By Len Panaggio
My guilty pleasure is to sit down with a good industry magazine. Obviously, I love The Beverage Journal and am continually impressed with its content and importantly, its value as a market resource for us buyers. But, most consumers aren’t reading the industry trade pubs; they are reading magazines focused on the beverages they want to be drinking.
One of the top read industry magazines is Wine Spectator. And, one of the top issues is the “Top 100 Wines of 2017.” I just got my latest edition and quickly turned to the story to see how many of these top wines I might have recommended or placed on local wine lists. Last year, I placed several wines that were not only in the Top 100, but the Top 10. Pure luck, trust me.
But even if you had a crystal ball, some of the top wines just are not available in Rhode Island. As a small market, we are often an afterthought. Many of these wines are small-production wines, so they are allocated and meted out to markets that the producers deem worthy, including Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, you get the picture. Looking to get it in Providence/Newport? Well, good luck.
This year’s list had some interesting wines, starting with the number one pick, Duckhorn. At first blush, I was surprised as Duckhorn is fairly well distributed; but, alas, read on. The chosen wine is Duckhorn’s “Three Palms Merlot,” 2014. So, we have a problem. Duckhorn is a great winery, and when you see its wine at the top of the list, you get excited, as it is known for its merlot and sauvignon blanc. But sadly, the list can also be a source of frustration. At 3,170 cases — and to make things worse they are sold in six packs — there isn’t much of this wine to go around. When I reached out to my sales representative, I was told they have the 2013 but are unsure if they’ll get any of the 2014.
All was not lost in this year’s selections. I noticed Roederer Estate Brut, Tait “The Ball Buster,” and Justin, “Justification,” all at levels of production that allow them to be shipped into Rhode Island. But, one wine in particular jumped out at me, number 28, the 2015 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. I thought this was remarkable, because at more than 100,000 cases produced, it is readily available and it is ubiquitous in off-premise and on-premise. By the way, many over the years have turned their noses up at this wine because it was everywhere, citing quality, mass production. K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay has been produced for more than 30 years, and if it were not for the suggestion of my salesman back in the mid-80s, I may have missed placing it on The Mooring’s list, where it quickly became the number one selling wine by-the-glass and continues as such to this day.
K-J has changed this wine’s style over the years. When it was first released, it was somewhat sweet, to meet the demand of consumers who were transitioning from white zinfandel to drier wines, and it was a perfect compromise. Since then, the style has evolved to a drier chardonnay that is made with a lot of care. It retails for about $17 and is probably around $9 or $10 wholesale, but don’t quote me on that. My point: if you are not pouring this wine, you should be. It is well known, highly rated, reasonably priced and available. It’s not often that a wine shows up on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list that has all these attributes and I would guess that there will be a spike in demand just because of this rating, especially in retail as the price point is sort of the sweet spot for decent lifestyle wines.
If you are already pouring it, bravo! You have a strong selling point, let your staff know. As a reminder, your guests are looking to you to have a beverage program that is current, and this K-J offering makes that simple.
Happy New Year! You have a clean slate; use it wisely!
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.