How Restaurant Wine Lists Should Change In The Spring

Spring has sprung! The snow has melted here in NYC and we’re getting cautiously excited about warmer days and nights ahead. Soon we’ll open our windows and let in the breezy fifty, sixty and seventy degree weather, enjoying that coveted time of year when we don’t need to re-install our air conditioners…yet. You can feel it in the air. April showers bring May flowers, and in the restaurant world it’s more than just flowers. I woke up this morning to a text from my executive chef James Kelly – he couldn’t sleep, spring was on his mind, and he was ready to change the menu. This time of year brings such a variety of fruits and vegetables it’s dizzying, and with refreshing weather comes refreshing new ingredients and new menu items. And with the changing of the food, comes the changing of the drinks.

Just as many people love to “eat with the seasons,” drinking with them can also be incredibly fun and rewarding, which is what makes our entree into spring such an exciting time for wine! And my wine list specifically. As retail shops start placing pre-orders for their rosé spectrum and begin bringing in those cases of wines, we, the builders and maintainers of wine lists, begin to seek out bottles that will pair with the lighter fare our kitchens will be producing.

A wine list is an ever evolving entity. It’s a living thing that is constantly being updated, curated and tweaked. As seasons change, so should wine the wine selection. While the meat of a list may not have drastic changes – most restaurants recognize the need for certain bottles customers love to be available all year long – at exciting restaurants, the evolution of the wines by the glass is where all the fun happens.

Altering your wines by the glass is a chance to expose your customers to your inner wine geek. It’s a way to get your staff jazzed up on change. And the warm months are the most fun because you still want to have red wine on offer but the big bold structured beauties will soon be too intense for the heat. Sure you could keep one of those biggins on for the die hard full-bodied red drinkers but this is your chance to show your clientele how reds can also be refreshing. You also have a chance to ramp up your white wine selection and show that not all whites are made equally. My wine list at In Vino is not international, I deal with Italy and dabble a bit in Slovenia and Croatia when I’m feeling frisky. But Italy has twenty regions, each being it’s own “country” of food and wine, leaving me with a plethora of wines from which to choose.

In the deep winter I start thinking about my spring wine selection. As the freezing temps chill me to the bone, I envision bright lively reds bursting with fruit and high acidity that I can serve alongside new salads and lighter menu items. I think about Schiava, a bright red wine from the Alto Adige region, known as Vernatsch in Germany, laced with dry cherry notes and quiet gripping tannins that hold up to leaner meats. My mind travels to Piedmont where the native Pelaverga grape produces pale ruby reds singing with strawberries and often a slight hint of peat. I envision frothy glasses of bubbly Lambrusco, a little dry and a little sweet to cut through the fat of any dish. And that is just a few in Italy that will makes people swoon. Outside of the boot, other wine lists might have wines from the Gamay grape, most likely Beaujolais from France, with its vibrant, youthful fruit wafting with raspberries and violets or maybe a lively Oregon Pinot Noir dancing with black cherries, currants and fleshy savoriness. All of these wines can benefit from a little chill, and, if you’re drinking Gamay, insist that it is. Nothing pleases your palate more than a slightly chilled Bojo (industry nickname for Beaujolais). A good warm weather wine by the glass program should offer at least one or two reds served below the fifty degree mark.

Whites are a blast because you want to keep the clean zippy-ness in your selection but, because they are so popular in this warmer season, you also get a chance to get people into the heavier examples that still refresh the palate. For my Italian list I go straight to Campania and serve crisp lemony Falanghina grown north of Naples or to northern Sardinia for the ripe pear fruit of Vermentino. I’ll even throw an approved Gavi from Piedmont in there for recognition and keep a winter white, like the deep mineral driven and slightly caramelized Ribolla Gialla from the northern Friuli region. Outside of Italy you may see Chardonnay. But not any Chardonnay. Macon. Affordable, clean and deep with wet stone and pear these wines don’t see a lot of oak and, if they do, it is often well integrated. You may also see fat, round, grassy and tropical Sauvignon Blancs from California or the lean, jalapeño and grapefruit style from Chile.

So get ready to go out and sample all the new spring wine list offerings. Saddle up to the bar and ask what’s new. If it’s a wine you have never heard of, ask about it. Knowing a little about the wine in your glass makes it that much more enjoyable, and the staff should always have some fun facts about the wines they serve. Hell, they should be over the moon to sell wines that don’t remind them of polar vortexes.