Hot Varietals on Wine Lists Generate Buzz
While some varietals are mainstays on wine lists, others wax
and wane in availability and
popularity due to the whims of wine writers
and ever changing tastes of wine drinkers. Of course, you can’t help but wonder
if trendy grapes become that way due to
well-deserved mentions in the media or if
the chatter fuels a buzz that compels wine
directors to include them on their menus.
Perhaps it’s a little of both.
Operators offering these wines, or increasing existing options, furnish their lists
with a contemporary vibe. Moreover, pouring them by the glass or in even smaller
amounts sparks confidence in guest
experimentation while increasing operators’
sales. Across the country and across the
board, wine professionals weigh in about
what’s hot right now in the glass.
Malbec and Syrah
South American wines have grown increasingly fashionable in the last few years,
and no varietal has taken greater hold
than Argentina’s signature grape, Malbec,
a spicy and robust varietal traditionally
used in Bordeaux blends. Andrew Stover,
sommelier and director of wine marketing
at Washington, D.C.’s OYA Restaurant &
Lounge and SEI Restaurant, reports that
guests still can’t get enough of this grape.
He believes diners gravitate towards Argentinean Malbec because of its similarity to
Merlot or Cabernet, although he considers
Malbec to be more food-friendly.
“Malbec is the new Merlot,” proclaims
Haley Guild, wine director at Bacar in San
Francisco, where at any given time the
1,200-bottle wine list includes a handful
of high-end Malbec bottles. Stover favors
producers Andeluna and Urban Uco by
O’Fournier, which “offer loads of dark fruit
notes yet have an elegance that some
Argentine Malbecs are lacking.” He pairs
these Malbecs with lamb or grilled pork
dishes, while partnering more extracted
bottles with red meat.
Domestic versions of inky and brooding Syrah also have a prominent place on
wine menus today. At Michael Mina’s four
Bourbon Steak locations, wine and cocktail
lists vary depending on the market, but San
Francisco-based Mina Group Inc.’s wine
director Rajat Parr offers plenty of Syrahs in
all the restaurants to keep up with demand.
He likes wines from California’s Peay
Vineyards, Copain Winery and Qupe Wine
Cellars, and recommends them with meat
dishes —especially lamb.
While California Syrahs tend to be fruit-forward and full-bodied, Washington bottles
more closely resemble a more refined
French style, with restrained fruit and increased minerality. At Purple Café & Wine
Bars’ three Washington state locations, the
staff and customers are loyal to the state’s
wines. In fact, one-third of the wine list is
dedicated to the local juice, and director of
liquids Christene Prentice features many
Washington state Syrah is popular at
Purple Wine Bar locations.
By Kelly A.
Kelly Magyarics is
a wine and spirits
writer and wine
educator in the Washington,
D.C. area. She can be reached
through her web site,
Malbec is the new Merlot.
— Haley Guild, Wine Director,
Bacar, San Francisco