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How to Navigate a White Wine List

How to Navigate a White Wine List



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James Mallios is the managing partner of Amali restaurant, a Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan. He spent five years as aplaintiff-side lawyer for aggrieved employees in the securities business before turning to a career in restaurants. In this column, "The Restaurant Insider," he plans to demystify the restaurant experience. His opinions are his own and not associated with Amali and its sister restaurants.

The arrival of ramps heralds the spring produce season. Any chef at a restaurant that claims to be seasonal or market-driven is walking to the greenmarket, calling Mikuni Wild Harvest, or foraging for spring onions in Central Park if they’re bold. Spring, however, is not just a time to fawn over wild leeks. Once you see ramps, you see the beginning of rosé and white wine season.

Over the next few weeks (and some have already started), restaurants will pare down their red selections, particularly by the glass, and begin to add white and rosé selections. Industry statistics and interviews with my distributors support the claim that white wine sales increase by 25 percent during the summer months. Rosé sales are also on the rise all over the world. In France, for example, rosé wine sales now exceed white wine sales.

I love rosé. If I could only serve rosé all year round I would. And finding value in rosé on a wine list isn’t difficult (unless you are at a brunch party at Lavo). Finding value in white wine, however, can be tougher.

Most wine writers will offer various top 10 lists of great buys for the summer. This is great if you are buying wine in a retail store, but it’s functionally useless in a restaurant. What would you do? Keep 10 top 10 lists on file and cross reference them with the restaurant’s list during a date? Sexy.

Here are some good tips for selecting white wine in the spring and summer at a restaurant that runs a strong wine program.

Rule 1: Look Past White Burgundy
When we mark up white burgundies at Amali (which is almost always chardonnay), we usually employ our standard marking practices because we know that eventually someone will order that 2010 Puligny Montrachet and we don’t have to take a lower mark to sell it. It sells itself. You will rarely find good value for a white burgundy on a restaurant wine list.

Rule 2: For High-End Value (Wines From $80 to $120) Go to Germany and Austria
At the end of the day, wine is just a commodity. Like pork belly or soy. Anyone who says otherwise needs to brush up on history. The most expensive, highly regarded wines in the world in the 19th century were German rieslings. Two world wars later, not so much.

But there is a reason German rieslings used to be the most expensive wines in the world: they are outstanding and currently en vogue for the past few years among sommeliers. Paul Grieco’s Summer of Riesling at Terroir is a good example of this movement amongst wine buyers.

Odds are, however, that the $90 riesling is a wine that the sommelier is passionate about and is probably marked at a far lower markup. Fact is, it is not easy to sell a German or Austrian white wine for more than $80 unless you work at Le Bernardin, your name is Aldo, and you are Master Sommelier. Even when I worked at Tribeca Grill (one of a handful of restaurants with a Grand Award from Wine Spectator), high-end German white wine sales were few and far-between.

Rule 3: For Value, Go to Santorini
For years, a small chorus has extolled the virtue of Greek wine and they’re now finally being heard in American restaurants. You can find Greek glass pours at Per Se, Le Bernardin, and Colicchio & Sons.

The standard-bearer for white in Greece is currently the grape varietal assyrtiko from Santorini. The volcanic terroir of Santorini imparts a unique minerality to the wine which is native to the island. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that everyone I have ever spoke to has a positive association with Santorini. Again, wine as commodity.

Because there are a handful of well-known Santorini assyrtikos, a list can work and keep your date from thinking you are a cheapskate. Keep an eye out for names like Sigalas, Gaia, and Koutsigianopoulos.

If you want to taste some great assyrtikos this week, visit tastesantorini.com. From April 16 to 19 there will be events all over Manhattan where you can taste Santorinian wine and meet the winemakers.

Rule 4: Use Rules Two and Three and Talk to the Sommelier
I recently ate dinner at Crown on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Beautiful space, food was great, the markup on the wine lists were not charitable. But then again, in fairness to them, Madison Avenue rent is not cheap. About 90 percent of the wine is list is more than $90.

I walked in and immediately gravitated to the rieslings and discussed them (along with a mention of assyrtiko) to the sommelier. She recommended a wonderful wine which was a lower price than what I initially suggested. Many sommeliers love white burgundy, but every sommelier has wine regions and cuvees that they are passionate about but do not sell regularly in the restaurant.

Hopefully you will find and like German wines and assyrtiko. But referencing them to a good sommelier is telegraphing to them that they can recommend something off the beaten path that will likely be one of the wines that have a great mark up because they want to sell it.


If you start with a basic formula, you can experiment and mix-and-match your ingredients and their ratios to make custom pickled onions to fit all your flavor needs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • Add-ins

Mix together the first four ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve. Stuff the onions and any add-ins into an air-tight lidded jar. Pour the brine mixture into the jar, cover, and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour. Place in the fridge, where the onions will keep for about two to three weeks.


How to Navigate restaurant wine lists post-lockdown

It’s happening. Things are shifting. Spring is in the air and soon restaurant terraces will be open for business and shortly after that (please oh please) inside restaurants too. I am among the thousands who are chomping at the bit to see friends and loved ones over a plate of linguine and a nice glass of wine.

More importantly, a plate I haven’t had to spend time preparing. Most importantly, a plate I don’t have to wash up afterwards. Oh, the bliss of having delicious food delivered to your table and then whisked away afterwards – but there is one thing that is troubling me…

Confined to our homes and without the expenditure of socialising (not only the bill itself but the cost of taxis home and – should the occasion warrant – a blow dry or manicure to boot) the amount people have been spending on their wine at home has increased. You aren’t spending tons dining out, so you may as well splash a bit more on that bottle and get something ‘restaurant standard’.

We now know we can get a lovely bottle of wine to go with dinner at a reasonable price and may baulk when we see the same wine listed at two, three or even four times the price on a restaurant menu.

It is the job of the bar or restaurant to provide good wine and make a profit in doing so. No establishment worth its margarita salt is going to put a wine on the list they think is bad. That’s not good business. But the mark ups can be steep, so how best to navigate the wine list?

Venues know that well-known grapes will sell because people recognise them – and they know how to pronounce them (sorry Agiorgitiko*, there’s a reason you’re not being picked). The Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs are the definition of a safe bet as people will always order them. The mark up on these babies can be comfortably high.

My top tip is to look for the unusual grape. The lesser known wine on the list that the casual patron would usually gloss over – there is a reason that bottle has made it on.

Most of the time the wine is there because it impressed the sommelier or management and they wanted to back it. They know its not a guaranteed financial turn over but they want people to try this hidden gem, this new discovery. For that reason, the mark-up will be far less.

So summon up the courage to say the name, google one of those audio clips under the table or silently point to it on the menu with a meaningful nod at the waiter and try that bottle of Blaufrankisch* or Xynomavro*.

As an added bonus, if you usually drink and enjoy a certain type of wine, try thinking about its key qualities and – knowing you tend to like a fruity, full bodied red or a crisp, citrusy white – ask the waiter or Sommelier to describe this little-known wine. If it sounds like a match for you, so much the better and if not, ask them to recommend something “off the beaten track”, with your preferences in mind. It’s not only their job, often it is their love too and they will be only too happy to suggest their passion-project Plavec Mali*.

My second tip, perhaps for more special occasions, is that you will get more value for money the more you spend (sorry).

Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie

We have all fallen into the “picking-the-second-cheapest-on-the-list” trap because we don’t want to look cheap. Restaurants know we do this. They are on to us and they use it to their advantage. Often the second cheapest bottle on the wine list is the one they spent the least on and has one of the greatest mark ups.

In general, restaurants are going to mark up the cheaper bottles more than the more expensive ones. It makes sense that if they have bought a wine for £8 they might sell it for £28 at 3.5 times the cost whereas a more expensive bottle they have bought for £80 they might sell for “only” double the cost. So yes, you’re spending more but with less mark up it’s technically more bang for your buck.

Another option is to start looking for BYOB restaurants, which allow you to “bring your own bottle” for a corkage fee. Yes, there is the corkage cost but if you are bringing your favourite bottle from your favourite wine shop then you are going to enjoy the experience far more and, most probably, will be drinking far better wine for a far smaller price.

In conclusion, if you are not at a BYOB restaurant and feel like really getting the most value for money then pick a more expensive bottle of a little-known grape. If, however your budget is limited like the majority of us, then talk to your sommelier or waiter and give them the challenge of finding you the most enjoyably exciting wine for your money.

Don’t be put off by fears of wine-snobbery. I guarantee most professionals will enjoy talking about the wine with you and rise to the challenge.

* Ah-yor-YEE-te-ko, Blahw-FRAHN-keesh, ksee-NO-ma-vroh, PLAH-vahtz MAH-lee

Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie, an independent wine consultant and co-creator and presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better – an irreverent series on wine, without the snobbery


Americans Drink 872 Million Gallons of Wine Each Year

As a population, we drink more wine than any other country in the world.

While there are a number of regions around the world that are known for producing delicious wines, Americans appear to be drinking the majority of it. According to Decanter, the International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) compiled its annual report and found that the world drank 23.4 billion liters—or just shy of 6.2 billion gallons—of wine in 2020. Of that, Americans imbibed in 872 million gallons of their favorite vinos, putting us in the top spot for wine consumption.

Other people across the globe enjoy a good glass of wine, too. In second place was France, where 652 million gallons of wine were enjoyed in 2020. Italy, Germany, and the U.K. which all saw growth in wine consumption in 2020, took the next three spots. China came in at number five, but the country&aposs overall wine consumption actually dropped by a rate of about 17 percent. Dr. Qin Ma, a viticulture professor at the China Agricultural University, previously told Forbes that wine is most commonly consumed in bars and restaurants, so the decline is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia, Spain, Argentina, and Australia rounded out the top ten list.

But with our own vineyards across the country and a clear appreciation for wines from around the world, there&aposs no denying that those in the United States love a good glass of vino. "The U.S. easily tops the list of countries that drink the most wine," OIV shared in a statement. And that 872 million gallons of wine we drink every year has actually been our national average since 2019.

As for which country drinks the most wine per person, we actually don&apost hold the top spot�ording to Decanter, the average American drinks 3.2 gallons of wine each year, while those in Portugal drink over 16 gallons annually. In Luxembourg, citizens drink 14.6 gallons of wine France and Italy trail behind at 13.2 and 11.5 gallons per person, respectively. So while we might drink the most wine as a full population, each one of us is actually drinking far less annually than those living in other countries.


Our Recipes

Please text your order to (707) 998-5124 or send an email to [email protected] Please note that we will not be able to accommodate in-person orders.

Scheduling Pickup for Will Call Shipments

To schedule a pickup, please text us at (707) 998-5124 or send an email to [email protected], and we will confirm the date and time. Please include your availability for us to consider when scheduling.

Upon Arrival

Drive up and park at the front of the winery and wait in your vehicle. A B.R. Cohn team member will come out to the barrel at the front 10 feet from the car roll down your window and provide the name for the pickup.

Safe Pickup

Once our team member receives the name for the pickup, they will retrieve it from the tasting room and set it on the top of the barrel. They will then move back into the tasting room please wait until they're back inside, and then exit your vehicle to collect the order.

If you're unable to make it to our curbside pickup, we're happy to ship your wines to your doorstep!


Wine Pricing

Wines by the glass are typically priced at the wholesale bottle cost. So a restaurant may charge $12 for a glass from a bottle that costs them $12. (Assuming 4 glasses per bottle, this equals a "cost of goods" of 25%.)

Typically, restaurants charge about 3 times wholesale cost for a bottle of wine. So a bottle that costs $25 wholesale will be offered at about $75. (This equals a "cost of goods" of 33%.)

Restaurants should try to achieve an average total wine cost of about 28&ndash30% of total wine sales.


What do we need?

  • Chicken breasts - I'm using 4 chicken breasts, but if you like you can use two large ones and slice them in half horizontally to give you four fillets.
  • Salt, pepper and thyme for seasoning
  • Onion and garlic for flavour
  • Mushrooms because yum.
  • For the sauce - white wine, chicken stock and double/heavy cream

How To Make Chicken With Creamy Mushroom Sauce

  1. Heat the Skillet: Add the butter to a large skillet and melt over medium high heat.
  2. Cook the Chicken: Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Place chicken breasts in skillet and cook on both sides, about 3 to 5 min per side or until no longer pink inside, time depends on thickness of your breasts. Since the breast is fairly thin, it should cook faster. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  3. CooktheMushrooms: Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook for a couple minutes until onion is translucent and soft. Add the mushrooms and stir. Season mushrooms generously with salt and pepper. Let them cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When they are cooked to your liking, add the wine and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the skillet. All those brown bits are flavor!
  4. Finish the Sauce: Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir for another minute just to remove the raw flour taste. Next, add the cream, stir and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally or until sauce reduces a bit and thickens. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Add the chicken back to the skillet and spoon sauce over the chicken.
  5. Finish and Serve: Garnish with parsley and serve hot.

How to navigate any wine list with ease

Oh no. You’re out for dinner trying to impress a date/in-laws/old school friends/clients, and the waiter presents you with the wine list. Why did he have to give it to you!?

Very few of us feel confident when it comes to choosing a wine. If you go for the second-cheapest is it obvious that you’re cheap but are trying to pretend you’re not?

Didn’t you read somewhere that it’s actually better to order the cheapest - but everyone will surely judge you for that? And what if you choose one that is actually just not very nice?

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It’s stressful, confusing and downright terrifying half the time.

But panic no more, for a foolproof method for successful wine-choosing has now been revealed.

The first step, according to wine expert and founder of Wine ‘n Dine app Michael Williams, is to figure out what you like to drink - that’s the type of grape and the region.

“If you like Italian wine, focus on Italy and drink a lot to figure out what lights your fire,” he says. Yes, drink a lot. You have been given permission.

Williams believes choosing a good wine is nothing to do with the floral notes, full-bodied aromas or hints of mountain-grown peach a wine may apparently possess - it’s simply a case of your preference: “All you really need to know is what grape or region you like to drink.”

When you know that you’re into wines from, say, Tuscany, you can then focus on the ones from there on the wine list.

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

1 /7 Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Garçon Wines: Wine delivery that fits through your letterbox

Once you have your ball-park, work out which year all the cheapest wines in the section are from. The wine you should choose, according to Williams, is one that’s a few years older than that but not way more expensive.

For example, if the cheapest wines are from 2013, he goes for one from 2010 or 2009 that’s still affordable.

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“My thought process behind this method is simple: I'm going for the most affordable bottle I can find that's still got enough age on it to have mellowed-out tannins,” Williams explains.

“Because it's often the tannins in young wine that are off-putting to less experienced drinkers - and frankly, I'm on the same page. I'm not a wine snob I just like drinking delicious wine.

“So buying an older bottle whose tannins have had time to drop out makes the experience better for all of us.”

Williams’ final trick is to ask to have his choice decanted, as he believes all wines - whites, rosés and champagnes as well as reds - taste better as a result.

The chances are that after making an informed choice and then asking it to be decanted, your companions will be impressed (or think you’re pretentious, but you know your audience).

“I just developed a simple hack for sniffing out the high-value stuff on the menu. That's what really impresses people who love wine,” Williams says.

“It's not about ordering the most expensive Barolo on the list it's about knowing what you like (and don't like) - and finding a bottle where you max out the bang-for-buck ratio.”


White Wine for Cooking

After you’ve browned the chicken and removed it from the pot, you’ll want to sauté a mix of diced onion and garlic.

After the onion and garlic are added to the pot, a splash of white wine is poured in to help deglaze the pan and scrape up all those glorious bacon bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.

That’s really as fancy as the base for the white wine sauce gets, but after you taste it, you’d think the ingredient list would have been a whole lot longer.

What wine is good for cooking chicken?

A crisp, dry white wine is always best for cooking chicken. I enjoy using sauvignon blanc when I make this chicken in white wine sauce.

Contrary to some people’s opinion, you don’t have to use an expensive bottle of wine for dishes like this.

That said, I like to choose something decent that I can happily drink afterwards with the dish as well.

Creamy Heaven

Once the pan has been deglazed, the chicken is added back into the pan, along with the carrots/mushrooms, and a more generous helping of white wine.

This mixture simmers away for about 35 minutes until the heavy cream is added. Mmm, this is where the goodness happens.

Yes, you could make chicken in white wine sauce with no cream, but what’s the fun in that? You’d get none of the the thickness and richness of a cream sauce.

The cream is added in the last 10 minutes of the recipe. Once the cream has been added, the contents of the dish are left to simmer and bubble for the final 10 minutes.

The sauce will reduce and become thick and luscious.

It’s perfect for dipping a crusty French baguette in. A sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley is the finishing touch before you can dig in.


French Glossary

These classic terms appear frequently in the writing and discussion of French foods.

A la Meuniere: Meaning "in the style of the miller's wife" (who presumably had easy access to flour), this technique applies to fish that is floured, then sautéed in butter, and served with brown butter, lemon juice and parsley.

Aioli: A garlic flavored mayonnaise popular in Provence, in the south of France aioli is traditionally served as an accompaniment to vegetables and fish.

Bain-marie:
The French name for a water bath, a technique by which delicate foods such as custards are baked at a gentle, controlled heat: the food is placed, in its container, into a larger pan into which boiling water is poured. Then the pan is either placed in the oven, or on top of the stove. Bains-marie are also used in restaurant kitchens to keep foods warm.

Béchamel: A classic French white sauce made with milk, bound with a cooked flour and butter mixture called a roux, flavored with bay leaves, nutmeg and sometimes onion.

Beurre Blanc: A sauce made by reducing white wine with vinegar and shallots, then whisking in cold butter so that the mixture emulsifies into a thick, buttery sauce. A beurre blanc is a classic mate to poached fish.

Beurre Manié: A mixture of flour and softened butter, which, when whisked into sauces, acts as a thickener.

Beurre Noisette: Butter that has been cooked until it turns a golden brown color, often used to sauce fish.

Bisque: A shellfish soup, traditionally bound with rice.

Blanquette: A creamy stew, most famously of veal.

Bouquet Garni: Perhaps the most famous herb mix in French cooking, a bouquet garni is a combination of bay leaf, thyme, parsley and sometimes leek used to flavor stocks, stews, braises and soups. Traditionally, the herbs may be fresh or dried, and they are either tied up in a bundle with string (a leek leaf makes a convenient wrapper), or tied in cheesecloth.

Charcuterie: Cured meats and patés.

Chiffonade: A knife cut, by which herbs, lettuces and leafy greens are cut into very fine ribbons.

Confit: A technique originally of preserving, by which meat is cooked in its own fat, then stored covered in that fat. Duck confit is a traditional dish of southwestern France.

Clarified butter: Butter from which the milk solids have been skimmed. The solids having been removed, clarified butter can be heated to a higher temperature without burning, which makes it an excellent medium for sautéing.

Court Bouillon: A lightly flavored liquid used to cook fish and shellfish.

Crème Brulée: A rich egg custard, the top of which is sugared, and then heated so that the sugar melts to a crisp, caramel crust.

Deglaze (deglacer): A technique by which a liquid, usually wine, is added to a pan that has been used to roast or sauté, in order to pick up the bits that have caramelized on the bottom of the pan. Deglazing is often the first step in making a pan sauce.

Demi-glace: A stock that has been reduced until very concentrated.

En Croute: Food that is wrapped in a dough, and then cooked (e.g. beef Wellington).

En Papillote: Food that is cooked in a parchment (or sometimes aluminum foil) wrapping.

Fines Herbes: A classic mix of herbs — parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil — used in traditional French cuisine. (For example, an omelet "aux fines herbes" is an omelet that is flavored with that combination of chopped herbs.)

Foie Gras: The fattened liver of a specially raised duck or goose. Foie gras is often poached in a terrine mold, or cut raw into slices and sautéed.

Flambé: A technique by which alcohol is added to a dish and ignited, both for effect, and to burn off the alcohol.

Fond: Means a stock, in French.

Fondue: From the French "fondre", which means to melt. A dish of warm, melted cheese flavored with wine, into which bits of bread are dipped. Fondue can also refer to a meat dish, in which pieces of meat are cooked at the table in a pot of hot oil, or a dessert, in which pieces of fruit are dipped into warm, melted chocolate.

Ganache: A rich chocolate mixture made by combining chocolate and cream, used as a filling or icing.

Glace:
The French word for ice cream.

Gougère: A type of choux pastry flavored with cheese, often served as an aperitif.

Gratiner: The technique by which a dish is browned under the broiler (such dishes are often called "gratins").

Julienne: A knife technique by which food is cut into slender, matchstick pieces.

Marinade: A liquid, often wine, flavored with herbs and aromatics, in which food is soaked in order to impart flavor. The marinade may also be used as a cooking liquid.

Mayonnaise: A cold, emulsified sauce made with oil, egg yolk and sometimes a little mustard there are innumerable variations and flavorings.

Mesclun: A mix of young lettuces and herbs.

Mirepoix:
The name for a mix of vegetables, usually carrot, onion and celery, roughly chopped, and used as a foundation for stocks, stews, soups, roasts, braises and sauce.

Mousse: A general word for any number of frothy, airy dishes, both sweet and savory, usually lightened with whipped egg whites or cream.

Omelet:
An egg dish made by whisking eggs with seasonings, cooking in butter until firm, then rolling to the classic omelet shape, with or without the addition of some filling.

Paté: A dish of finely or coarsely minced fish or meat, seasoned, and baked with or without a crust, in a mold.

Persillade: A mixture of chopped shallots, garlic and parsley, sometimes with the addition of breadcrumbs.

Pot au feu: A rustic dish of meat and root vegetables, poached in broth. Traditionally the broth is served first, as a first course, and the meat and vegetables are served later as the entrée.

Quadrillage: The technique by which foods are seared on the grill in a crosshatch pattern.

Roux:
A mixture of butter and flour, cooked together, and used as a thickener.

Sauté:
From the French verb "sauter", to jump, a technique by which food is cooked quickly in hot fat.


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