A Sommelier’s Plea For Wines By The Glass

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - June 10, 2009
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Why is it so hard to find an interesting wine to drink by the glass? So many of us cannot or should not try to drink a full bottle of wine at dinner. But if you are the only wine drinker in the group or if you don’t want to drink too much, the choices can be pretty slim.

In my travels around the Islands, it is still tough to find a really interesting wine to drink by the glass, especially at a reasonable price. Most restaurants offer the typical wines by the glass: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc for whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir forreds. But the world of wine is so much more than that! And so much of the cuisine in Hawaii is not typically “classic” European. We have such a mixing bowl of influences from around the world in our cuisine. Does it really make sense to use these major grape varietals to pair with such an array of flavors?


I know all too well how restaurateurs and sommeliers would respond: that the majority of the wine sales come from these six major grape types. I understand that the bottom line is exactly that. Restaurants are in the business of giving the guests what they want and making money while doing it. I’m not saying to change any of that. But how about just adding a wine or two for the varied palates of those who come in your door and sit at your tables?

Restaurants that have wines which are flavorful, interesting and go well with the food they serve should be commended. I was just at Ferraro’s in Wailea, Maui, and enjoyed an appetizer of fritto misto (fried calamari) with a chilled glass of Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo - a white from Campania with beautiful citrus notes, a light minerality and refreshing acidity - that paired beautifully together. I nursed the same glass into my entrée, which was linguine alla vongole (sautéed clams with linguine in a white wine sauce), and it still stood up to the briny earthiness of the clams - just lovely under the Maui moon. I came back to Honolulu and went out to eat at a local ethnic cuisine restaurant - which will be left unnamed - and had to drink a beer because it didn’t give me any interesting choices in terms of wine. Instead it had the common Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

So much of dining is entertainment. And when restaurants don’t provide something new and different, be it in the form of the food or the drinks they offer, chances are people won’t be spending any of their entertainment dollars there again. On top of that, the restaurant is missing out on the opportunity to capture more business.

There are so many reasonably priced, interesting wines out there. Pinot Grigio and Riesling are already household names and should be on every wine-by-the-glass list. Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Albarino, Verdejo, Falanghina and Garganega are some of the world’s most-versatile whites. Grenache and Syrah are on the verge of stardom in the red-wine arena. Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera can be an enlightening experience for red-wine drinkers.

I’m not saying every restaurant should carry all of them, but how about trying one out? Pick one that is reasonably priced to make it easy for us to try it. It may be a little bit outside of the comfort zone for some, but it is an opportunity for growth. And in times like these, that is something we all should be looking for.

Recommendations: 2007 Fillaboa Albarino ($18) Herbs, sake, melons and kaffir lime notes abound in this sleek, light and refreshing white. Try it with shellfish and you’ll find the sweet spot! 2007 Palmina Dolcetto ($17) Rockin’ sweet-smelling blackberries and a hint of jelly lead into a medium-rich body with soft and velvety tannins. This is great with ribs and duck!

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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