*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Edgar Alonso Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*
For American wine drinkers who want to take the "bucket list” approach to their favorite vino-laden eateries, behold the Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants...
The Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants list was celebrated last Tuesday at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Our hosts treated us to an exclusive pre-press panel which highlighted the current and ever-changing world of wine, plus their thoughts on the focus and future of the industry. The once (and future) king of wine restaurants is, of course, according to our panel of distinguished experts -- New York. Sommeliers old and new are flocking (back) to the megapolis to showcase their knowledge and flex their palates. Hand written lists are ever-more present as the conversation continues to widen and allow for a two-way dialogue from those skilled in their tastes, to the newcomer.
Jeff Porter, Beverage Operations Director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, gave us a lot to contemplate with his thoughts on wine. At home on a casual weeknight, Jeff is drinking Chablis, though he never turns down a rosé. “My mom, who lives in Dallas and has big hair, gobbles down rosé by the case -- and so do all her friends.” Rosés are favored this season, and the sommeliers have carefully crafted their wine lists with due diligence. The result: a magnificent experience that will favor a conversation between those with a skilled palate and the newcomer bravely seeking something new, fun, and full.
Another hot topic -- Vineyards are mixing red grapes and white grapes to make a less heavy red wine, says Lee Campbell, Wine Director of Reynard (at the Wythe Hotel). She also feels strongly about the new California movement. Campbell, who grew up in the Hudson Valley, wishes she could find more to be excited about in NY state, but she’s not. Other regions hot on her radar -- “Recently, everyone was talking about Georgia (the country).” She also recently went to Moravia, Czech Republic to experience the beginning of a new tradition, a thing of beauty. “Our job in terms of editing, is HUGE," she claims. The wine list that is too heavily populated is like the last lifeboat on the Titanic. It is the job of the sommelier to prevent the inundation that will cause certain failure.
“Show me something delicious…ask the right questions. Increase the flow of information that the consumer is getting, and get them engaged. As the sommelier: be comfortable. We want you to feel confidence, let's tell a story, and let the consumer be a part of it.” Adds Jeff Porter, "Chefs are more in-tune to wine than ever before -- having chefs who are engaged is key.”
From the Lone Star State to Brooklyn and back to the California coast, there is a desire to expand beyond the traditional. The ability for the consumer to learn and join the conversation has allowed for an increase of the number of skilled sommeliers. For chefs, being in the front of house is unique; the synergy between this area and the kitchen is being recognized and respected by all involved.
After the presentation by our esteemed panel, we were treated to a reception fit for a king-- If a king likes hand-shaken - and stirred - signature cocktails (courtesy of Meletti and Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum), lobster sliders, cured meats, and especially carefully-selected cheeses that paired ever so harmoniously with the wines being served. While mingling, guests were also provided with passed hors d'oeuvres - from foie gras to chicken kebabs - all while following the room down to the courtyard that featured the awards.
While browsing between the tables of awards, I observed the wide array of contenders who have persevered and stand out among their peers nationwide. The up-and-coming cities that Lee Campbell is really interested in: Durham, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Austin, Minneapolis.
The future of wine is fruitful, bountiful, and bold. The American palate is quickly changing, thankfully, in large part, to the ever-expanding social media centered around the industry. By following five to ten sommeliers such as these on the panel, you can quickly pick up the guidelines and structure that will allow you to begin the conversation with the correct and appropriate vocabulary.
Till your next pour, Cheers!
Until we eat again,
Edgar Alonso Castillo for The Lunch Belle