The wine world has never been more exciting. With more wine regions from all corners of the world exporting, wine drinkers today are excited to explore less mainstream wine, and don’t want to sacrifice quality for an affordable price.
Most small, independently owned restaurants don’t have the buying power of national chains, which usually translates into smaller wine lists. In addition, each state has its own unique (and sometimes bizarre) liquor laws, meaning that what is imported state to state can vary widely. Unlike national chains that need to have wine lists consistent across the whole country, your seasonal wine list can represent the wines available in your region and can offer some more interesting selections unique to your restaurant.
Wine drinkers today are excited to explore less mainstream wine, and don’t want to sacrifice quality for an affordable price.
Not sure where to start? Read on for an outline to help you curate your restaurant’s small wine list, including a guide to making seasonal changes so your guests will be in for a treat all year long.
What to Include in a Seasonal Wine List
No two restaurants’ wine lists will be the same, but here are some popular ideas to help you start curating your own.
A Fall Wine List for Crisp Nights
Bordeaux may be famous for its expensive reds, but their whites—which make up about 7 percent of the wine produced in the region—should not be overlooked. The majority of white Bordeaux sold tends to be lighter and fruitier, with expressive palates of citrus, lemon, and gooseberry. These wines often contain some of the gold-skinned grape sémillion, which gives it more body and aromatics than a sauvignon blanc from other parts of the world. This added body makes the wine heavy enough to pair with fall dishes.
South African Chenin Blanc
One of South Africa’s signature varietals, this medium-bodied white wine pair perfectly with fall spices and flavors. The wine is often aged in oak, providing a hint of spice on the nose, while the palate maintains a richness and the taste of ripe fruits.
If you’ve been serving a lot of French rosé in summer, try something New World for fall. Look to some of the California wineries making rosé from pinot noir for a glass with medium acidity, light tannins and some minerality.
Growing in the valleys and lower slopes of the Piedmont region of Italy, this easy-to-drink red wine may not be as famous as its Piedmont cousins Barolo and Barbaresco, but it is a solid value and pairs great with food. Lighter bodied, without sacrificing richness of flavor, there are often notes of strawberry and cherry with light tannin and high acidity.
Chilean Pinot Noir
Cool mornings and sunny afternoons make the growing regions of Chile similar to areas of California, making them especially suitable for producing pinot noir. The lighter bodied and smooth Chilean pinot noir is rich with plum and strawberry flavors.
Located about 10 miles from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France, the wine from the region of Gigondas is often considered to be like a mini-Châteauneuf, but slightly more rustic. While true, they are still a wine all their own, with a terroir different enough to make them unique. These wines are often textured and tannic, with a perfumed nose and mineral finish.
Winter Wines for Chilly Days
One of the most versatile wine regions in France for food pairings, Châteauneuf-du-Pape produces a wide array of styles, but all contain some common characteristics. Flavors of cherry and strawberry can be found, as well as spice, black pepper and the earthy qualities of a Rhône wine. These wines pair well with braised dishes, grilled meats and creamy sauces.
As Spanish wine grows in popularity, Spain is exporting more wine from regions like Priorat. Known for its hilly, slate soil, this region produces mostly Garnacha and Cariñena, as well as some international varieties such as Syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Due to the terrain and terroir, these vines have low yields and produce intense and concentrated grapes. These wines pair well with roasted vegetables, hearty meat dishes and flavorful sausages.
There was a time when these wines were all the rage, and then it became just as popular to dismiss them for being too big, too fruity, or too alcoholic. While these adjectives are sometimes well deserved, especially for the big brands, there are still plenty of Australian wineries producing delicious wine with nuance and care. Rich winter dishes can stand up to a bigger wine, and Australia can deliver a big wine without sacrificing integrity.
The Duoro region of Portugal has a long history of wine growing, and is famous as the source of port wine. However, consumers are now starting to appreciate the Duoro for the rich and delicious unfortified wines that also grow there. These wines can be rustic and elegant at the same time, with plenty of fruit and spice flavors, and good acidity. They pair well with hearty foods found in Portuguese cuisine, but also richer seafood dishes.
Red Zinfandel from California
Eighty-five percent of the zinfandel grapes being grown in California may go into the sweet and cloying white zinfandel, but that doesn’t mean that red zinfandel should be at all compared to its pink counterpart. Red zinfandel is bold, with a high acidity, moderate tannins, and a slightly higher alcohol level. Since the flavors tend to be a little peppery, these wines pair well with spicier foods and grilled meats.
A Spring Wine List to Celebrate the End of Winter
While sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is perfect for summer, the French Sancerre has the perfect mix of minerality and brightness perfect for spring. Both elegant and energizing, it pairs nicely with spring vegetables like asparagus and fiddleheads.
A grape that thrives in the northwest corner of Spain, albariño is an ideal pairing for lighter fish dishes. Soft in texture, it combines a bright acidity with a minerality that feels like the sea.
Put those heavily oaked, buttery chardonnays back in the cellar and chill down some Chablis. Chablis manages to combine a pleasant minerality and chalkiness with fruit notes such as white peach or lime.
Spring foods love rosé, so start getting them on your list early. Rather than bright, fruit-forward bottles that work well in summer, try the more restrained and herbal lighter styles, such as those in Provence or other appellations in the south of France.
Spring is a time to give our palates a break from the rich and bold wines of winter and brighten things up with lighter reds, such a Beaujolais. Light in weight without sacrificing any flavor or richness, these are excellent choices for a spring red.
Choose a younger, new world pinot noir for spring. Look to New Zealand, where vitners produce light pinot noirs with bright fruit guaranteed to wake up your palate.
Summer Wines for Sweltering Days
As rosé wines gain popularity, more and more countries are producing varietals. Experimenting with new bottles on your wine list from interesting regions is a great idea, but don’t overlook off the classics from southern France in the process. Rosés from Provence offer light fruit notes, and a citrus acidity that keeps these wines refreshing on the palate. The ability to pair with a variety of food is an added bonus.
New Zealand Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is a classic choice for a summer red. Best served a bit cooler than most reds, these wines are generally light- to medium-bodied and silky in texture. They have relatively higher acidity, which helps them pair well with many types of food.
Hearty reds may not pop into your head when you’re thinking hot nights, but don’t forget all the grilling that happens in the summer. Smoky grilled meats love a good red and you can deliver on that without feeling too heavy or hot. Carménère from Chile work well with barbecues because of a slightly spicy character that compliments the smoke and the fat in the meat.