What wine situation is more dispiriting than a restaurant with a static list? People develop relationships with restaurants they enjoy. And with the rare exception of that place whose value to the diner is precisely the fact that he can order and enjoy the same dish every time, that relationship ought to be responsive to change – in a person’s mood and taste, in a planet’s season, in a culture’s idea bank.

The worthwhile restaurant in contemporary society is, in fact, about change. This is what the emphases on season, local production and distribution, conscientious growing practices and technical development spring from. A restaurant today is a restaurant in motion: thoughtful, exciting, creative and integrated if good; gimmicky, scatterbrained, haphazard and derivative if bad.

An establishment priding itself on seasonal shifts, new ingredients, technical mastery or any other barometer of modern excellence which presents a wine list that reflects a petrified perspective, safe thinking, no-brainers and the usual suspects is offensive. A restaurant that does not recognize that wine is food has a broken ankle out of the gate. And, as in the equine world, it ought to be put out of its misery.

(While I’ve got out the pistol of mercy, by the way, I’ll reserve a metaphorical bullet for the majority of restaurant critics, whose ignorance of wine and its significance to food history and culture is excruciating. I’m glad you enjoyed that glass of Malbec/Shiraz/Zinfandel blend with your crab cakes; now go back to high school.)

With cooler weather and a decrease in tourist traffic, conscientious restaurants will shake up their wine lists to keep pace with their changing menus and shifting guest populations, as well as with their own evolving passions. When a restaurant treats wine as a useful expansion of its mission, it is thrilling indeed. As we have moved into autumn, I thought it a good time to check in with the directors of several local restaurants who love wine and strive to convey that love to their customers.

A few of the responses are listed below. These guys are great, and we’re lucky that the food offered where they work (or worked, in the case of Chris Peterman) is great, too. So, forthwith, in their own words lightly edited and condensed, are some of the reasons you should share in their adventures. (The prices listed are suggested retail, not the cost in the restaurants.)

STELLA HERNANDEZ, co-owner of Lolita on Munjoy Hill, is a wonderful taster and true lover of wine. She writes:

“Broglia Gavi La Meirana 2012 ($21). I love this wine from the southeast of the Piedmont region. It isn’t all that common to see it on wine lists, but it’s such a great food wine. The whites of Gavi are made from the Cortese grape, and this one in particular from some very old vines. Broglia’s Gavi is one of the standard bearers of the region. There’s this fabulous acidity and a hint of bitterness – like the kind you find in a raw almond. The bright citrus and aromatic stone-fruit notes make for a beautifully crisp, fresh wine, with a lovely texture. A perfect pairing for fish and shellfish.

“Domaine Couly Dutheil Baronnie Madeleine 2009 ($28). From Chinon in France’s Loire Valley, 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes. I love that this wine is not made every year: When you have it, you know it’s going to be fabulous. This is an elegant wine – it’s round and lush, with lots of red fruit but a savoriness that balances it out – black olives, maybe, and of course that hint of green that’s the tell for Cabernet Franc (it’s totally in check here). It’s a beautifully structured wine – just in balance with enough acidity to make it great with food. Loire reds are so lovely, and this is an excellent example of how gorgeous these wines can be. I love telling people about it because it’s always such a great surprise to those who haven’t tried Loire reds before.

“Eric Texier Brézème Rouge 2012 ($25). This is a biodynamically produced wine from the small Brézème appellation in the center of the Rhone Valley. I love finding little-known appellations and seeing what makes them special. This is whole-cluster-fermented Syrah. (Appel: Whole-cluster means the grapes are not destemmed, which lends structure, tannin and textural complexity to the wine.) It’s powerful wine, beautifully structured with the fabulous acidity I look for in wines from this region and the telltale peppery spice of Syrah. There’s a lot of black fruit and a savory, meaty, smoky quality. I waited several months to get this wine but it was worth it! Fire up the grill and have at it.”

CHRIS PETERMAN is Director at American Sommelier Maine and recently left his job as beverage director at Central Provisions; he now sells wine at Crush Distributors. He’s a totally dedicated wine lover, and he helps run terrific educational programs. Here’s his take:

“With fall in the air I find myself gravitating to certain genres of wines. The first go-to for me is cider, but not the sweet, sugar-filled mass-produced ciders. I mean the dry, funky, unfiltered ciders that have character.

“My favorite right now is Dupont’s Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie ($12). It’s full of funk, like if you close your eyes you’re eating an apple in an orchard next to a working farm. It is also bone-dry with great acidity, and drinks more like a funky sparkling wine than a typical cider. I could not think of a better pairing than rich, creamy, funky cheeses and a bottle of this cider on a cool Maine night.

Chris also wrote to reinforce Stella’s praise for Northern Rhône Syrah. “So commonly overlooked, Northern Rhone Syrah is delightful this time of year. Whether it is floral and more medium-bodied like St Joseph, or masculine and massive like Côte-Rôtie, these Syrahs always deliver. Unlike the more meaty counterparts from Australia, Syrah from this area can be more elegant and feminine, even from the warmer appellations. Savory spice, combined with lavender, violet and dark fruits (sometimes a touch of funk) just screams “fall” to me. I wish they played more of a role on fall wine lists!”

(I WOULD JUST respond that one reason they don’t figure more prominently is price. The Northern Rhône is a small area, not a lot of wine is made there, and little of what is makes it to the United States. So, when it does, ya gotta pay for it. Add to that the fact that these Syrahs are often somewhat intellectual in character, so take a little effort to “get.” But Chris and Stella are right: any effort expended in their direction is rewarded tenfold.)

I received responses from a few other area beveragists, too, so stay tuned for more periodic check-ins.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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