Wine Flights with Flair

These few American eateries serve up innovative and educational wine flights.


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“A great wine flight is designed to educate, delight and excite the palate of consumers,” says Christopher Sawyer, sommelier at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar in Sonoma, California. He is among the many sommeliers who are revamping their wine programs to include pairing flights of wine with the restaurants’ top dishes.

Flights, which usually consist of three to eight tastes of comparable wines, are designed to encourage novices and experts alike to explore various flavor profiles by offering obscure varieties, little-known producers and innovative food pairings. Some restaurants even offer classes and blind tastings. These eateries all offer excellent wine flights.

Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar (Sonoma, CA)

At this Sonoma hotspot, Sawyer offers eight distinct flights, predominantly featuring Sonoma vintners and varieties, each paired with popular dish from the restaurant’s contemporary menu. Sawyer selects from the cellar’s 400 bottles to design flights and works with Chef Andrew Wilson to decide on the most complementary food pairing. For the Pinot Noir flight, for example, the duo decided the hearty bacon and blue cheese wedge salad best enhances the wines’ flavors. Guests can also enroll in free weekly wine education classes, where Sawyer talks through the featured flight.

Reserve (Grand Rapids, MI)

Named a winner of OpenTable Diner’s Choice Awards for Top Wine Lists in the U.S., Reserve pulls wines from its 250-bottle cellar to create flights with unique names. “The Flight of the Nerds” includes a 2009 Grüner Veltliner from Austria, a 2010 Albariño from Spain and a 2009 Müller Thurgau from Oregon. Sommelier Brandon Joldersma prides himself on offering diverse flights with selections that range from well-known brands to obscure producers. “If I can convince [guests] to try something they wouldn't have had otherwise, and they get turned onto something new, that's rewarding,” says Joldersma.

Social Restaurant + Wine Bar (Charleston, SC)

Owner and
Sommelier Brad Ball offers 18 flights, featuring three wines each. The “Non-Aromatic Superstars” option includes Northern Italian varieties, such as a 2010 La Chard from Chile, 2010 Pinot Bianco from Italy and a 2009 Trebbiano-Malvasia from Italy. As a fan of French Gamay, Ball pairs what he claims is “the world's most underrated varietal” with a savory roulade of chicken with pork, cabbage and pasta dumplings seasoned with herb coulis—a guest favorite. He leans toward Old World wines with high acidity and strives to support producers who utilize sustainable methods.

The 1785 Inn & Restaurant (North Conway, NH)

This scenic, New Hampshire bed & breakfast, located about three hours from Boston, has been offering wine flights for several years. Arranged by wine style, flights are paired with smoked salmon ravioli, raspberry duckling and Bourbon-glazed venison, among others, plus you can test your wine knowledge by taking a blind tasting test, the “Red Mystery Flight,” consisting of red varieties from Europe, Australia or the U.S.

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