The concept of a restaurant is, first and foremost, a promise made to customers, a commitment towards an experience expected to be beautiful, memorable and unique.
Author: Cristian Preotu
© Adi Popa
© Le Manoir
In this context, each detail, no matter how small, is of utmost importance, as it helps ensure consistency and create an experiential “red thread”. Therefore, the environment, the attitude of the staff, the accessories, the dishes must all complement one another, and the same principle should be, of course, followed by the gastronomical products and the wines – key differentiators, which are extremely valuable both on their own, as well as taken together, as a pair.
Most often, a venue’s personality starts from the gastronomic menu. Owners create thematic restaurants – Mediterranean, French, Italian, local – based on culinary proposals, from the food at which the chef excels. Later, they use wines to showcase the attributes of certain ingredients, to create associations that are more refined or easier to understand, depending on the type of guests they anticipate.
But how does one choose the wines that will make it on a restaurant’s list? How do we select, from such a generous offer, certain regions, varieties, price ranges?
These are questions that I often receive from people in the hospitality industry, and the answer is always somewhat predictable: there is no universal recipe for success, there are no must-have wines to suit every type of guests, menu, geographical region etc. Each restaurant will make an enological selection according to the type of food, the specificity of the place, its attitude and the guests around which everything revolves. It’s a well-known fact, a seafood or fish restaurant will have a predominantly white wines list in the menu, while a steakhouse will list more reds. A less demanding restaurant, such as an Italian trattoria or a French brasserie, will benefit from a wine menu that has a good quality-price ratio. A casual restaurant, with a high turnover, where clients spend little time eating, will have a wider selection of labels served by the glass.
Let’s imagine something, different from the examples above: what would you think, for example, if on the top of the Apuseni Mountains, you would find a fish and seafood restaurant, with a menu that includes shrimp and Norwegian salmon, and serves only one type of sparkling water, brought from over 5,000 kilometers away?
Irrespective of how beautiful the experience created by that property is, there is one argument that invalidates it, taking away from its charm: in that context, the restaurant would be just a props, a reproduction, in an art museum. What people want, instead, are beautiful, natural, authentic experiences, anchored in their very own reality, and, although there are no one-size-fits-all recipes, there are several rules that we may follow, when creating gastro-enological associations.
The simplest option, in my opinion, is when you have a sophisticated gourmet restaurant, that uses high quality local ingredients – such as chanterelle mushrooms, responsibly sourced fish, Mangalitza pork meat etc. – because here you have the opportunity to work with a wine menu, that raises to the same standards – carefully chosen, prestigious labels, which are already validated by renown critics. The options are rich and, if the budget allows it and you have a good sommelier, you may choose from a wide array of fabulous New and Old-World options.
On the other hand, though, the guests’ expectations, when it comes to, let’s say, a restaurant located in the Dealu Mare vineyards will be that it offers an impressive list of wines which represent the region. There is an actual principle respected by enologists and that is to serve gourmet products alongside wines from the same geographical area, to allow the terroir to express itself. This is actually a form of decency and respect towards nature. And how wonderful it is, indeed, to match a bowl of fish soup from the Danube Delta with a glass of wine produced in Dobrogea or truffles collected near Târgu Mureș with wine from Transylvania.
In the same manner that some create subtle, culinary combinations that match beets with horseradish and duck liver with onion confit, there are also adventurous wine and food pairings. For example, if the chef’s specialty is fish cooked in butter, then the wine menu will include a white selection of white, fresh and dry labels, based on Sauvignon, Feteasca and Riesling.
The wine menu choices depend, in my opinion, on the experience you want to deliver, and, if there were some rules about the enological selection, they would be the following:
It is not an evergreen, as it needs to be adjusted seasonally and each time major changes occur.
It should contain wines selected, firstly, by professionals – usually by a sommelier and a chef – but validated by guests.
I hereby advise you to listen to those who enter your restaurant, pay attention to their preferences and put them at the center of all your decisions.
Guest Author: CRISTIAN PREOTU
Cristian is the founder of Le Manoir group, specialized in selling fine wines and gourmet products. Identifying himself with a bi-dimensional Romanian and French culture, and passionate about enology, Cristian has been collaborating, since 2004, with some of world’s most prestigious wine producers.