Does Rosé Play?
Master Sommelier Larry Stone of San Francisco’s Rubicon Restaurant doesn’t see rosés catching on. "I’ve had to throw them away," he says of rosés that customer simply wouldn’t order. When asked about white Zinfandel, Stone bristles slightly and states that the cloying sweetness in white Zin makes it unsuitable for the restaurant’s cuisine. He did try to sell white Zin by the glass some years ago and says, "My customers were amused, but not interested." He sums up his view of rosé’s popularity with: "Right now it’s easier to sell Grüner Veltliner than rosé."
Out of 1,800 selections on Rubicon’s wine list, Stone offers only two rosés: Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare and Charles Melton’s Rosé of Virginia from Australia’s Barossa Valley. Because of lack of interest, "Neither," he laments, "is the current vintage."
David Gordon, wine director at Tribeca Grill in New York, says that only time he puts rosé on the list is during the summer. "Because nobody asks for it." Gordon also consults for The Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center, where he offers two rosés by the glass and one by the bottle. Mas de Gourgonnier’s rosé from Provence and Miner Family Rosato from Napa do moderately well by the glass and Domaine Tempier Rosé from Bandol has some fans who buy it by the bottle. These rosés are all dry wines and Gordon echoes Stone’s feeling that white Zin’s excessive sweetness limits its food friendliness. At sushi mecca Nobu, where Gordon also consults, he offered the Mas de Gourgonnier rosé by the glass with lukewarm results. "I just don’t see rosé catching on," he opines.
White Zinfandel seems to be a point of contention among many restaurant wine professionals. On the one hand, they have great respect for wineries and what they produce, but on the other hand, the continued production of white Zins that are too sweet and poorly balanced leaves them feeling contentious towards these same wineries. One unnamed restaurateur said he won’t even keep a bottle of white Zin at the bar: "The customer doesn’t always get what they want." The feeling is that their establishments have reputations for providing wines that are most suited to the restaurant’s cuisine. White Zin, they feel, is a clumsy foil to fine food and if customers don’t understand that, they can be educated.
For a different take on the current popularity of rosé wine in restaurants, I spoke with Bill Edwards, beverage director for Olive Garden Restaurants. Olive Garden has 469 restaurants throughout the country that serve over a million and a half diners a week. And a lot of those diners are drinking rosé. Edwards estimates that Olive Garden sells about 100,000 cases of rosé a year. Rosé accounts for about 20 percent of their wine volume overall, ahead of white wine and slightly behind red. "A year ago we added a third blush wine to our list—Monteviña White Zinfandel," says Edwards. "We could add more but we wouldn’t necessarily be offering more variety of style." Sutter Home White Zinfandel and Principato Rosé are the other two on offer. All are off-dry or slightly sweet. "The pink color and sweetness are closely associated. We tried offering a dry rosé a while ago, but people were surprised when they tasted it," Edwards recalls. He feels that half of his rosé customers will eventually graduate to dry whites and reds. "We may soon be ready to try another dry rosé," says Edwards, whose rosé sales are up about 10 percent this year.
National Public Radio recently ran a story in which they reported that half of Olive Garden’s beverage sales were wine sales. They may not have been far off when they stated that Olive Garden may be removing the intimidation that mainstream American diners have about wine. If this is true, it’s a very good thing—regardless of the color of the wine they are choosing.
Grape Moments in History
The Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, is hosting an exhibit entitled "Gift of the Gods: The Art of Wine & Revelry" through October 21, which features 400 artifacts that trace the history of wine from antiquity to the present. It covers the evolution of winemaking techniques and viticulture, the development of the wine trade and drinking traditions. Woven through the exhibition of art, decorative objects, winemaking equipment and accessories is the persistent, ever-changing image of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine who personified wine and revelry (known to the Romans as Bacchus).
Although winemaking in some form may have begun as early as 7,000 years ago, it is clear from the the exhibit that the process was not rudimentary for long: In translated text, a Greek author described 85 types of wine produced by ancient Greece and Rome, which shows that geographic origins and dates of production were known and appreciated at the time.
|A full range of programs accompany the exhibition, including dramatic performances, wine tastings and seminars. Among the talks being given are "Bacchus the Rascal," "Women, Wine and Worship" and "Travels with My Corkscrew." The museum is running a number of singles’ events in connection with the exhibit—one Friday evening event is themed "The Truth About Roman Orgies."|
|The fifth-largest museum in North America, ROM contains 45 galleries of art, archeology and science. For more information call 416/586-8000, or check out the museum’s web site at www.rom.on.ca.|
Texas Hill Country
Wine & Food Festival
The 16th Annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, a four-day bash that was dedicated to Spain this year, was held in Austin, Texas, and the nearby Texas Hill Country wine region from April 5-8. Events included lunches at Becker Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards and Spicewood Vineyards; a gala dinner and rare and fine wine auction benefiting The Texas Wine & Food Foundation and honoring the Torres family of Spain; seminars featuring Spanish wines and food; Stars Across Texas, which showcased the food of Texas chefs with the wines of Texas, Spain and California; a black-tie Savoring Spain Culinary Masters Dinner; and a Sunday Wine and Food Fair Salt Lick Pavilion.
Spain, the country being honored, made an impressive showing with its wines, which are currently in vogue both in the United States and in Europe. Featured Spanish stars included wines from Pesquera and Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), Miguel Torres and Freixenet (Catalonia), Marqués de Cáceres and Bodegas Montecillo (Rioja), Marqués de Griñon (Castilla-La Mancha), and several top producers in the Jorge Ordoñez Fine Estates From Spain stable.
While wines from Spain and California were featured, the big surprise at this year’s Texas Hill Country Festival were the wines from the host state. At the Stars Across Texas event at Austin’s Four Season Hotel, chefs from such top Texas eateries as Café Josie and Fonda San Miguel in Austin and Cafe Annie in Houston provided a uniquely Texan gastronomic twist that complemented nearly a dozen wineries showing a surprisingly wide range of wines from the Lone Star State. Among the white wines from Texas were dry Rieslings, Viogniers, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios and Chardonnays. Red entries included Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet-Merlot blends, Sangiovese, Syrah, Barbera and Shiraz.
A broad sampling of some two dozen wines demonstrated clearly that Texas wineries have made significant progress. Standouts among the whites included Spicewood’s 1999 Sauvignon Blanc, Messina Hof’s 2000 Pinot Grigio and Fall Creek’s 1999/2000 Sauvignon Blanc, all of which showed true varietal character. Other wines underscored the main problem faced by many Texas wineries—low acidity—which results in wines that fall flat on the palate.
Becker’s 1998 Claret was one of the most interesting and complex reds. It had a soft texture and spicy finish, but was still shaking off the woody harshness of 18 months in French and American oak. The sweet, softly tannic, food-friendly Spicewood Vineyards 1998 Texas Hill Country Merlot and the fruity, spicy, peppery Messina Hof 1999 Shiraz-Merlot blend were two of the other reds that starred in the Stars Over Texas show.
Cap*Rock, a winery from the Texas High Plains, which employed star California consultant Tony Soter for several years, had some of the best reds at the event. The 1998 Cap*Rock Toscano Rosso, a blend of 58% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Barbera, was soft, had nice sweet fruit, good grip, and was as food-friendly as any wine at the event. The 1998 Cap*Rock Cabernet Sauvignon was rich, ripe, fruity, and had a fine tannic backbone.
Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival Draws Record Crowd
Santa Barbara hasn’t typically drawn the kinds of crowds that turn out in Napa and Sonoma for wine events, but all that may be changing. Despite cool weather and unusually strong breezes, more than 2,000 people showed up at this year’s Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival, which was held on the expansive grounds at Firestone Meadow in Los Olivos this past April. Set up on folding tables under tents, nearly 60 wineries poured samples, while local restaurants and caterers offered tastes of the region’s cuisine.
At the far end of the massive field, one large tent housed the silent auction, featuring wines and other Santa Barbara-related items. A barn off to the side was the setting for a country-rock band that performed for several hours both days.
Among the wineries present were Babcock, Cambria, Au Bon Climat, Cold Heaven, Andrew Murray, Lafond and Tantara. In many cases, the wines were poured by the winemaker or winery owner.
|The Hitching Post, known for its grilled meats, served sandwiches of prime top sirloin with caramelized onions, a good match with pretty much any of the local Syrahs. Miro, the restaurant at the recently opened Bacara Resort, offered spicy ahi tartare with celery and tomato water. Venison verde with tomatillos, anaheim and jalapeño chilies came from The Vineyard House, a soon-to-open luxury inn in the heart of the wine country. And tiramisu was served by JR’s Gourmet Catering.|
Friday and Saturday nights featured winemaker dinners at various wineries and restaurants throughout the region, including one at the just-opened Lafond Winery & Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills, featuring a wide range of Lafond’s vineyard-designated Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay paired with a menu featuring venison and grilled quail. At the Royal Scandinavian Inn in Solvang, the hotel’s chef, Randy Miller, collaborated on a five-course meal with brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols, who previously owned Brothers restaurant. All the wines came from the neighboring Santa Ynez Valley.
Sunday, many vineyards not usually open to the public, including Cold Heaven, held open houses, featuring wines and hors d’oeuvres, to accommodate festival-goers. The next big events in Santa Barbara are the 9th Annual Santa Barbara International Wine Auction, August 16-18, and the Celebration of Harvest on October 13. Call 805/969-WINE for information and tickets.