Cheers - July/August 2015

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 34 of 51 35 July/August 2015 • "The most well-known country for wine is Hungary because of tokaji," says Hon, referring to that country's world-famous botrytised sweet wines. And in the Chicago market, wines from Slovenia and Croatia are also more available these days, he notes. The history of wine in Eastern Europe has ancient roots. This region is considered by experts to be the cradle of wine, with archeological evidence of winemaking dating back at least 7,000 years. Many of those ancient indigenous grapes are still grown and vinifi ed today. "These are very established wine regions, with generations and generations of winemaking tradition and extensive knowledge about the land and the grapes," says Mario Nocifera, co-owner of Lower48 Kitchen, a contemporary American restaurant in Denver. If that's the case, why aren't these countries and their wines better known? Under the iron hand of Soviet rule, agriculture was nationalized. Small commercial and family wineries were consolidated into cooperatives. The Communist Party emphasized quantity over quality, and individual efforts were discouraged. When the Iron Curtain fell some 25 years ago and the Soviet Union dissolved, the former Eastern Bloc countries began the slow process of recovering their wine industries. "For those of us in the wine business, it's exciting, because we are seeing the rebirth of an ancient wine-producing region that had fallen out of any practical production," says Dan Davis. He leads the wine programs at the Commander's Family of Restaurant properties, including Commander's Palace, SoBou and Café Adelaide in New Orleans. "In the Soviet era, wine was just about bulk and egalitarianism; prestige and quality suffered. Those wines are just now coming back into the U.S. market." Politics is a key reason these wines are fi nding their way to America. The former Eastern bloc countries had continued to export the bulk of their wines—80% to 90% —to Russia. But the turmoil in the Ukraine and resulting trade bans have left winemakers scrambling to fi nd new export markets. And many have set their sights on the U.S. GOOD VALUE WINES One key attraction for somms and consumers is the tremendous price/ value equation. "Most Eastern European wines are very moderately priced," says Nicolas Giraud, wine director for the Minneapolis-based restaurant group that includes Brasserie Zentral, Meritage and the Foreign Legion. About 75% of Eastern European wines on Brasserie Zentral's list are priced at $60 and under. "Right now those wines are very good values," Giraud explains. "The land in those regions is much more affordable, so ultimately the wine doesn't cost as much." For the average consumer, these are obscure regions or obscure grapes, "but there is a ton of value," says Brent Kroll, wine director for the Alexandria, VA-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group. The collection of 16 concepts includes Rustico, Churchkey and Birch & Barley. Kroll features a Vino Budimer Rhine riesling "Margus Margi" Zupa from Serbia for $55 at The Partisan. The 2009 vintage spends three years in Serbian oak, notes the somm. "It shows petrol notes and developed fruit with some bottle age, which is a really good value—$12 frontline." In the Chicago market, wholesale prices for quality wines from Eastern Europe start at $12, according to Hon. On Sepia's list, those wines range from $50 to $120, "which is still not overly pricy," he says. Grape & Vine in New York's Jade Hotel carries a 2012 Chateau Burgozone viognier from Bulgaria's Danube Plain, priced at $12 a glass, Brasserie Zentral in Minneapolis offers several Eastern European wines on its list; about 75% are priced at $60 and under. Dan Davis, who leads the wine programs at the Commander's Family of Restaurants in New Orleans, says that the East European producers are exciting for wine professionals "because we are seeing the rebirth of an ancient wine-producing region that had fallen out of any practical production." o $46 a bottle. (For more on Bulgarian wine, see "Bulgarian Rhapsody," January/February 2015.) THE GEEK FACTOR The relative obscurity of these wine regions and the tongue-twisting indigenous varietals can be a plus. As consumers become more knowledgeable about wine, they are often thirsty for new discoveries. Offering these unfamiliar wines can help set restaurants apart. "Eastern European wine is uber geeky," notes Davis. Commander's Palace has 18,000 bottles in the cellar, with 2,700 selections on the wine list. It currently carries just fi ve Hungarian tokaji—rare selections listing at more than $1,000 for a 500-ml.

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