to sink its teeth deeper than ever into rye. Rye is a big reason, for instance, why Michter’s is building two new distilleries. Also notable on the horizon is Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Rye, a follow-up to a limited edition from a few years ago that will join the flagship brand as the first permanent line extension.

Hot Both On- & Off-Premise

While most brand reps say sales of rye skew higher on-premise than average, retailers are also reporting growth. “There has certainly been an increase of rye enthusiasts,” says Erin Robertie, liquor department manager at the 35,000 square foot Hazel’s Beverage World in Boulder, CO. “It spans from cocktail geeks to grain experimentalists. We have a handful of customers that only shop for ryes.” She acknowledges the cocktail craze as a contributing factor, but also points out that rye’s drier, more spicy flavor profile fits a trend away from sweeter drinks.

Robertie also credits the limited- edition ryes—specifically those from Buffalo Trace including their Antique Collection brands Thomas H. Handy and Sazerac 18—for “catapulting the category into the forefront of whiskey drinkers,” as well as making room for other limited expressions like Willet Rye 7-9 Year and Angel’s Envy Rye.

Those ryes have limited availability, but even the big distillers have been having a hard time filling their orders until recently. Heaven Hill’s Pikesville Rye has been “on sabbatical” while stocks were brought up to par; and the distiller struggled to fill orders for their Rittenhouse Rye, a 100-proof brand that was in the forefront of the return to rye, says Director of Corporate Communications Larry Kass. “We’re finally now starting to get caught up. This is the first year in a while that we’ve been able to make new placements and get our inventory and stocks in line,” says Kass.

Wild Turkey found itself in a similar bind, says Andrew Floor, Senior Marketing Director for Brown Spirits for brand owner Campari. When finding itself short of the benchmark Wild Turkey 101 Rye, the company introduced Wild Turkey 81 Rye, which, while it garnered many new fans for the whiskey style, also alienated numerous bartenders, who created a Facebook page seeking 101’s return. Well, the company listened—and has reintroduced 101 in a highly allocated version for bar use, with plans to expand distribution next year.

Similar issues plagued Campari’s Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye. “When demand took off, we just didn’t have the liquid,” says Floor. “It’s even harder when you have an age statement whiskey. We went through a significant period of out-of-stocks and we suffered some because of it. But we’ve gone through our year of pain and rye supplies are loosening up, and I have to assume the other major distillers have gone through a similar process.”

Midwest Brown Gold?

Much of the rye gap has been filled with spirit coming from the giant former Seagrams distillery now called MGP of Indiana, which has supplied numerous brands, like Bulleit and High West among many others. High West has used their share to create unique expressions, like Rendezvous and Bourye, as a bridge until the day their aged whiskey is ready for release.

A recent piece about MGP as an unpublicized source highlighted what many in the industry already knew, but also called into question the lack of transparency in marketing of numerous brands. David King, president of Anchor Distilling, maker of pioneering brand Old Potrero, says that going forward, brand owners will need to be more forthright, especially as the rye volume growth slows naturally as more liquid is made available, but prices also rise. Anchor has been gradually increasing the amount of Old Potrero made each year but King says he believes he could sell out “ten times more than that” at this point.

Campari’s Andrew Floor points out MGP’s importance in the overall rye resurgence: “Without [them], rye might not have got the traction it did. Even with our quite sophisticated forecasting we were caught by surprise, as were other producers. It would have been really tough for this segment if there wasn’t another source of liquid. 

Jockeying for Market Position

Not all distillers were caught short; the three Beam Suntory ryes—Jim Beam, Old Overholt and Knob Creek Rye—are growing double digits and ready for more. The company plans to repackage Beam Rye, boosting it to 90 proof in response to bartenders’ request for more potency for their cocktails, says Chris Bauder, General Manager of Whiskies at Beam Suntory.

Bartenders and retailers have been seeking single-barrel ryes from the company, and being able to make that happen is an advantage Bauder sees larger distillers having: “If you’re not producing your own, obviously you can’t do that.”

Other distillers, once supply has been balanced, have new ideas as well. “We’re always looking and planning,” says Kass. “It was all we could do to keep up with demand here over the past four or five years, but we’ve been able to squirrel away some and we’ll be releasing a few older ryes in the next few years.”

David Perkins, proprietor of High West, has been selling sourced rye they tweak while he ages his own Pennsylvania-style 100% rye whiskey, a style he likes for the flavor and its connection with American distilling heritage. He has sourced from MGP and Barton Distillery, and admits half his payroll is supported by those sourced products. High West now sells its own unaged rye made in Park City, Utah, and will be opening a new distillery nearby soon.

Overall, Kass likens the sudden rye explosion to a microcosm of the American whiskey boom, but thinks the fly-by-night brands will end up caught out. “Rye has gone through an accelerated growth spurt in six years or so, but there’s a whole lot more sophisticated consumer out there now,” he says. “You can’t bring a label out anymore and expect that people are blindly going to try it. You have to have a story that’s airtight and true.”

One well-established brand positioned to tap in to rye’s growing popularity is Michter’s. According to local lore, rye whiskey made by the company that would ultimately be known as Michter’s was the personal choice of General George Washington to fortify his troops during the brutal Valley Forge winter. Complementing that unique backstory, the modern Michter’s Rye has a great hook: every bottle of the 84.8 proof liquid comes from a single barrel.

Craft bottlings are a wild card to consider in the rye equation. Rye, with its spicy character, has carved itself an image as bourbon’s cooler cousin, perfect for classic cocktails and budding connoisseurs. Small distiller successes include FEW and Koval, both made in the Chicago area; and Tennessee’s Corsair whose Ryemaggedon is only one of their many explorational grain whiskies. A brand new craft entry to watch is Rogue Farms Oregon Rye Whiskey, made start to finish on a single farm, used a strain of “Dream” rye apparently so special that Rogue trademarked it; 374 cases were released in December.

Garnacha Revealed: The Grapes, The Places, The Wine

Posted on | December 22, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Many American wine lovers already relish the taste of Garnacha —even if they don’t realize it. This widely planted grape has been prized in the Mediterranean for centuries, appearing in both its red and white varieties in the regal wines of France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe (where is goes by the name Grenache), the stylish reds of Spain’s Priorat and in the fashionable dark reds of Sardinia, where it is known as Cannonau. However, because most of these wines include Garnacha as part of a blend, the grape has remained largely anonymous to the many wine drinkers who have enjoyed it.

This is about to change: varietal Garnacha wines are gaining traction in the grape’s Spanish homeland of the EbroRiverValley and are beginning to enter the world stage, where they hold special appeal for an audience thirsting for affordable, and characterful, wines.

 

Mediterranean by Nature

The places where Garnacha prospers are evolved from a confluence of climate and history. Botanical evidence strongly suggests the grape originated in Spain’s northeastern region of Aragón and spread with the expansion of the empire of the Crown of Aragon through the 14th and 15th centuries to occupy Spain’s Catalonia, the Roussillon of southern France, Sardinia and parts of Greece. The fact that Garnacha is still grown here today is a credit to its unique adaptation to these warmest areas of the Mediterranean, and Garnacha’s ability to produce quality wines, even where other grapes might struggle.

While Garnacha has spread to the New World, most notably to Paso Robles and the CentralCoast in California; and to Australia, where it’s frequently undercover as the “G” in Australia’s red “GSM” blends, the Mediterranean remains home: a full 97% of the world’s Garnacha plantings are in Europe and North Africa. France leads the world in total acres of both red and white Garnacha, followed closely by Spain.

Here, in the EbroRiverValley (homeland of Spanish Garnacha), vines are generally trained in low bushes, giving Garnacha the fortitude to endure relentless winds like the Cierzo and the Summer heat. In fact, poor soils and low rainfalls constrain the yields, favoring healthy ripeness at the same time. And, because Garnacha buds early and ripens late, it demands a long growing seasons, precisely like that found in the hot, dry regions of Spain.

It is fitting that the Spanish birthplace of Garnacha is now poised to introduce this wine to the world in its purest form, as a varietal wine. The five Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) located in the area where Garnacha originated—Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta—are focused on representing Garnacha as a varietal wine, including red, rosé and white wine interpretations. As part of the European Union Protected Designations of Origin, these wines carry a guarantee of their provenance and quality, with their regional names protected by law. For their part, each PDO must adhere to strict standards, designed to assure consumers that the wines are from the specified area and crafted to consistent high quality.

The most fundamental standard for Garnacha explorers to recognize is that these Garnacha varietal wines, whether red, white or rosé, are guaranteed to include a minimum of 85% of the Garnacha grape.

 

New Respect for an Old Variety

Of course, the quality revolution in these Spanish PDOs is not as simple as just increasing the proportion of Garnacha in the bottle. Garnacha was traditionally blended to account for some of the grape’s inherent challenges, including high alcohol, the potential to oxidize, and the propensity to produce thin or unimpressive wines when permitted to overproduce. Only by applying modern science with regard to viticulture and winemaking, and electing to pursue quality over quantity, have these regions succeeded in making world-class varietal wines from Garnacha. “The old farmers were incredibly smart with their methods, and able to keep 100-year-old vines healthy and producing,” explains Ignacio Martínez de Albornoz, Secretary of Garnacha Origen Association. “However, they did not have the technology to produce cold fermentations and maceration, or to choose the best planting sites and integrate quality barrels. By combining modernization with our traditions, these regions are succeeding in the challenge of producing monovarietal Garnacha wines of great character and concentration.”

Varietal Garnacha holds special intrigue for inquisitive wine lovers given the grape’s ability to reflect its origin. “It is the Pinot Noir of the south, because it really captures a lot of the terroir. It is a great deal of fun to sample several of these wines, because you absolutely can tell which PDO each comes from,” says Martínez de Albornoz. Each PDO tells a story of sun and soil, people and practice—one might say they represent five faces of Garnacha.

Calatayud

Looking across the Spanish PDOs dedicated to varietal Garnacha, the rugged and high-altitude Calatayud, established in 1989, is renowned for producing Garnacha grapes with thick black skins that yield rich and sappy reds of good concentration that require no help from other grape varieties. The robust flavors in these Garnacha wines are joined by refreshing acidity, preserved by cool nights that counterbalance the hot days and also result in some of the latest harvest dates in the whole of Europe. With many small parcels of old vines, the tradition of hand-harvesting, characteristic of many fine wines, remains strong in Calatayud, with its soils of red and white clay, quartz, limestone and slate.

Campo de Borja

The self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” Campo de Borja is perhaps the best-known of the Aragón PDOs among U.S. wine lovers given the success of some of the large cooperative wines in the U.S. The region was the first to pursue the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines, a wise choice given a majority of vines here are Garnacha, with 50% of them between 10 and 50 years old. Astonishingly, the oldest vineyards of the region date back to 1145. Thanks to variations in altitude, three distinct Garnacha expressions exist within this single PDO The lower elevation wines, found primarily on dark limestone soils, are potent and aromatic; the highest altitude wines in the foothills of the Moncayo mountains are more elegant and subtle. Between the two are vineyards of 450 to 550 meters elevation, with this middle ground producing complex, fleshy and intense wines.

Cariñena

Created in 1932, Cariñena is the oldest PDO in the region of Aragon and among the oldest protected growing areas of Europe. Cariñena is also the largest of the PDOs, with 1,600 growers joining to make it one of Spain’s important wine exporting regions. While Cariñena lends its name to the Carignan grape, Garnacha actually accounts for 31% of production, contributing to both rosé and red wines. For the latter, whole grape fermentation and carbonic maceration a hallmark of the wines, resulting young reds in a fresh and fruity style. Among the significant trends in Cariñena is the emergence of smaller estate producers in a region that was traditionally dominated by cooperatives.

Somontano

PDO Somontano currently has only a small investment in Garnacha, accounting for about 5% of the vineyards. However, the region expects to double plantings over the next few years, reversing a much broader global trend of removing Garnacha vines in favor of international varieties. This vision is in keeping with Somontano’s progressive and modern approach, traits that are evident in both the region’s international-style wines with their hip marketing, many of which are positioned as “luxury” wines. Vineyards located at 350 to 1,000 meters above sea level, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, experience extreme geography and seasonal temperature swings, which producers are able to exploit to craft concentrated Garnacha wines with an eye toward aging.

Terra Alta

In PDO Terra Alta, historically both red and white Garnacha have been cultivated. The latter, in fact, has become a specialty; Terra Alta is responsible for around 80% of all the white Garnacha in Spain—representing one-third of the entire world’s production. The optimal conditions in Terra Alta are a result of cool winds from the north and humid breezes coming off the Mediterranean. Whites display profound minerality, beyond ripe fruit; rosés are bright and refreshing; and reds from Terra Alta compare in intensity and weight to those of the other Garnacha-focused PDOs.

 

Right Grape, Right Time

Producers of Garnacha varietal wines are already finding a warm reception among American wine consumers. “When American wine lovers try Garnacha, they find it well suited to their palate. It is fruity and fresh, and is just enough outside the mainstream wines to offer an original experience,” says Martínez de Albornoz. While each P.D.O. crafting Garnacha promises wines of real pedigree and specific style, in broad terms consumers can expect red Garnacha to offer ripe, aromatic and fruity wines, redolent of red fruit and spices. Given red Garnacha’s thinner skins, these wines are generally fruit forward, lush and soft on the palate, with sweetness, acidity and tannins in good balance.

When crafted as a rosé, red Garnacha makes a perfect hot-weather wine, with its aromas of strawberries, roses and an impression of sweetness. White Garnacha is especially malleable, and can produce wines that range from fresh and mineral to rich and plump.

As an alternative to international red varieties, Garnacha fulfills an important role as a superior wine pairing for many popular foods, according to Martínez de Albornoz. “The wines go very well with a lot of ethnic foods. And they go especially well with barbecue,” he says. Also good for the consumer, along with Garnacha’s lack of widespread recognition comes great value, with Garnacha wines frequently over-delivering on quality across a range of price points.

With Garnacha already gaining buzz among American wine writers, sommeliers and early adopters, varietal Garnacha producers are becoming more proactive in educating the world on this grape, supporting retailer efforts, through an information program launched in the United States and Canada in February 2014.

With so much in its favor, Martínez de Albornoz is convinced that education is the missing ingredient to build wider appreciation for red and white Garnacha, bringing new notoriety to this unsung grape. “People did not always realize they were drinking Garnacha. With the rise of varietal Garnacha wines we aim to ensure they know exactly what they are drinking, because one thing we are sure of already: they will love it!”  

 

 

 

Bar Talk: Forging Ahead

Posted on | December 18, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Matthew Conway, Beverage Director, Restaurant Marc Forgione, NYC

The seasonal cocktail program that sommelier Matthew Conway has assembled at Restaurant Marc Forgione, in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, is a compelling complement to both the thoughtful wine list and the acclaimed chef’s cuisine.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Just like the food, the use of fresh ingredients is one of the cornerstones of your beverage program. Now that we’re in the throes of winter, does that up the ante?

MATTHEW CONWAY: Winter is the hardest season because it’s the one dominated by citrus, when we transition to Meyer lemon and blood orange and use stuff like pomegranate and hibiscus. We don’t ever like to duplicate drinks on the menu, and that becomes more challenging when we have limited seasonal fruits to work with.  

TBN: The way diners like to eat has changed considerably. How has the bar scene shifted as a result?

MC: It’s harder to get a table in the dining room, so more people are eating at the bar. You can drink a bottle of wine to close a deal here, get snacks and cocktails, or order a full-blown meal. Some people really like this casual aspect and we have a lot of bar regulars as a result.

TBN: The cocktail list certainly takes cues from the kitchen. Are they a hit with customers?  

MC: An enormous percentage of our bar sales—70—comes from the specialty cocktails. We probably sell four martinis and a dozen gin or vodka tonics a week. At other restaurants, fine or casual, classics like these, as well as Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, are popular calls. Not here.  

TBN: Why is that?

MC: We list our cocktails only by the spirit—never by a cheeky name or a brand or even mention how the drink is served. Very early on, Marc wanted it to be a cocktail program that was built around the flavor profiles of spirits—the sweetness of rum, the smokiness of tequila and the botanicals of gin—not ingredients that masked them. When people see the menu, it’s usually the combination of the spirit and whatever the second ingredient listed is that drives their decision, like reposado tequila and concord grapes.

TBN: Does this somewhat mysterious menu provoke many questions from patrons?

MC: I’m surprised we don’t get more. If the pairing of rye and quince catches their eye, they’ll order it. Even if it’s something they’re not expecting, the generic description creates pleasure and excitement.

TBN: Beyond an unconventional menu approach, why else do you think the drinks have become so popular here?

MC: Because of the reputation of the program and our presentation. Right now we have 15 different glasses, from single rocks to double rocks to Sazerac. People see other people drinking around them, and whether it’s something in a flute or topped with a flame, they enjoy it. The next time they come back they remember this is where they had a great cocktail. We could do a lot to lower costs and increase margins, but just like Marc in the kitchen, it’s not in our nature to use an inferior product to increase bottom line. Our sophisticated clientele know we don’t take shortcuts. Marc is adamant about using the best ingredients at all times. Ninety-nine percent of people might not notice if we use a less superior quality finishing salt, but Marc would know, and he wouldn’t allow it to happen.

TBN: How do you find staff equally committed to creating such an experience?

MC: I don’t care what your background is, but you have to be passionate about being the best. If a guest asks a server which wine to have with the pork chop and the server asks for my recommendation, I always ask for theirs, because they’ve tasted all the wines, too. In my head, I might never pair the Bordeaux with the pork chop, but if they would it means something to them. That conviction is better than regurgitating what I believe. 

Ketel One & Atlantic Grow & Show Support for Movember

Posted on | December 18, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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November is about men’s health awareness, and “Movember,” a charitable drive where men pledge to grow beards to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, is a big part. Ketel One Vodka, along with Diageo and Atlantic Wines & Spirits, supported Movember by growing beards, hosting Movember parties and raising more than $2,500.

Diddy Takes Over Times Square With Cîroc Vodka

Posted on | December 18, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Sean “Diddy” Combs took over New York’s Times Square on November 19th to promote the rebranded launch of Cîroc Ultra Premium Vodka and debut his new commercial, “Step Into The Circle.” Combs encouraged the crowd: “Keep dreaming, keep believing in your dreams, know that you can do it.”

Retailers Alliance Holds Annual Dinner Dance

Posted on | December 18, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Members from the three tiers of the beverage alcohol community enjoyed the Retailers Alliance 45th Annual Dinner Dance on November 3rd at The Pierre. All event proceeds went to charitable causes, and attendees enjoyed socializing and celebrating together in advance of the busy holiday season.

Sustainability In Italian Wine On Agenda at The New School

Posted on | December 18, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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The first report on sustainability in Italian wines was presented in the U.S. at The New School on November 10th. The event was sponsored by the Forum for Wine Sustainability, which continues to work toward a goal of a sustainable wine industry and plans to present research and action plans at Expo Milan 2015.

 
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