By Len Panaggio
As the new year unfolds, there is much to ponder. We have a change in leadership in Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island, and hopefully relief is on the way. And while these dog days of winter are upon us, thoughts of spring are on the horizon. Still, there are some immediate concerns for the industry right now: the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage at a time when restaurants are struggling and talk of eliminating the tip credit – something that would be incredibly detrimental to our businesses. That move is underway in our state, so I urge all to make your voices heard in opposition.
I think we’ve all had enough doom and gloom, so instead of writing about the current impact of COVID-19 on all of us, let’s talk about something that is far more exciting and definitely impacts the restaurant world: wine! Throughout this past year, many reports have indicated that consumers are coping with all the bad news by indulging a bit more in food and drink. For restaurants, this has led to an increase in wine sales.
Big news in the world of wines as E. & J. Gallo Winery finally sealed the deal with Constellation Brands. Constellation sold off many of its everyday wines to focus on its premium wine business. Now, the premium wine business gets all the attention, but for those of us in the restaurant business, pour wines are a major contributor to the bottom line. Sure, many high-end restaurants can offer $25 to $50 wines by the glass, especially with the advent of the Coravin wine system, but many mid-scale restaurants want to pour a good, everyday wine at a good price, which is exactly what Gallo provided.
How to replace this loss? There are still a few brands that might fit the bill. Clos du Bois has a great selection to offer, and besides the obvious pour wines, its portfolio climbs to some very remarkable wines, worthy of placement on the upscale restaurant list. Estancia is another winery that is viable, and while it doesn’t necessarily have the depth of Clos du Bois, it is worth trying for a pour program.
Next on my list is Franciscan. It’s a smaller portfolio, but this winery offers some real gems at the top of their offerings, led by its Magnificat “Halo” and Reserve Merlot. Franciscan offers a great chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at really good prices. A bonus is that these wineries are proudly farming sustainably; they own vineyards throughout California and source from reputable growers.
Also worth a try is Mark West. This winery really got many consumers interested in pinot noir even though it had been around a while when the pinot craze began. Mark West wines can be poured at a reasonable price and offer some specific appellations at a few dollars more – Carneros, Russian River Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands – an awesome lineup. Following Mark West is Wild Horse; their Central Coast bottle sells at a favorable price and is quite worthy.
Moving away from pinot noir, Ravenswood offers a really good zinfandel and Hogue’s sauvignon blanc is also a great choice for a white by the glass. Finally, Nobilo from New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc offers lots of fruit and great acidity.
These wines are all perfect for pouring, offer solid quality and can be had at a great price! As we hopefully begin to return to normal and spring arrives, we can start the usual pattern of examining our complete product line of food as well as beverage. New menu items, new beverages, of which there are many in the new season. We have no doubt gone through trying times, and with the arrival of a vaccine, hope springs eternal.
Len Panaggio’s career in food and wine spans more than three decades as an owner and as a beverage director at some of the top restaurants in Rhode Island. Currently a hospitality consultant, Len is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and has attended the Culinary Institute of America Master Sommelier program and the Sterling School of Service and Hospitality.