Enthusiast's Corner December 15, 2006 | Wine Enthusiast
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Enthusiast’s Corner December 15, 2006

Restaurants like our award winner have positioned themselves at the forefront of a great trend—introducing diners to new wine experiences.

Have you ever wondered why wines that are virtually impossible to find in your local wine shop often appear on the lists of top restaurants? If you suspect that the owner or beverage director of the restaurant has greater access to a given winery’s allotment than your wine shop owner, you are probably correct. But why does a winery owner prefer to sell to a restaurant, after its faithful subscribers are attended to? The answer is simple. Restaurants provide a showcase for the wineries around the world to help promote and introduce their best wines to fine diners. A listing is like free advertising, brought to the attention of people with the means and sophistication to dine out often. And the wine is associated with a given cuisine, not to mention sociability and good times.

And there is an even more interesting dynamic at play: the dramatic increase in wine-by-the-glass programs at fine clubs and restaurants nationwide. Not only is the number of restaurants that offer these programs increasing, but the number of wines in each venue is also growing, sometimes as many as 10 different wines at a time. By providing wine lovers with the opportunity to sample different varieties at low cost, restaurants have had a major impact on increasing wine consumption.

Introducing wine newbies to the many possibilities of wine is perhaps the first and most important job of educators. Job One is to help people try wine who would normally order a beer or martini. Job Two is to encourage someone who always orders Chardonnay to try Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. Once people become aware of the mind-boggling diversity of the fruit of the vine, they are more willing to experiment. It is by-the-glass programs that encourage this.

And no restaurant group in America has introduced a wine sampling program with the diversity and scope of our “Persons of the Year,” Dave Pickens, president, The Olive Garden Restaurant Group, and his wine team. Olive Gardens nationwide annually offer 5 million free samples of wine per year! Essentially, they are introducing hundreds of thousands of potential emerging wine consumers to their first experience with wine. Not only are these pours provided free of charge, but in many case the pour is from a bottle that might sell for more than $15 in a local retail store. This means that the first taste of wine for some of these new wine consumers is a well-made wine, boding well for a positive experience.

Olive Garden’s commitment to education is visible in the way it treats its customers, but they also have developed an employee education program that is second to none. For an industry with a notorious high level of turnover, this is a major commitment. For these reasons, we are pleased to honor the Olive Garden Restaurant Group as part of our annual Wine Star Awards presentation.

Our Wine Star Awards also honor such well-deserving luminaries as Jess Jackson, the force of nature behind Kendall-Jackson, for lifetime achievement; Bill Harlan, for the consistent excellence of Harlan Estates as our American Winery of the Year; Australia’s Clarendon Hills as New World Winery of the Year, and many others. All of our honorees will attend a gala, black-tie dinner in Manhattan on January 29, 2007, at the New York Public Library. Every year, the Wine Star Awards Dinner is one of the most glamorous and important evenings on the wine world calendar.

Also in this issue Sallie Brady takes a look at high-end cruises that will most appeal to wine lovers—the ships that offer the most vigorous and indepth wine programs on board, as well as the restaurants in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Hawaii and other tropical destinations that have the deepest wine lists. Samara Genee reports the results of this year’s Readers’ Survey. Our thanks to the thousands of readers who responded. Of course we want to find out your likes and dislikes about the magazine, your favorite features, plus your preferences in wine and fine dining. But the true point of our reader’s survey is fun…we like to gather anecdotes, informal comments, complaints and quirks. We consider it a true expression of our readers. It’s an enjoyable survey to fill out, and the results are always fun, too.

At Wine Enthusiast we strongly believe that the fun of wine is in both drinking what you like, but also exploring the vast possibilities that wine has to offer. A by-the-glass restaurant program is just the ticket.