During the Pandemic, Corkage is a Crime

I didn’t think I needed to write this article. Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a spot-on piece the other day, entitled “Restaurant wining and dining is back in the Bay Area. But please don’t BYOB,” and in wholehearted agreement I retweeted it and included it in my weekly list of things to read about wine.

But I keep seeing people disagreeing with her sentiments online, and so I am compelled to pile on to her argument, but perhaps put things a little more forcefully than either she is inclined to do, or a little more frankly than the San Francisco Chronicle would be willing to accept under their masthead.

If you bring a bottle of your own wine to a restaurant right now, you are a complete jerk.

Yes, I mean that with all my heart. I was even tempted to use stronger language than “jerk,” but I’m trying to keep this somewhat civil.

I would hope that most restaurants would simply abolish their corkage policies for the moment, as The Morris here in San Francisco has so intelligently done. But if for some reason the restaurant has not, you are still being unbelievably insensitive and selfish if you bring a bottle of your own wine to a restaurant between now and June 15th (or whenever your local municipality fully reopens for business without COVID-19 restrictions).

Frankly, none of us should be bringing bottles of wine to restaurants for many months to come, if we truly want the restaurants we patronize to survive and thrive.

I love corkage, but now is not the time

I am one of the strongest advocates for corkage policies you will ever meet. Remember, I’m the guy who got into a public spat with Delfina owner Craig Stoll 15 years ago about the idiocy of having a corkage policy at Delfina but saying he could not afford to have one at Pizzeria Delfina right next door.

Corkage exists because the vast majority of the profit margins at a restaurant come from their beverage program. A well-run kitchen can generate profit margins of 2% to 7% on food costs and labor. A typical beverage program can generate 20% to 40% margins.

Consequently, bringing a bottle of your own wine to a restaurant robs the restaurant of a huge portion of the profit they would make on your meal had you purchased wine from them, and so corkage fees help them recover some or all of that profit.

Corkage, of course, is also an attractant. An incentive, if you will, for wine-loving people to come to your restaurant. And most restaurateurs want wine lovers as patrons because studies show that even when they bring their own wines, they tend to spend more than your average diner.

But all of that describes the restaurant industry under normal circumstances. We are about as far from normal circumstances as you can get.

One in four of the people unemployed due to the pandemic works in restaurants. More than 125,000 independent restaurants around the country have been forced to close permanently because their owners couldn’t afford to keep them open and tens or maybe hundreds of thousands more are teetering on the brink of insolvency.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates that repairing the damage done to the industry would take $120 billion. Only with the passage of the recent stimulus have roughly $36 billion been allocated to support restaurants. Where and whether the other $80 billion will come from is anyone’s guess. Some people estimate that by the end of this year as many as 40% of America’s restaurants will be wiped out.

If we love restaurants and the experiences they provide, we should be doing everything we possibly can to support them at this time, as I wrote recently.

We should be trying to help the people who own restaurants and the people who work in restaurants maximize their margins. We should be tipping like billionaires, and we should be ordering alcoholic beverages from off their lists and not bringing our own.

It’s about economics, but it’s also about respect

Many restaurants have been stuck with an inventory of wines that they paid for long ago, but couldn’t sell much of for the past year. In some cases, in order to support the wine industry, maintain relationships, and retain coveted allocations, they have had to keep buying wine during the pandemic even though they had little or no way of selling it.

All that wine represents an incredible drag on the bottom line of a restaurant’s business. And while some of the wine will gain in value and attractiveness, a significant portion of it will not. Think about the 4 cases of $25 2019 Napa Sauvignon Blanc that the restaurant sells for $50 on its wine list that has just been sitting there this past year. Right about now, the 2020 vintage of the same wine has likely just been released, making that other four cases of wine quite unattractive in comparison. Just ask any restaurateur how easy it is to sell past vintages of wines that consumers expect to buy in current vintages and you’re liable to hear an answer that contains more than one expletive.

Buying wine off the list from restaurants we visit is incredibly helpful to them economically, but it is also a show of moral support. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that we as diners are trying to help them succeed.

Just as bringing your own wine sends the complete opposite message.

Bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant right now says quite clearly, “Drinking what I want to drink from my own stash is more important to me than your survival as a business.”

I don’t care if the restaurant has a corkage fee and you are more than willing to pay it. I don’t care if you’re willing to double the corkage fee voluntarily. Bringing your own wine to a restaurant now is just plain insensitive and rude irrespective of the actual economics of your specific dining situation or the generosity of your tip.

This is about sending a message. This is about respect.

The hospitality industry has literally bent over backwards trying to survive, and at the same time so many have managed to persist in delivering a modicum of the service and comfort we have come to expect from them, all under a positively unimaginable set of constraints and challenges.

We wine lovers need to suck it up and use our presence and our pocketbooks to send a message to the restaurant industry: we want you to survive and thrive again.

Because if we don’t, they might not.

Fuck corkage for a while, people. Let’s give the restaurant industry all the help they can get, and be happy to do it. It’s quite literally the least we can do.

During the Pandemic, Corkage is a Crime

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If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

No one needs to be told that the pandemic has severely impacted the restaurant industry—at least, no one that eats out with any regularity. For some, more than any other element of the pandemic, the shuttering of bars and restaurants has been the most jarring element of lockdown. Working from home? No problem. Not being able to eat out? That’s a major crisis for some people.

Of course, major crisis doesn’t begin to describe the experience of most restaurateurs. They’re fighting for their very lives and livelihoods, a fight that many have already lost.

Since most of America went into a hard shutdown in the spring of 2020, industry estimates suggest that more than 125,000 have been forced out of business. Mostly small businesses or sole proprietorships, restaurants have been unable to carry the costs of rent, payroll, and outstanding debts through the rollercoaster of full closures, takeout-dining-only restrictions, and limited re-openings that have meant a constant firehose of changing regulations, all steeped with the one thing that is the enemy of any business great or small: uncertainty.

But before uncertainty, there was pain. Pure pain.

As the country went into lockdown, and more than 500,000 restaurants closed their doors, millions of restaurant workers lost their jobs, and roughly $220 billion of revenue evaporated in the second quarter of 2020 alone.

Few people truly understand the scale of the restaurant industry, which directly employs more than 11 million people in the United States. Add in the truck drivers who deliver food, and other adjacent businesses focused entirely on restaurants and the direct and indirect employment number grows to 16 million.

Incidentally, that’s far more than the airline industry (direct employment of 750,000), the auto industry (direct employment of 1.3 million), or the entire financial services industry (direct employment of 6.3 million). Of the roughly 10 million people forced into unemployment by the pandemic, roughly 1 in 4, or more than 2.5 million are from the restaurant industry.

Pandemic relief scorecard thus far?:

Airline industry: $60 billion first round of stimulus, $15 billion, second round; no governmentally imposed restrictions on capacity or general operations.

Restaurant industry: $0 in stimulus; forced closure in some places; multiple complete shutdowns of indoor dining; severe restrictions on operating capacity (50% or 25%) in place for the foreseeable future in most regions, even as reopening occurs.

It’s a constantly fluid number, difficult to measure because there is no central governing body or universal association to which every restaurant belongs, but estimates at the moment suggest that 1 in 6 independent restaurants in America have closed permanently. According to the Washington Post, Chapter 11 bankruptcies among restaurants are up 50% above 2019 levels.

The stimulus program put into place as part of the March 2020 $2 trillion CARES act included $377 billion of relief earmarked for small businesses. But that relief was in the form of one-time $10,000 grants for some businesses, with the vast majority of the $377 billion delivered as the infamous PPP loans, under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The abject failure of the Paycheck Protection Program for many businesses has now been widely reported. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that these are loans, not the grants that many industries received, despite their best efforts many restaurateurs couldn’t manage to get those loans. PPP simply didn’t work for the restaurant industry. You only need to look at the numbers for proof. The restaurant industry made up a quarter of the jobs lost to the pandemic, but restaurants received only 8.1% of the PPP loans issued.

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

Many small businesses shut their doors, sent their employees home, and had them work from home for months. And many still got PPP loans. With their employees working at more or less full capacity, these loans amounted to a decent boost for organizations that might have flagging sales or some lost productivity due to employees caring for kids or sick loved ones.

The average restaurant in America operates at a profit margin of 3-5%, with significant sunk costs in food and beverages at any given moment in time. The profit lost from merely having to throw out all the food they couldn’t use when the shutdown came was enough to sink some restaurants. Never mind the massive quantities of takeout containers, PPE, and other costs a restaurant has had to incur if they made it to the point of being able to open up again for take-out and delivery.

Unlike grocery stores that can remain open even if a bunch of their employees get COVID-19, in many states restaurants are forced to close and pay sick leave to everyone for two weeks if even a single member of their staff tests positive.

“If relief doesn’t come, we expect 85% of the restaurant industry could be permanently decimated,” says Erika Palomar, Executive Director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a grassroots group formed in March to tackle something that the restaurant industry has never done before in its history: lobby Congress on its behalf.

“Washington DC didn’t understand our needs,” says restaurateur Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, and co-founder of the IRC. “They never heard from [the restaurant industry]. Not in the financial crisis of 2008, not after 9/11, not during the stock market crash of ’87. They’ve been hearing from the airline industry in good times and in bad for 50 years.”

The IRC began its advocacy in March and by early June, they had calculated roughly how much money they thought was required to stave off disaster for the 500,000 small-business owners that they adopted as their constituents: $120 billion. They had also built enough relationships to get the RESTAURANTS Act drafted as a bill and introduced into the 116th Congress on June 18th, sponsored by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker (R) and Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer (D).

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

The rest of the summer and fall was spent lobbying anyone and everyone the IRC could get a meeting with in Washington. “We had tremendous support from over half the Congress,” says Palomar, “but with everything going on it just couldn’t move, and they ran out of time.” The bill never came up for a vote.

Palomar and her colleagues began work immediately to re-introduce the bill in the 117th Congress (a requirement when a piece of legislation is introduced but not voted on), and it was successfully reintroduced three weeks ago on February 5th, with two additional co-sponsors, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Pennsylvania Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R).

But before it could come up for a vote, on February 1st, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package would include a $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. And when Palomar and her colleagues read the text of the bill itself, the found themselves looking at some very familiar language.

“This Revitalization Fund utilizes all the principles within the RESTAURANTS Act,” says Palomar. “I’m delighted. We’re all delighted.”

Palomar and all her colleagues were further thrilled this past Friday, February 26th, when the House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, including the $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and sent it to the Senate.

That might sound like victory, but it’s far from it.

As we have already seen with the elimination of the promised $15 federal minimum wage from this process, passage in the House doesn’t mean a given provision will survive passage in the Senate, especially when legislation is being passed through the arcane process of budget reconciliation.

Let’s not forget that the minimum price tag (in reality, the amount is likely twice that) for rescuing the restaurant industry is $120 billion, and this stimulus bill only includes $25 billion, but it’s a serious start.

“This is about both the money and the program,” says Palomar. “Having this program stood up as part of [the stimulus] is huge, and the hope is that future budget bills could refill the program.”

The mechanism of adding more funding for restaurants in future legislation is a walk in the park compared to getting a relief program established in the first place. That’s why everyone is holding their breath to see how this stimulus bill moves through the senate.

That’s also why now, more than ever, the restaurant industry needs all of our help.

“When independent restaurants hurt, neighborhoods hurt,” says Palomar. “Restaurants are the cornerstone of our communities. They are places where dreams come to life—dreams that the pandemic has destroyed or put on hold.”

If We Want Restaurants to Survive, Here’s What We Need to Do

While I enjoy cooking enough to not have faced a major existential crisis when restaurants closed, I adore eating out, and now count many restaurateurs as friends and acquaintances. I have been doing everything I can think of to support the restaurants we love. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

If, like me, you’d like the restaurants you know and love to survive, here’s a list of what we all need to do, probably for the next year, maybe two.

#1 Call your Senators NOW and ask them to support the RESTAURANTS Act

Wait, but isn’t the RESTAURANTS act no longer necessary because the COVID relief bill now includes a Restaurants Revitalization Fund? That’s what I thought. But I was wrong. There are two very important reasons to tell your Senators to sign on as co-sponsors to the existing bill. The first reason is that a show of support for the bill will ensure that its provisions (and the $25 billion attached to those provisions) remain a part of the stimulus package when and if it passes the Senate. The second is that even if the RESTAURANTS Act never comes up for a vote, having a significant number of Senators signed on as cosponsors means that future funding of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (we still need at least another $95 billion, remember) will be much easier. This is about building an iron-clad set of bipartisan advocates in the Senate, and that is something that we as individuals can absolutely help with. Call your Senator, tell them how much you love your neighborhood restaurants, how awful life will be without them, and how important it is that they support Senators Wicker and Sinema and their legislation. That’s an easy call to make, or you can use the IRC website to send a message online. Then tell all your friends and family to do it too.

#2 Patronize your favorite restaurants. A lot.

Whether your city is gradually opening up for outdoor and indoor dining, or you’re still stuck on take-out only, show your support for these neighborhood institutions and the people who work at them by being a customer if you can afford it. Order food, buy gift certificates, And if you can really afford it, do it again, and again, and again, and order wine whenever you do. Remember that most of the profit that restaurants make comes from booze, and that for many wineries, restaurants represent more than 40% of their annual sales. If you buy a bottle of wine with your takeout meal, or as you’re sitting in that parklet, you’re supporting two industries with one contactless swipe of your credit card.

#3 Tip like people’s lives depend on it. Yes, even on take-out food.

The folks that are lucky enough to still have jobs working at restaurants aren’t getting hazard pay. They’re likely not getting health insurance either. Yet there they are, working their asses off so that we can all have something to eat other than the recipes we’ve worn out over the past 12 months. Here in the Bay Area, according to government studies, 97% of the people who work in hospitality earn less than a Living Wage. Part of restaurants surviving the pandemic means the people who work there need to survive the pandemic, too, and they need a lot of help, too.

Along these same lines, all of us who are lucky enough to still have incomes ought to expect our favorite establishments to raise their prices, and we should be perfectly content pay more for our food, especially when the alternative might be an empty storefront.

#4 Keep your mask on when dealing with restaurant employees. Even at the table.

Speaking of people who work at restaurants surviving…. Folks in the hospitality industry are literally putting their lives, and the lives of the people they live with, at risk by showing up to serve you dinner. As guests, we should be doing whatever we can to keep them safe. That means following the restaurant’s guidelines, be that temperature checks at the door or answering those ridiculously repetitive COVID-19 questionnaires before we can be served. And most importantly, that means putting our masks back on when servers, bussers, sommeliers, or others approach our tables. It’s at the very least, a gesture of respect and consideration, and at most, an easy way to make sure that your favorite restaurant stays open. One case of COVID on a restaurant’s staff in many cities means a mandatory shutdown. Oh, and make sure to enable COVID exposure notifications on your smartphone.

#5 Cut everyone some slack

Yes, it’s the hospitality industry, yes they live to serve customers, but for pete’s sake, it’s a goddamn pandemic and they’re trying to feed their families. If they screw up your takeout order, or forget to bring you that drink you ordered, take a deep breath and try to remember they’re operating under the most difficult set of constraints that have been imposed on any active business in the United States. Sure, some places like gyms or hair salons have been unable to operate, period, but of any type of business allowed to keep operating, restaurants have been subject to the most ridiculous number of (constantly changing) regulations and rules of any consumer-facing industry. Restaurants and the people working in them are bending over backwards to make it possible for us all to have a decent meal that we don’t have to cook with our own two hands. We all need to bring an extra dose of tolerance and gratitude to an industry that just wanted to feed us, but has ended up fighting for its very life at the same time.

* * *

I sent this piece to a friend who owns a restaurant and asked her if she thought there was anything I should add. Her response was a little surprising.

While she agreed that everything above made sense, she said that more than anything, the thing that is going to help restaurants is getting the virus truly under control. And she wasn’t sure that just vaccinating people and gradually opening back up indoor dining at lower capacity levels was going to make that happen.

In fact, she was quite skeptical of that approach in the near term. She suggested that, among other things, once official bans on indoor dining were lifted, landlords everywhere would be pushing their restaurant tenants to open back up, whether or not they felt safe about it, putting restaurateurs in the awful position of having to choose between paying rent or keeping themselves and their staffs safe.

Her pessimism gave me pause and took some of the wind out of my sails. Like many, I’ve been looking forward to the return of outdoor dining at the very least (not yet having wrapped my mind around whether I’d be comfortable dining indoors again).

It’s worth remembering that plenty of other places around the world opened their restaurants back up, only to have to shut them all back down again. Of course, that was before the vaccine, but it was also before there were new strains of the virus marauding around the planet.

While I’m not exactly sure what the right balance between economic viability and restrictions to curb virus transmission should be at this moment, I do know that no matter what happens, I’m going to do what I can to support the restaurant industry. I hope you’ll join me.

Now go call your Senators and order some take-out.

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Restaurant Wine Evolves to Survive

By this point, every one of us has used up the euphemisms for just how far from normal we find the times in which we live. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably don’t need reminding of the dire straits facing so many businesses, but especially those in the hospitality industry.

I’ve been reading stories and hearing anecdotes for months about the near apocalypse facing restaurants across America, with estimates approaching 50% for the number that simply have not survived or will not survive the ravages of their pandemic-inflicted shutdowns. Indeed, on my masked weekend strolls around Oakland and San Francisco, I see more and more vacancies and boarded up windows instead of the usual array of cafes, takeouts and eateries.

Like many, I have been making a conscious effort to order food much more frequently from the restaurants I want to support. As outdoor dining slowly resumes here in California, my family and I will cautiously be making an effort to patronise those of our beloved establishments that have managed to hang on until now. 

Throughout the past year, like the rest of the dining experience, restaurant wine programmes have undergone massive changes as eateries have fought to survive, with restaurateurs, wine directors and sommeliers trying anything and everything to generate revenue in completely uncharted territory.

Continue reading this story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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Improving the Graphic Design of Your Wine List

When people think of designing wine lists, chances are they’re thinking about the decisions surrounding which wines appear on the list. This, indeed, is the most fundamental component of wine list design, and the most important.

But as a restaurateur, sommelier, or wine director, once you’ve decided which wines you’re going to offer for sale, you need to list them for your guests. Put them down on paper, so to speak.

And that’s when we get to the second part of designing a wine list. Namely figuring out what the list is going to look like in order that it be useful to your guests. A wine list is a written document with a very specific purpose and a very specific role to play in the guest experience.

And for that reason, design matters.

For the past six years, I have been a judge for the annual World of Fine Wine’s annual World’s Best Wine Lists Awards. The majority of the awards we hand out are focused on the contents of these wine lists, but one award focuses on their visual design. In recent years, thanks to my professional background in the design field, I have been responsible for shaping the criteria by which we judge the graphic design of wine lists.

This year, the organizers of the awards asked me if I would consider offering something of a seminar on the topic, and I was happy to oblige. They’ve now made that available for general public viewing, and so I thought I’d share it with you here.

They’ve entitled it a ‘master class’ in wine list design, but with a time limit of 30 minutes, it doesn’t really get past the basics. However, based on the thousands of wine lists entered in the awards each year (each one of which I personally review to assemble the shortlists for the design awards) most people could do with a brush up on the basics of wine list design.

I hope you find it helpful.

If you have questions or comments, I welcome them.

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Wine List Design: Avoiding the Pitfalls

I will admit it. I’m one of those people who really enjoy reading through restaurant wine lists. I suppose that’s a good thing, considering that I read more than 1000 of them each year in my capacity as a judge for the World of Fine Wine’s annual Restaurant Wine List Awards.

As someone who has worked in the design industry for decades, I have become, if only through a combination of outspokenness and masochism, the lead judge when it comes to the Wine List Design category of these awards. In this capacity, I review literally every single wine list submitted to the awards as part of the creation of the shortlists for the design category that are provided to all the judges.

As you might imagine, I have developed some opinions about what makes for good wine list design. In the past I’ve shared some of the criteria that I have instituted as part of these awards, but this year, at the request of the World of Fine Wine, I’ve gone farther, and recorded a masterclass webinar on wine list design, entitled Wine List Design: Avoiding the Pitfalls.

It will take place on November 2, at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, and is completely free. If you’re a sommelier, wine director, restaurant manager or owner, and are interested in how to avoid some of the key mistakes I see repeated again and again when it comes to the design of restaurant wine lists, I can guarantee this will be a good use of your time.

Don’t end up with wine lists that look like those above. It’s not that hard to keep your wine list from looking ugly, but it takes a bit more effort and knowledge of some key principles to make it truly excellent.

Register for my masterclass on wine list design.

If you do happen to take the class, I’d love to know what you think. Also, I will also be fielding live questions from the audience during a portion of the 2020 awards ceremony, which will take place on November 30th, 2020 at 5:00 PM GMT.

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Tasting Barolo with Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti

“Born in 1934, Renato Ratti was a larger-than-life figure in Barolo who did much to shape the modern framework of the appellation. He started his career working for Cinzano in Brazil and moved back to Italy in 1965. He immediately founded a winery in the Abbazia di San Martino di Marcenasco. He produced his first vintage of Barolo that same year. Renato Ratti was one of the first to map the vineyards of Barolo and he penned the region’s most elaborate vintage chart. Mostly importantly, he created the Albeisa growers’ association with its distinctly branded bottle in 1973. Renato Ratti died in 1988 and the estate is run by his similarly active and engaged son Pietro. Pietro Ratti completed construction on the new winery in 2005.” Monica Larner, Wine Advocate 

Tasting Barolo with Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti

“Quality, research, passion, respect for our history and our land with a window ever open on the future, are the underlying principles of our philosophy and the expression of our wines.” Pietro Ratti, 2003

Our wine Buyer Jeff recently had the opportunity to have lunch with Pietro Ratti, son of Renato Ratti.

I recently attended a lunch with Renato Ratti an old and brilliant winery in Piedmont established in 1965 by my Fathers host Pietro Ratti at Carmines IL Terrazzo in pioneer square. Renato Rati is hailed as the bench mark of the classic La Morra Barolo Let’s jump in and see what I found, shall we.

Tasting Barolo with Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti#1 we started with the 2015 Barbera d’Asti DOCG. WOW! I really like this wine with its black cherry spice and bight acidity. There is a great energy to this wine with layers and perfect balance not to mention lots of fruit.

#2 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo ‘Ochetti’ DOC. If you can’t afford Barolo then don’t miss this wine. Grown above the Tanaro River @ 800 feet with a southwester exposure ideal for Nebbiolo.  The wine has delicate lasting red fruit aromas and is filled with classic strawberry and raspberry followed by pleasant savory and earthly notes.

#3 2013 Marcenasco, Barolo, DOCG. Marcenasco is the site were Renato created La Morra’s first single vineyard in 1965 and historical documents show that the cultivation of Nebbiolo dates back to the 12th century. Today, the Marcenasco a blend of vineyards in the Annunziata subzone. A combination that yields a Barolo of structure and elegance, with those classic markers of dark red fruits rich and full- bodied. 93 WA

#4 2014 Rocche dell’ Annunizata, Barolo DOCG. The Rocche dell ’Annunizata vineyard on a steep hillside is considered one of the most important in all of Barolo. Pietro considers the site a “grand cru” of La Morra for its supreme elegance and aromatics imparted by the rare soil of blue marl with steaks of white sand. This is a slow ripening site which makes for a very complex wine of red fruits darker in color and denser in body. 95 WA

# 5 Conca, Barolo, DOCG 2014. The small Conca vineyard is in one of the oldest sub-zones in Barolo. It is less than two acres and is in the hollow of the Abbey of Annunizata where Benedictine Monks made wine as far back as the 12th century. The name Conca in Italian means basin or dell and the vineyard is a shell-shaped basin sitting with a southwest exposure. The wine is more elegant and dialed back. 94 WA 

“The pedigree of origin of a determined sub-zone and the delimitation of its area, the classification of the characteristics pertaining to the various vintages and the process of bottle refinement to both propitiate and maintain distinction, smoothness, elegance and longevity, are three crucial moments to be lived in the first person, concepts that I consider both as matters of substance and style.” – Renato Ratti, 1971

This is something that isn’t seen every year here in Seattle the distributor gets very little so if you would like some contact me Jeff@esquin.Com or call (206) 682-7374 ask for Jeff. There are no guarantees on this particular wines availability.

Thanks for reading.

Jeff Fournier, Esquin Buyer

Tasting Barolo with Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti

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White Wine With Steak Why Not Go For It, Especially at Lunch?

Got the chance to have lunch at a legendary New York City spot, Keens Steakhouse, established in 1885. It provided me with the perfect opportunity to subvert the “Cab and a slab” classic pairing and have white wine with steak.

One of the things that helped this pairing is the salad. Greens, radishes, and a creamy dressing really bring this into white wine territory. And the wine was a Sauvignon Blanc from Austria that had a few years of age and saw some time in oak. (I wish I had written down the vintage and producer; emailed the resto but haven’t heard back. I’d like to applaud Keens for having some really cool whites by the glass. They were also pouring a blend from South Africa’s Mullineux and a white wine from the uber-trendy Jura region of France.)

White wines with a little richness can handle almost any meat. BTW, this was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. Perfectly cooked. Started with a great cocktail, too, a Paper Plane.

The other thing that made this pairing work? I wanted a white wine. Plain and simple. Why “force” yourself to drink something you don’t want just because it is supposed to “work” better?

White Wine With Steak Why Not Go For It, Especially at Lunch?

Final note on Keens. It has (per their website) “the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world.” They adorn the ceiling(s), as you can see in this photo. Read more about these pipes. Perhaps contemplate them the next time you’re there, naturally savoring a white wine with steak.

I’ve also recommended steak in raw form with a white. Check out my pairing for tartare. And I’ve been touting steak and Champagne since 2006. It was at a Nicolas Feuillatte dinner where I was blown away by how well their top wine, Palmes d’Or, was with a steak at Crush in Seattle.

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Restaurant Wine List Confidential

Navigating a big restaurant wine list is daunting. Possibly scary. For a geek like me, it can also be hella fun.

I was reminded of this when I was at Nice Matin, a French restaurant in New York City’s Upper West Side. The wine list there is excellent. (Not the one pictured above, BTW.)

And it is big. And leather-bound. And full of French wine. It has true heft. If you dropped it from a foot above your table, it would land with a resounding thump/thwack.

But it reminded me of a a strategy to deal with the large restaurant wine list, deep in verticals and back vintages.

I relate this advice and my (excellent) experience at Nice Matin on today’s episode of Snacky Tunes, which you can hear from 4:30pm-5:3opm EST.

But here’s the gist:

A huge list is either going to panic a novice, who doesn’t know where to begin, or send an expert down the rabbit hole for a stupefying amount of time. Neither are good for you, especially if you are dining with one person or more. (Of course, the first point I should make is ask for help from a sommelier, wine director, or knowledgable employee. But here’s how to focus in on the hidden gems.)

In this case, I glossed over the numerous selections of Burgundy and Bordeaux to zip to a section called (something along the lines of) “Other White Wines.” It’s a hodgepodge of things that don’t fit into a larger category. And it’s often where you can find some interesting bottles and bargains. Also, it’s A LOT shorter selection. Consider it a mini-oasis within an ocean of wine. (Wait, an oasis is in the desert. Well, you know what I mean.)

(If white wine isn’t your thing, look for an “Other Red Wines” counterpart.)

The bottle I found?

Restaurant Wine List Gem: Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Claire Valley, Australia) 2010

Restaurant Wine List ConfidentialIt was $81 on the list. Wine Searcher has the average retail price for the 2017 at $50. So to get a vintage that’s eight years old for that price is a good deal.

(Yes, if I had a brain I would have purchased the wine right on release, cellared it for years, and opened it at home with some fish tacos.)

But, dang! This is an iconic Australian wine and it’s DRY, DRY, DRY, folks. If you ever see an Aussie Riesling on a wine list and you like dry whites, buy it. They are always very limey and they can age forever. This Grosset from the famous Polish Hill vineyard was killer, super-fresh and very interesting. And fun to drink

I’d also like to note that it didn’t come to the table (ok, bar) ice-cold. It was slightly cool and even at that temperature was excellent. When a white wine doesn’t need to be arctic to be enjoyed (like a cheap beer), you know you’ve got something good. (The bottle was subsequently put on ice.)

On Snacky Tunes I mentioned I’d give some more Australian Riesling recos. First, a tip. If it says “Clare Valley” or “Eden Valley” on the label, get it. These are two great areas. Producers to look for besides Grosset include Pewsey Vale, Jim Barry, and Pikes.

Oh, and what if you were walking through Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and passed me while I was talking to someone about Australian Riesling, but thought I said “Austrian”?

GUESS WHAT, YOU’D STILL BE SITTING PRETTY.

Riesling from Austria is equally awesome. Very dry. In general, I’d say a bit richer. Some producers to look out for: Loimer, Prager, Gobelsburger, Brundlemayer.

So when confronted with a massive wine list, look for that rogues’ gallery of wines, the rando reds and whatever whites.

Life update: Last week was my final one at Wine Enthusiast. Grateful for two-plus years of Champagne flute and oaky white wine defending, along with working with a memorable cast of characters. What is next for me? Hmm. I’d be interested in making wine on the West Coast, perhaps in NY, or around the globe. Continuing to live in NYC and getting a writing/editing gig that’s not necessarily food/wine related. Moving to Philly? If you have any advice or leads, send them my way.

Here’s my Linkedin profile.

Wine list pic by Lou Stejskal via Flickr.

The post Restaurant Wine List Confidential appeared first on Jameson Fink.

Restaurant Wine List Confidential

Navigating a big restaurant wine list is daunting. Possibly scary. For a geek like me, it can also be hella fun.

I was reminded of this when I was at Nice Matin, a French restaurant in New York City’s Upper West Side. The wine list there is excellent. (Not the one pictured above, BTW.)

And it is big. And leather-bound. And full of French wine. It has true heft. If you dropped it from a foot above your table, it would land with a resounding thump/thwack.

But it reminded me of a a strategy to deal with the large restaurant wine list, deep in verticals and back vintages.

I relate this advice and my (excellent) experience at Nice Matin on today’s episode of Snacky Tunes, which you can hear Sunday, March 25th, from 4:30pm-5:3opm EST.

But here’s the gist:

A huge list is either going to panic a novice, who doesn’t know where to begin, or send an expert down the rabbit hole for a stupefying amount of time. Neither are good for you, especially if you are dining with one person or more. (Of course, the first point I should make is ask for help from a sommelier, wine director, or knowledgable employee. But here’s how to focus in on the hidden gems.)

In this case, I glossed over the numerous selections of Burgundy and Bordeaux to zip to a section called (something along the lines of) “Other White Wines.” It’s a hodgepodge of things that don’t fit into a larger category. And it’s often where you can find some interesting bottles and bargains. Also, it’s A LOT shorter selection. Consider it a mini-oasis within an ocean of wine. (Wait, an oasis is in the desert. Well, you know what I mean.)

(If white wine isn’t your thing, look for an “Other Red Wines” counterpart.)

The bottle I found?

Restaurant Wine List Gem: Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Claire Valley, Australia) 2010

Restaurant Wine List ConfidentialIt was $81 on the list. Wine Searcher has the average retail price for the 2017 at $50. So to get a vintage that’s eight years old for that price is a good deal.

(Yes, if I had a brain I would have purchased the wine right on release, cellared it for years, and opened it at home with some fish tacos.)

But, dang! This is an iconic Australian wine and it’s DRY, DRY, DRY, folks. If you ever see an Aussie Riesling on a wine list and you like dry whites, buy it. They are always very limey and they can age forever. This Grosset from the famous Polish Hill vineyard was killer, super-fresh and very interesting. And fun to drink

I’d also like to note that it didn’t come to the table (ok, bar) ice-cold. It was slightly cool and even at that temperature was excellent. When a white wine doesn’t need to be arctic to be enjoyed (like a cheap beer), you know you’ve got something good. (The bottle was subsequently put on ice.)

On Snacky Tunes I mentioned I’d give some more Australian Riesling recos. First, a tip. If it says “Clare Valley” or “Eden Valley” on the label, get it. These are two great areas. Producers to look for besides Grosset include Pewsey Vale, Jim Barry, and Pikes.

Oh, and what if you were walking through Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and passed me while I was talking to someone about Australian Riesling, but thought I said “Austrian”?

GUESS WHAT, YOU’D STILL BE SITTING PRETTY.

Riesling from Austria is equally awesome. Very dry. In general, I’d say a bit richer. Some producers to look out for: Loimer, Prager, Gobelsburger, Brundlemayer.

So when confronted with a massive wine list, look for that rogues’ gallery of wines, the rando reds and whatever whites.

Life update: Last week was my final one at Wine Enthusiast. Grateful for two-plus years of Champagne flute and oaky white wine defending, along with working with a memorable cast of characters. What is next for me? Hmm. I’d be interested in making wine on the West Coast, perhaps in NY, or around the globe. Continuing to live in NYC and getting a writing/editing gig that’s not necessarily food/wine related. Moving to Philly? If you have any advice or leads, send them my way.

Here’s my Linkedin profile.

Wine list pic by Lou Stejskal via Flickr.

The post Restaurant Wine List Confidential appeared first on Jameson Fink.

Uncork the Forks: Local Wines Should Be on Local Menus

(Photo Credit: David Benthal for northforker) Local wine people — both inside and out of the industry proper — have long lamented how few local restaurants support and offer local wine. Short of visiting every restaurant and asking to see their wine lists, it is hard to know precisely who is listing local wine and how much of it. Visiting restaurant websites — many of which aren’t updated very often, rendering them largely useless — does offer some insight, though. The results are still ugly, though there are some exceptions — restaurants doing good things with local wine. Some restaurants,…