Friday, October 24, 2008

Is There a Place for Organic Wines on Upscale Restaurant Wine Lists?

 Domaine Tempier


By most accounts, right now certified organic foods make up less than 5% of supermarket sales across the country; but anyone with eyes and ears can see that no segment of the food market has enjoyed as dramatic a growth during the past ten years: by nearly 80% since 1997, developing into the $17.7 billion industry that it is today.

For many consumers, spending an extra dollar for a gallon of organic milk, or more than two dollars per pound more for organic chicken or tomatoes, is no longer an issue. Quality, in fact, plays far less a part in these decisions than pure health and environmental concerns. Very few consumers, of course, buy organics exclusively; but it’s estimated that nearly 60% of U.S. households now buy some organic items, and because of that grocers from Kroger and Harris Teeter to Fresh Market and Whole Foods are predicting at least 5% growth each year in the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, it would stand to reason that organic wines should make up at least 5% of sales in both retail stores and restaurants; but anyone with eyes and ears can clearly see this is not nearly the case. Whether or not, however, organics play a visible role on wine lists or store shelves, the producers themselves began to make moves towards that a good ten, fifteen years ago for the same reasons why consumers buy organically – for health and environmental concerns.

In California there are now some 12,000 acres of vineyards (almost 5% of the state’s total) certified by third party organizations like California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF), and there are nineteen wineries certified as producers of Organic Wines. It is also worth noting that well over 90% of vineyards up and down the West Coast are probably farmed sustainably, without any certification. The days of routine, rampant use of chemicals are long gone, and practices like cover cropping to establish organic mulching and foster beneficial insects, and canopy management to minimize mildewing and other diseases, have become pretty much standard practice.

There is a good chance, for instance, that you may have enjoyed many bottles of Frog’s Leap wines over the past ten, fifteen years without knowing that they are made from certified organic grapes. Winemaker/proprietor John Williams of Napa Valley’s Frog’s Leap is as blasé about the organic monikers as non-certified growers. Explaining why he has never marketed Frog’s Leap as “organic,” Williams says “my bottom line is wine quality, not the organic movement’s ‘save the world’ agenda… grapes from clean, healthy vines just make the best possible wine, and that’s what I’m after.”

Qualification for classification as “Organic Wine” – involving the total shunning of sulfites during the fermentation process or to stabilize wines at bottling – is another step Williams finds unnecessary. “Although we are constantly trying to use less, we just haven’t found wines made without sulfites that consistently excite us… nor do we find compelling evidence that the minute use of this natural ingredient should be troubling to anyone for reasons other than philosophical.”

While über-growths such as Spottswoode, Rubicon, and Araujo have gone through the rigorous three year certification process required by CCOF, numerous other highly lauded producers farm organically as a matter of course, not cause. Shafer, for instance, has long been a champion of sustainability and bio-diversity; but if a serious disease is detected, according to Doug Shafer, he reserves last resort options such as low-toxicity herbicides like Round-Up. Bruce Neyers’ home estate in Conn Valley (east of Rutherford in the Napa Valley AVA) has been farmed 100% organically since 1998, but the only reason his vineyard is not certified is because it borders a non-organic vineyard.

Up on Sonoma Mounain Patrick Campbell of Laurel Glen also farms organically, but tells us he flatly refuses to seek certification because:
  • “In the case of severe mildew or rot pressure, there are no reliable organic remedies – this pressure is not normal, of course, but can happen in unusual weather conditions – and simply losing crop for adherence to organic principles is not an option for me.
  • “Organic has become a marketing concept.
  • “I don’t like the idea of getting commercial benefit for doing the right thing.
  • “Most importantly, sustainability is a far more significant and global statement of environmental concern than organic, and this is what we promote. Organic farming can, for example, use up a lot of fossil fuel or human health.”


Like organic foods twenty, thirty years ago, wines produced in organic, Biodynamic®, as well as vegan and sustainable fashions are emerging out of the fringe elements of commercial taste, and becoming more significant by the day. Like all wines, they give us pleasure as alcoholic beverages, make our food taste better, and sweeten our outlook on life. But exactly what, besides health and environmental issues, are the attributes that make these wines worth the attention of wine buyers and sommeliers in fine dining restaurants?

If anything, the supernova speed in which the world of wine has expanded in recent years has resulted in this: a boring, dreary sameness. Twenty years ago it was assembly line chardonnay and white zinfandel; fifteen years ago, industrialized merlot; and during the past decade or so, the proliferation of just-another-cabernet and syrah, shiraz, schmiraz… one after another, all tasting the same. Lord help us if this starts to happen with pinot noir.

But one thing about organic and Biodynamic® wines: there is a tendency towards uniqueness rather than sameness. When you grow and make wine from the premise of exerting the least amount of intervention that might blur the distinctions of grape and site, you almost cannot help but produce something different, almost every time. And if there is anything a highly competitive restaurant wine buyer or sommelier is concerned about, it is finding wines of truly unique qualities, reflective of grape and terroir, that differentiates his or her restaurant.

Commonly used "cover crop mowers" in organic vineyards


So to the question of whether there is a place for organic wines in upscale restaurants: whether you realize it or not, organics already play an important role in fine dining wine lists because many of the world’s finest winemakers already produce their wine that way.

If anything, what organic and Biodynamic® wines lack in the vast majority of upscale restaurants is identification as such: organically conscious restaurant guests can hardly appreciate a wine’s organic-ness when most restaurants still do not bother to include descriptions on their wine lists. It’s still a rare wine list that tells you if a wine is dry or sweet, light or heavy, let alone organic, Biodynamic® or vegan.

The first steps to take towards merchandising to organic-conscious restaurant guests, then, are:

1. Group organic as well as Biodynamic® and vegan wines into their own wine list categories

2. Take a pro-active stance towards sourcing and placing organic, Biodynamic® and vegan wines on your wine list; particularly those of the quality and style that meet your standards, price points and culinary needs.

3. Do your sourcing based upon an intelligent measure of your clientele (if, for instance, a large number of your guests are indeed high percentage organic food consumers – particularly those who buy from upscale retail stores like Whole Foods, Balducci’s, or Dean & Deluca – then it would make sense to put a stronger emphasis on high quality organic wines).

4. When listing organics, it would behoove you to explicate the basic distinctions among the various, often overlapping categories.

Re the point #4, these are the basic categories under which most organic wines fall:

Wines Made From Organic Grapes

These are wines made from grapes farmed completely without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, soil fumigants, or other chemicals. In the U.S. certified organic grapes must meet standards established by the USDA’s National Organic Program. In California even stricter standards are set by California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF); stipulating requirements such as no bio-engineering or iodizing radiation, and encouraging the use of composting, cover cropping and beneficial insects.

In France, and 79 other countries other than the U.S., an estimated 70% of the organic certification is administered by ECOCERT. In Italy, organically grown wines are labeled with the designation Viticoltura Biologica; and in Spain, Agricultura Ecologica. In Oregon, organically grown wines come with the seals of Oregon Tilth; in Washington St. the seals will say WSDA Certified Organic. In New Zealand, the leading certififying organization is Bio-Gro, and in Australia it is Australian Certified Organic.

Organic Wines

In the U.S., Organic Wines must not only be made from 100% organically grown grapes, they must also be vinified totally without the use of added sulfites. The USDA’s NOP (National Organic Program) specifies that even naturally occurring sulfites (found in every wine, organic or not) must be under 10 parts per million.

Wines Made From Biodynamic® Grapes
Biodynamic® wines are not only farmed organically, they must meet even higher standards of sustainability by following specified preparations that help connect the “dynamic” relationship between everything in the universe, biological and spiritual. Most of these principles are based upon the homeopathic farming methods established by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s; and today, certified internationally by The Worldwide Demeter Association (in the U.S., by Demeter USA; and in France, by Biodyvin). While many aspects of biodynamic viticulture (like the burying of manure stuffed cow horns in the vineyard) might seem a little loony, contemporary proponents are very comfortable with most of its practicalities; such as use of on-site produced compost and manure, the emphasis on ecosystem diversity, incorporation of animal life, and even cultivation according to “natural” cycles (i.e. solar and lunar calendars).

Biodynamic® Wines
Biodynamic® Wines must be made from Biodynamic® Grapes, while meeting higher standards of vinification defined primarily by use of natural (rather than cultured) yeasts, zero additives (like sugar, tannin and acid “adjustments,” and bacteria to start malolactic fermentation), and restricted use of sulfites at bottling (for dry wines, less than 100 parts per million).

Vegan Wines

Wines meeting vegan standards must be vinified without the use of animal products; particularly filtering and fining agents such as egg whites, casein (a milk protein used to soften wine), gelatin (removes bitter phenolics) and isinglass (derived from fish swimbladders). Instead, vegan wines are typically clarified by non-animal products like bentonite clay.


In years past, most of the organic and biodynamic wines restaurateurs have deemed worthy of inclusion on fine dining wine lists have been European: all-time classics like Domaine Tempier in Bandol, Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Ostertag in Alsace, Château de Beaucastel, Domaine de Solitude and M. Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley, Mas de Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc, the controversial “Gang of Five” of Beaujolais’ grand crus, the incredible Domaine Leflaive and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy… and more, much more.

During the past year (2008) I have been making a concerted effort to taste as many organic, Biodynamic® and vegan wines as possible, and have found even more of very good to exceptional quality by producers who, if not nearly as well known as Frog’s Leap let alone DRC, are certainly as good and worthy as the non-organic brands commonly found on wine lists. Wines that I, for one, would drink anytime, any day, anywhere:

Frog’s Leap, Rutherford/Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes)
Ceágo, Clear Lake Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic®)
Quivira, Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic®)
Saracina, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes)
Patianna, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic®)
Gamble Vineyard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes)
Holmes, Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand; organic grapes)
Pircas Negras, Torrontés (Argentina; organic grapes, vegan)
Double L Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands, California; organic grapes)
Paul Dolan, Mendocino Chardonnay (California; organic grapes)
Frog’s Leap, Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California; organic grapes)
Del Bondio, Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; organic grapes)
Sky Saddle,
Harms Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic®)
Porter-Bass, Russian River Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic®)
Cowhorn, Viognier (Applegate Valley, Oregon; Biodynamic®)
Bonny Doon,
Le Cigare Blanc (Arroyo Seco, California; Biodynamic®)
King Estate,
Domaine Pinot Gris (Oregon; organic grapes0
Domaine Leflaive, Macon-Verze (France; Biodynamic®)
Pierre Morey, Meursault (France; Biodynamic®)
Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre (Loire River, France; organic grapes)
Francois Chidaine, Montlouis
Clos du Breuil (Loire River, France; organic grapes)
Nicolas Joly, Savennierès
Les Clos Sacres (Loire River, France; Biodynamic®)
Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray (Loire River, France; Biodynamic®)
Domaine Ostertag, Pinot Blanc
Barriques (Alsace, France; Biodynamic®)
Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris (Alsace, France; Biodynamic®)
Alois Lageder,
Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio (Alto-Adige, Italy; Biodynamic®)
Meinklang, Grüner Veltliner (Austria; Biodynamic®)
Marcel Deiss,
Engelgarten (Alsace, France; Biodynamic®)
Dirling, Riesling (Alsace, France; Biodynamic®)
Pacific Rim,
Organic Riesling (Columbia Valley; organic grapes)
Pacific Rim,
Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic® Riesling (Columbia Valley; Biodynamic®)
Marc Kreydenweiss, Gewürztraminer (Alsace, France; Biodynamic®)
Emiliana Natura, Gewürztraminer (Valle Cachapoal, Chile; organic grapes)
Ca’ del Solo, Muscat (California; Biodynamic®)

Paul Dolan, Mendocino Zinfandel (California; organic grapes)
Quivira, Wine Creek Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley, California; Biodynamic®)
Tres Sabores, Napa Valley Zinfandel (California; organic grapes)
Ceágo, Redwood Valley Camp
Masuit Merlot (California; Biodynamic®)
Freemark Abbey,
Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California; Biodynamic®)
Casa Barranca,
Arts & Crafts Red (Central Coast, California; organic wine)
Robert Sinskey Vineyards,
Marcien (California; Biodynamic®)
Neal Family,
Wykoff Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford, Napa Valley; organic grapes)
Neal Family,
Fifteen-Forty Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley; organic grapes)
Neal Family,
Second Chance Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Atlas Peak, Napa Valley; organic grapes)
Frog’s Leap, Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford, Napa Valley; organic grapes)
Tres Sabores,
Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford, Napa Valley; organic grapes)
Rubicon Estate, Napa Valley (California; organic grapes)
Clos Roche Blanche,
Touraine Cabernet (Loire Valley, France; organic grapes)
Nuevo Mundo, Cabernet/Carmènére
Reserva (Maipo Valley, Chile; organic grapes, vegan)
Pircas Negras, Malbec (Famatina Valley, Argentina; organic, vegan)
Organic Vintners, Mendocino Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes; vegan)
Casa Barranca,
Laetitia Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes)
Alma Rosa,
La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (California; organic)
Brick House,
Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Bergstöm, Bergström de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Sokol Blosser, Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon; organic grapes)
Cooper Mountain,
5 Elements Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon; Biodynamic®)
Cooper Mountain,
Life Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon; organic wine, Biodynamic® grapes)
Jamsheed Pinot Noir (McMinnville, Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir (McMinnville, Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Delara Pinot Noir (McMinnville, Willamette Valley; Biodynamic®)
Alois Lageder,
Krafuss Pinot Noir (Italy; organic grapes)
Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune (France; organic grapes)
Marcel Deiss,
Burlenberg (Alsace; Pinot Noir; Biodynamic®)
Weingut Michlits, Pinot Noir (Burgenland/Osterreich, Austria; Biodynamic®)
Kawarau Estate, Central Otago Pinot Noir (New Zealand; organic grapes)
San Vito, Chianti (Toscana, Italy; organic grapes, vegan)
Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva (Italy; organic grapes)
Meinklang, Zweigelt (Austria; biodynamic)
Clos Abella, Priorat Porrera (Spain; organic grapes)
Organic Vintners, Tinto (La Mancha, Spain; organic grapes, vegan)
Bodegas Iranzo,
Vertvs Tempranillo (Spain; organic grapes)
Mas Estela,
Quindals (Emporda, Spain; organic grapes)
M. Chapoutier, Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonnieres (Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic®)
Tadpole Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia; organic grapes)
Bloodstone Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia; organic grapes)
Uncut Shiraz (McLaren Vale, Australia; organic grapes)
Ventura, Syrah (Lontué Valley, Chile; organic, vegan)
Emiliana Novas, Limited Selection Carménère-Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley, Chile; organic grapes; vegan)
Emiliana Coyam, Los Robles Estate (Colchagua Valley, Chile; Biodynamic®; vegan)
Emiliana,, Los Robles Estate (Colchagua Valley, Chile; Biodynamic®; vegan)
Beckmen Vineyards, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley, California; Biodynamic®)
Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley
Purisima (California; Biodynamic®)
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Morgon Vieilles Vignes (Grand Cru de Beaujolais, France; organic grapes)
Domaine Tempier, Bandol Cuvée Classique (Provence, France; organic grapes)
Domaine de Villaneuve, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France; organic grapes)
Marc Kreydenweiss,
Perrières (Costières de Nîmes/Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic®)

Elizabeth ROSE, Napa Valley Pinot Noir Rosé (California; organic grapes)

Pizzolato, Prosecco (Italy; organic grapes)
Jeriko Estate, Mendocino Brut (California; organic grapes)
Domaine Carneros, Brut (California; organic grapes)


Anonymous said...

For heaven's sake! . . . make your list alphabetical either by variety or winery

anushka sweety said...

My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

CMMI Consulting

What Are Sommeliers for, If Not for Training?

It means taking a hefty cut in pay, but I've decided to accept the position of God of Wine (New Yorker)

Professional sommeliers represent such an investment on the part of serious "wine restaurants" that they are compelled to perform far more duties than simply serving, ordering and restocking wine.

Many of them are compelled to assist or even stand in for everyone from SAs and food runners to mâitre d's and floor managers, book banquets and large parties, conceive and execute special events, write newsletters, open and close restaurants, and even run back to the kitchen when someone on the line keels over. It's the nature of the beast: as costs rise and management salaries are crunched, the "sommelier" is either the first to go, or the easiest one to call on for double or triple duties. Tell me about it.

But where the modern day sommelier can most effectively prove his or her worth is in the area of staff wine and food training. After all, with specialized knowledge of both wine and the food components matching wine comes a responsibility: to share that knowledge, and make direct impact on sales, profits, and the critical success of the restaurant.

As one of those quasi-manager/sommeliers I've been teaching wine sales in restaurants for over thirty years. I know everyone, of course, has their own approach, and I've observed many other magnificent restaurant wine trainers with incredible records of success to prove it. Based upon all that, here are the ten basic steps to the way I approach staff training:

1. Begin by passing out a basic wine "primer" (if you haven't composed one yourself, you can assign a book), requiring them to read it, and tell them they will be tested.

2. Start your own training addressing the "language" of wine sales by teaching and tasting the staff on the basic sensory components of wine (dry, sweet, full, light, tart, soft, oaky, fruity, and all the important variations of grapes and aromas).

3. Progress by teaching/tasting them on how the basic sensory components interact with food (concepts like similarity, contrast, and physical textures); preferably, of course, with sample dishes.

4. Administer that basic "primer" test you threatened them with earlier, and make them take it over and over again until they pass 100%.

5. Once that minimal comfort level is met, introduce staff to the world of wines (grapes, countries, AVAs, terroirs, winemakers styles, etc.), one wine at a time, slowly-but-surely (you cannot rush this part... it goes on forever).

6. Yes, during each wine training meeting (preferably at least weekly), you always discuss the basic selling points of each wine, the profile of guests who will most likely appreciate each wine (a big Cabernet for longtime big wine connoisseurs, a Cornas for Francophiles, Gruner Veltliner for guests ordering oysters or fish in vinaigrette, Riesling for the first-time wine drinker, etc.), and basic methodology of sales (basically, when and how to volunteer the wine information that you have to share). It's simple. After you taste each wine, you ask your staff, what makes this wine special... how do we sell it... who would be turned on by it... what dishes would it be ideal with?

7. Assign individual research papers (one page reports, a copy for each team member, are fine) to staff on a specific subject, to be presented to the rest of staff at the start of each wine training meeting.

8. Ultimately, during each meeting, you should also be encouraging participation from staff (don't make meetings one-way discussions!); allowing them to share particular sales experiences with each other, personal experiences of wines they've enjoyed outside of work (or wines tasted in other restaurants), and even their opinions about the best wines for certain foods and guests.

9. Test, test, and re-test at least several times a year (enthusiastic staffs love the challenge anyway).

10. Finally, when opportunities to attend distributor/supplier wine tastings come up, you need to encourage your staff to not only attend, but also to report back their findings (i.e. recommendations for the wine list). If you can't attend a tasting, you should assign people to attend "for you." If you really want to know how to get staff to be not just competent but also personally invested in your restaurant and wine program, this final step is the way to go.

In any case, I've developed many sharp, enthusiastic, ambitious wine buyer/managers from virtually "nothing" (i.e. kids fresh out of high school) over the years by following this methodology. Hope it helps you establish your own!

Composing Menus for Winemaker Dinners

For many years I worked with chefs with limited repertoires, imagination and desire, yet we managed to create some decent wine menus anyway by following the most basic principles of food and wine matching.

Conceiving and executing new dishes for specific components in wines is the more difficult but by far most satisfying way to build a food and wine menu. Whereas there will always be a limited number of wines to choose for a dish, the combination of ingredients and techniques that can go into an originally conceived dish are virtually endless. You’ll always get a better match when you create a dish specifically for a wine rather than choose a wine for a ready-made dish.

Case study: in 1992 we hosted legendary winemaker Tony Soter in two of our restaurants; Soter acclaimed for his Etude Wines, as well as for his work as the original consulting winemaker at Spottswoode in Napa Valley.

The Soter winemaker dinners presented us with a unique opportunity because the menus for each of these dinners were planned by two different chefs: chef/owner Roy Yamaguchi in one restaurant, and his longtime chef de cuisine Gordon Hopkins in the other. As I always did during the thirteen years that I worked with both of them, I followed these two rules of thumb every sommelier or wine manager needs to do when working with a chef (no matter how wine savvy the chef):

1. Begin by putting everything down on paper -- beginning with the order of service and all the basic components of each wine -- which will give your chef the opportunity to visualize the makeup and direction of the courses.

2. Based upon the wine components and basic principles of similarity and contrast, list as many food related ideas and dish suggestions as possible in order to give your chef the widest possible latitude in which to apply his/her personal style and creativity.

Further details, utilizing the Soter/Etude/Spottswoode scenario:


Step one in the planning of every winemaker dinner is listing the wines in your projected order of service. Although the traditionally accepted order is white wines before reds, lighter before full, and dry before sweet, keep in mind that the actual palate is not necessarily constrained as such as long as each course’s food and wine match is in harmony and balance. David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson deserve a lot of credit for establishing this premise in their classic book, Red Wine with Fish (Simon & Schuster 1989).

In any case, for our particular dinner with Tony Soter we decided to follow a conventional pattern:

1st: Spottswoode, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 1990

2nd: Etude, Carneros Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

3rd: Etude, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1989; Spottswoode, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1988

4th (dessert): Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon 1989


Step two is isolating the basic taste sensations, tactile qualities, and aroma/flavor components of each wine; and based upon that, drawing up your matching food ideas utilizing the principles of similarities and contrast. The ideal method is to break everything down on paper for your chef; allowing him to take the bits and pieces that stimulate his own thought process, and referencing them with his own culinary mental library. For the Soter dinners, these are parameters I outlined for the chefs:

1. Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc

Description: Bone dry white; medium body (not light, not heavy); perceptively crisp, medium acidity (lightly tart); fine, smooth (silky) texture; fresh fruit fragrances of melon and citrus; lighter aromatic nuances of green grass and vanillin oak

Suggested dishes: Mildly spiced, summery sweet shellfish appetizer (i.e. shrimp, scallops, crab, etc.)

Similar ingredients: Mildly acidic fruits (tomato, lime, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate); mildly acidic cheese (Chèvre or Feta); leafy green herbs (oregano, thyme, parsley, tarragon); pungent herbs (chive, cilantro Mexican mint marigold, lemon grass, kaffir lime); vegetal components (olives, bell peppers); very mild vinegars (if balanced with wine’s acidity)

Contrasting ingredients: Vine ripened tomatoes (lomi lomi or concasée); sweet Maui onions (in moderation); moderate spice (restrained use of chili or chiles); aromatics (mild curries, mustards, tumeric, achiote)

Extremes to avoid: Heavy cream or butter (will make wine taste thin and acidic); high salt (brining) or soy

2. Etude, Pinot Noirs

Descriptions: Lush, round, fleshy, succulent California style reds; medium body (not light, not heavy); moderate (towards low) acidity; rounded, soft tannin (but filling); black cherry perfume (fruit quality flavor over layered tannin); tinge of peppermint spice and warm, smoky/vanilla oakiness

Suggested dishes: Salad using smoked meat (beef, duck or quail), or smoked seafood course (salmon, calamari, tako), or modified cioppino (meaty fish, mussels, clams, octopus)

Similar ingredients: Wild berries or cherry; baby greens (very tender, mildly peppery); mild caramelization of meats; smoky notes (re grilling or charring)

Contrasting ingredients: Mushrooms, onions (especially pearl or caramelized); sausages (fresh or mildly cured); alliums (shallots, garlic, green onion); spices (cinnamon, clove, cumin, nutmeg, celery); mild (like Big Island) goat cheese; mustards

Extremes to avoid: Sharp vinegars (winy balsamics only in moderation); salty/sharp cheeses (blue, Feta, etc.); more lethal herbs (dill, cilantro)

Etude, Cabernet Sauvignon & Spottswoode, Cabernet Sauvignon

Descriptions: Two chunky, black toned, hefty, dry red wines; full body; low acidity; full, generous tannin (rounded, but almost palate drying at the core); combination of flesh and muscle in texture; deeply aromatic blackberry/cassis-like aromas (black cherry nuances); rich, charred oak, faintly minty and green olive/pepper aromas/flavors

Suggested dishes: Lamb with a twist (in pot-a-feu, garlic sausage, or combined with sweetbreads or white beans), or marinated loins or wood grilled chops stuffed with olives or soft ripened cheese, or fanciful “lamb sandwich” (Napoleon style utilizing offal, couscous, semolina, crusted polenta, etc.)

Similar ingredients: Wood smoke; natural reductions (concentrated without sweetness); wild berries; bell peppers (plays off wines’ herbal notes); smoked green chiles; olives; peppercorn, walnut, hazelnut (tannin neutralizers); eggplant, mustards; deep, aged cheeses (Cheddars, Manchego, Gouda, Parmigiano, etc.)

Contrasting ingredients: Earthy vegetables (fungus, beets, alliums, garlic); scented herbs (mint, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, mint); tomatoes, stewed or in nage (stripped of sugar, acid); double or triple crème cheeses (in moderation)

Extremes to avoid: Salty blue-veined cheeses; immature (ammonia-like) Chèvre and Brie; pervasive herbs, spices (dill, cilantro, ginger, kaffir,); sun dried fruits or tomatoes (too sweet/tart); sharp leafy vegetables (spinach, sorrel, napa cabbage); stinging dried chilies, powders or curries

4. Topaz, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon

Description: Sweet (approximately 10% residual sugar) dessert wine; full body (not delicate, about 13% alcohol); elevated, lip smacking balancing acidity; long, viscous (high glycerol), silky smooth texture; concentrated fig and honey-like aromas/flavors; underlying green grassy and apricot-like fragrances

Suggested dish: Creamy dessert with fresh fruit

Similar ingredients: Sweet/moderately tart fruits (berries, cherry); creams (custards) or crème fraiche; honey and fruit liqueurs (moderation)

Contrasting ingredients: Mild dessert spices (vanilla, nutmeg, almond, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, anise); citrus (i.e. lemon as flavoring, not dominant fruit); fresh mints


As you may have surmised, the interesting part of this exercise is that we had two chefs following the same parameters with the same wines, who ending up preparing prepare two different dinners on two consecutive nights. Here’s how it went:

Roy Yamaguchi’s Menu:

Kahuku Shrimp with Crispy Spinach & Spicy Lemon Grass Curry
Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc 1990

House Cured Duck Salad with Caramelized Pearl Onions & Shallot Sauce
Etude, Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

Napoleon of Lamb with Sweetbread Spring Roll & Roasted Beet Sauce
Spottswoode, Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

Compote of Poached Bing Cherry with Kirsch Crème Fraiche
Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon 1989

Gordon Hopkins’ Menu:

Herbed Soft Shell Crab Salad with Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa in Red Pepper Vinaigrette
Spottswoode, Sauvignon Blanc 1990

Spicy Cioppino with Seafood Sausage, Crispy Squid, White Beans & Pizza Crusts
Etude, Pinot Noir 1990 & 1988

Braised Lamb Shanks in Natural Juices, with Black Figs & Couscous
Etude, Cabernet Sauvignon 1989

Napoleon of Almond Wafers with Wild Berries & Lemon Vanilla Bean Sauce
Topaz, Late Harvest Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon 1989

Although he always described himself as an Euro-Asian style chef, for winemaker dinners Yamaguchi typically exerted restraint on his Asian side, giving a classical sense of balance to his dishes through technique as much as seamlessly woven ingredients.

I always loved, however, Hopkins’ aggressive, oft-times challenging or unorthodox matches; particularly in his mildly spiced cioppino (in its execution, the scented morsels of seafood sat in a pasta bowl over a small puddle of concentrated broth) and his visions of Morocco (the fragrantly brown spiced lamb was particularly luscious with sleek, oak spiced, dried fruit-like concentration of the Etude Cabernet).

In both dinners, the chefs amplified the crisp yet creamy textured, melony scented dimensions of the Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc by striking notes of similarity with the grape’s intrinsically herbal, acidic nature: the lemon grass in Yamaguchi’s shrimp, and the mildly vinegary, red peppers and crusted green herbs in Hopkins’ soft shell crab salad. By layering dishes to match a wine’s nuances, you can push forth its most flattering qualities while drawing attention to its complexity.

Contrast, on the other hand, is an approach fraught with risk, but which can raise a match to exhilarating heights. Re the mildly salty and acidic tastes of Yamaguchi’s house cured duck salad in a jus-laced vinaigrette: surely, not to be expected for a basically low acid, dry red wine (the Etude Pinot Noirs) with a modicum of bitter tannin. But because the wines are in themselves balanced (Soter always places lush, almost sweet fruit qualities above the tannin in his red winemaking style), and because Yamaguchi deftly balances salt and acidity with sweetness (caramelized onions), earthy flavors (shallots, oils and duck stock), and moderate bitterness (use of young, leafy mesclun leaves), the sum total of the course comes up fresh, lively, and enervating.

This is why when crafting dishes for wine, you need to always go back to the first principle of wine and food matching: just like good cooking involves a balancing of ingredients and technique, good wine/food matching involves focusing on how specific components in wines interact and achieve a sense of balance and harmony with specific components in dishes.

And the key to that, of course, is making sure that you start off with a wine that is balanced and a dish that is balanced, before going on to create a dish and a wine that are balanced together with multiple dimensions of similarity and contrast.


There are many old standby, tried-and-true wine and food matches, as well as a number of others reflecting more contemporary style dining, all based upon the basic, commonsense principles of similarity and contrast in food and wine matching. As food and wine for thought, a few interesting examples:

  • Full bodied, dry, richly flavorful white wines (like Chardonnay and Viognier) with meatier “other white” meats (like pork, veal and chicken) in richly flavorful sauces
  • White wines with zesty acidity (i.e. Sauvignon Blanc) with foods with matching degrees of acidity (like salads in mildly sharp vinaigrettes, or cheeses like Chèvre)
  • Slightly sweet yet zesty white wines (like German Rieslings) with seafoods prepared with slightly sweet, sour, salty, and even spicy-hot sauces and ingredients (since sugar in wine and as a food ingredient brings contrasting balance to spicy, salty or acidic sensations)
  • Soft red wines (like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais) with soft but full flavored red fish (like salmon and tuna)
  • Zesty, pungent, earthy/foresty red wines (like Chianti Classico and Rosso di Montalcino from Tuscany) with zesty, Italian influenced dishes (use of pasta, tomato, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and resiny herbs like oregano and rosemary)
  • High tannin reds (like a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon) with slight bitterness or astringency with red meats prepared with slightly bitter peppercorns, vegetables, or char from wood grilling
  • Bright, zesty, sweetly fruit scented red wines (like red Zinfandel and Syrah) with fatty meats in zesty, sweet or even spicy sauces and marinades (re barbecued or even teriyaki style beef or pork ribs)
  • Big, herbaceous, minty or cedary Cabernet Sauvignon based reds (from France’s Bordeaux, California or Australia) with red meats in sauces reduced with aromatic green herbs (mint, thyme, sage, etc.)
  • Smoky, toasty, aggressively oaked wines (like many Chardonnays, and most ultrapremium reds) with white or red meats that are aggressively grilled, roasted or wood-smoked
  • Sweet, high acid, intensely fruity “late harvest” whites with sweet desserts made with fruits retaining natural fruit acidity (berries and stone fruits peach and pear)
  • Sweet, full bodied wines (fortified reds like Port and Banyuls from France, or golden colored Sauternes from France) contrasting with salty blue cheeses (like Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Maytag Blue)
  • Sweet, full bodied fortified reds (like Port and Banyuls) with bitter/sweet chocolate desserts

Common Wine Accents (and How to Apply Them)

Although as Americans, probably none of us (including me) are as good as we should be about placement of correct accents in European wine related words, there’s really no excuse. It’s as important as spelling potato as potato, not potatoe (according to a certain former Vice President, who also once said "I stand behind all the misstatements I've ever made").

Let’s put it another way: if you are serious about your wine program, then you’re serious about your spelling of European wine names and terms with their customary accents.

So first, utilizing most Microsoft Word/Windows applications, the quickest ways (apart from usage of Symbols in the Insert toolbar) of applying the most common accents:

CTR + ', the letter

á, é, í, ó, ú
Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú

CTR + `(accent grave), the letter

à, è, ì, ò, ù
À, È, Ì, Ò, Ù

CTR + SHIFT + ^(caret), the letter

â, ê, î, ô, û
Â, Ê, Î, Ô, Û

CTR + SHIFT + :(colon), the letter

ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, ÿ
Ä, Ë, Ï, Ö¸Ü, Ÿ

CTR + SHIFT + ~(tilde), the letter

ã, ñ, õ
Ã, Ñ, Õ

CTR + , (comma), c or C

ç, Ç

Here are some common (and maybe not so commonly seen) wine names and terms in need of correct accents:


Comte de Vogüé
Crémant de Bourgogne
Dom Pérignon
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe
Fumé Blanc
Grand Cru Classé
Méthode Champenoise
Pedro Ximénez
Sélection de Grains Nobles


Beaux Frères
Clos de Bèze
La Louvière
Les Folatières
Les Perrières
Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
père et fils


Côte de Beaune
Côte de Brouilly
Côte de Nuits
Côte d’Or
La Tâche
Rhône Valley
tête de cuvée


Comte de Vogüé
Deidesheimer Leinhöhle
Forster Kirchenstück
Grüner Veltliner
Maximum Grünhauser
Moët & Chandon
Piesporter Goldtröpchen
Quälitatswein mit Prädikat
Rüdesheimer Berg
Schloss Schönborn
Ürziger Würzgarten
Weingut Künstler
Weingut Mönchhof
Wiltinger Hölle


Tinto Cão