February 17, 2013

Author Q & A: Go ahead wine

In 'Wine Maniacs,' Layne Witherell pulls 30 years of advice and adventures out of the many hats he's worn in the industry.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Layne Witherell

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• Longfellow Books, One Monument Way, Portland, 7 p.m. March 7; 772-4045

• Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, noon, May 10; 871-1700

• Graves Memorial Library, 18 Maine St., Kennebunkport, 2 p.m. May 19; 967-2778

A: We've got a thing that we do. My wife pulls them all up on (the computer). I research what the wines are -- what the price is, is it with gratuity, is it with tax? What is it going to cost me? Is the aesthetic experience going to be worth this? Is this going to be something I'm not going to see again? Is this better than going out to a restaurant on a Tuesday night?


Q: Do you think it's better when the actual vintner is there?

A: Sometimes. Sometimes they get preachy. Having been a reporter and gotten to interview these people -- Robert Mondavi, (Angelo) Gaja -- you know how that works. that's the top. That's as good as it gets. You're going to get a little speech from the vintner. You're going to kind of get to touch the hem of the great person. There was a great wine maker in town not long ago, and I read an interview with this person, and I got more out of the interview than if I had been at the dinner.


Q: You say in the book that the trend in restaurants is away from quirky, fascinating wine lists and toward a more corporate list. Portland has a lot of chef-owned restaurants. How do you find the wine lists here? Interesting?

A: I think some of (the wine lists) are interesting. I think they're overpriced. I'd love to see a BYOB once a month where we can go in -- and I'll leave a good tip, I'll make it worth your while -- but I'll bring in something interesting. There's huge consolidation in the wine business now. The numbers are really staggering.

Twenty percent of the wineries in the U.S. control 80 percent of the business. Whether you want it or not, as an independently chef-owned restaurant, you're going to see more corporate wine lists.

When I did my second edition of this (book), I interviewed one of the real bright people in this business, and that person said if we can only get each of these restaurants to bring in one additional vendor and write one additional check. Bring in a little guy. Bring in someone you've never seen or heard of before and say, "Look, why don't you put five wines on my list, or why don't you do a table tent?"

That's how we built wine in Oregon. Those restaurants weren't going to put an Oregon wine on their list. We did it a table tent at a time. I think convincing the restaurateur to write an additional check to one more vendor is going to show you a path to greatness for your wine list.


Q: Any favorite wine lists in Portland restaurants?

A: We were at Petite Jacqueline the other night, and I liked the prices, I liked the way the wines paired with the foods. We had a wine with each course and wines with dessert, and it was quintessential. It just was seamless. I like that seamless pairing. We wound up having just a splendid dinner, and a lot of it had to do with the prices that were reasonable on the wines. Great wines, reasonable prices, and they paired with the food. I was thrilled. We went out with friends of ours who are into wine, and they were dazzled. So I think that's a good example.

For Valentine's, we're going to our French "Cheers." It's our favorite little place: The Merry Table.


Q: How's their wine list?

A: He needs work. (Laughs.) It's getting better, but it needs work.

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