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Wines You Can’t Find Anywhere Else

When Chicago restaurateurs Billy Lawless and Ryan O’Donnell opened their Southern Italian-inspired restaurant, Coda di Volpe, Beverage Director Jon McDaniel knew what the restaurant needed to stand out: its own wine.

Following months of research, McDaniel secured a crisp, floral wine with notes of stone fruit from Cantina del Taburno in Italy’s Campania region. It is also called Coda di Volpe, and it has been a hit.

“It’s an avenue for us to connect and personalize our concept and talk about why we’re different than other Italian restaurants in town,” says McDaniel.

While having these wines creates a certain mystique that pulls in customers, it also lets Kaner support wineries he loves.

Such partnerships are becoming more common. Adam Petronzio, wine director for Oceana in New York City, worked with Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery to develop Oceana Cuvée, a 60-40 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And, in Los Angeles, sommelier Matthew Kaner introduced an exclusive Pinot Noir he created with Willamette Valley’s Brooks Wine for his two wine bars, Covell and Augustine.

He also features a Super Tuscan that he custom-blended with Fattoria Lornano in Siena, Italy.

While having these wines creates a certain mystique that pulls in customers, it also lets Kaner support wineries he loves.

“I have years of experience with those people,” says Kaner. “They’ve chosen to let my places be an outlet for their wines.”

Many restaurants are creating private labels, some with specific sourcing, like Dallas’ Sixty Vines, which teamed with veteran Sonoma Winemaker Bill Knuttel to create six premium tap wines with grapes from Sonoma vineyards under the restaurant’s Vine Huggers label.

A sample of Sixty Vines' "Vine Huggers" bottlings and creative labeling system
A sample of Sixty Vines’ “Vine Huggers” bottlings and creative labeling system

Kamal Kouiri, wine director at Molyvos in New York City, has built an extensive wine list by seeking out wines that are unlikely to be served anywhere else. He travels to Greece each year to discover small-production wines using little-known indigenous grapes, and has introduced more than 80 hard-to-find wines to his guests.

“It gives winemakers a chance to show their wines,” he says. “It’s like Molyvos is a platform to launch these wines.”

At Coda di Volpe, the restaurant, that advantage is driven home with an occasional complimentary glass of the wine of the same name in lieu of Prosecco. McDaniel says though they don’t produce the wine, “It’s a reflection of who we are and what we’re about.”

“Even though it doesn’t have our name on it, it’s our wine,” he says.