Major Food Group Branches Out to Boston

Chef Mario Carbone and Major Food Group opened their first Boston restaurant, Contessa, on June 22. It’s located on the rooftop of the historic Newbury Boston hotel in the Back Bay neighborhood, which reopened in May following a restoration process. “The project itself is what inspired us to open here in Boston,” Carbone told Wine Spectator via email. “The opportunity to reinvigorate this heritage property is all the inspiration we needed.” The Italian restaurant joins sibling ventures such as the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning Carbone outposts in New York, Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

The group’s corporate wine director, John Slover, built the wine program with focuses on northern and central Italy. Barolos, Barbarescos and other Nebbiolo bottlings abound on the 500-label list. “We hope to expose our patrons to a well-curated wine list that hones deeply into unique varieties and styles of winemaking that are applied in northern Italy,” said Contessa sommelier Suzana Gjurra. “Tightly paired with the culinary concept, we offer plenty of options outside of Italy.” These include picks from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône and the Loire Valley, as well as Oregon Pinot Noir and California Cabernet.

Executive chef Matt Eckfeld’s menu is packed with Italian classics, including antipasti like varied prosciutti, octopus agrodolce with peppers and Chianina beef carpaccio. Pasta dishes include garganelli with Bolognese sauce and tortellini en brodo, and there are heartier entrées like a dry-aged Fiorentina steak. Contessa is also the first Major Food Group venture to serve pizza. “I’ve led an exciting career that has taken me around the world, tested my mettle as a chef and leader,” Eckfeld said in a statement. “I am ready, and very excited, to put down roots in Boston and immerse myself in the dining community here.”

The restaurant features a retractable glass roof and elements of neo-classical, art deco and mid-century modern design from designer Ken Fulk. Carbone hopes the space will “achieve the laid-back formality of a world-class grand trattoria.” There’s also a private-dining space—entry is via private elevator—with views of Boston Public Garden and the city skyline, where guests are surrounded by the restaurant’s 3,000-bottle wine collection.

Contessa is one of several recent new projects from Major Food Group. The team is also in the process of rebranding the beverage and food programs at the Boca Raton Beach Club in Florida, and will be introducing a new steak house there this summer called the Flamingo Grill.—Collin Dreizen

République Owners Lean into Classic Parisian Bistro Dining with Bicyclette

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Los Angeles–based chefs and restaurateurs Walter and Margarita Manzke opened Bicyclette bistro June 16, less than 5 miles from their Best of Award of Excellence–winning République. Bicyclette is a French eatery, like République, but with a decidedly Parisian focus. The team plans to add a tasting-menu restaurant upstairs by this fall.

“There is definitely something different about a Parisian bistro versus a bistro you might find in Burgundy or Bordeaux,” said wine director Sam Rethmeier. He cites highly traditional cuisine as one of the hallmarks of such bistros, which is reflected on the menu at Bicyclette. “We’re really trying to go back to the classics and execute them as perfectly as possible.”

There are staples such as bouillabaisse, escargots and beef Bourguignon. Only a few menu items stray from the classics, like a yellowfin tuna tartare and a modern twist on coq au vin: Rather than braising the chicken in the sauce, which can dry out the dish, the sauce and roasted chicken are prepared separately and then brought together for optimal tenderness and juiciness.

The opening wine list offers about 60 selections of ready-to-drink wines exclusively from France. While there are a few pricier options from regions like Bordeaux, many of the labels are priced under $100. Rethmeier is also working on an expanded list for the forthcoming upstairs restaurant, which will be available in the bistro as well. He says the restaurant’s menu will likely consist of at least five courses and include more modern interpretations of dishes than the downstairs bistro, which allows more opportunities to play around with the wine selection. Featuring about 500 wines, the list will maintain a French emphasis but also highlight Austria, Germany and California. Pairings will be available for each tasting-menu course.

The aesthetic matches the feel of the wine and food, with bistro-style seating and a patterned tile floor. “It really does look like you’re in Paris, and not in that tchotchke way where you’re trying too hard,” Rethmeier said. “It just has this Parisian sensibility.”—Julie Harans

Table 301 Debuts South Carolina Eatery with French Laundry Alum

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Greenville, S.C., recently welcomed a new restaurant from Table 301, the local hospitality group behind Restaurant Award winners Soby’s and the Lazy Goat. Camp is a collaboration between the group and chef Drew Erickson, a Greenville native who recently left his position at the French Laundry to open the new restaurant.

Erickson’s menu infuses American cuisine with global influences. A variety of small plates like Wagyu corn dogs, crispy mussels with potato and artichoke and a mushroom tartine with Sherry cream sauce are offered alongside larger dishes like roasted lamb chop with golden beets and a Muhammara sauce.

Erickson worked closely with Table 301’s beverage director, Joe Crossan, to build the 87-selection wine list, which Crossan strived to make approachable and food-friendly by focusing on familiar regions and grapes, but through lesser-known bottlings. “I tried to search for unexpectedly delicious wines that pair well with the food and also could be accessible for people on different budgets,” Crossan told Wine Spectator.

The list, which includes 20 labels available by the glass, also features a strong selection of Champagne and sparkling wines. “I love Champagne, and think it is coming into a golden age of quality and value,” said Crossan. “[We are] trying to get it away from a celebration or toast wine and have it be treated like every other wine, to be respected and consumed with food.”

Looking ahead, Crossan has plans to build the wine list up to a level similar to Soby’s 1,350-selection list, by evolving it seasonally, increasing vintage depth and acquiring more allocated wines from producers like Jacques Selosse, Agrapart & Fils and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.—Taylor McBride


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Charity Wine Auctions Raise Millions for Animal Rescue and Texas Kids

Animal lovers and wine collectors banded together once again for the eighth annual Wineapawlooza charity wine auction on June 19. The event, hosted virtually by Napa’s Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, raised $1 million in live bids, a $200,000 increase from last year’s remote event. Auctioneer Fritz Hatton and wine retailer Vanessa Conlin co-hosted the live auction, which included rare wine lots and multi-night stays in Burgundy to help support the nonprofit animal sanctuary.

The live auction brought in 430 viewers from across the U.S. and abroad who helped push the total bids to $1.4 million, just shy of Wineapawlooza co-founder and CEO Monica Stevens’ prediction. The two-hour live broadcast included both live bidding and pre-recorded content from vintners and sponsors who donated rare wines and one-of-a-kind lots.

“As the organization has grown, we have been able to tap into the deep well of generosity and creativity of our auction committee and vintners in order to provide exclusive and unique lots that do a good job of marrying cult wines with once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Stevens said.

The top wine lot was “Take Flight with Screaming Eagle,” which included a double magnum of 1994 Screaming Eagle and 2018 The Flight. The lot sold for $66,000. Other top wine-related lots included a four-night stay at a private home in Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy for $100,000 and a custom-crafted barrel (25 cases) of 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon made by Russell Bevan and Jesse Katz, which also sold for $100,000. The highest-selling lot of the night was “Scarecrow,” which included a dinner prepared by chef Casey Thompson and a double magnum of 2015 Scarecrow Cabernet. It sold twice, for $125,000 each.

Down in Texas

Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction and Dinner also enjoyed a strong 2021 event. The in-person Houston event—consistently one of Wine Spectator‘s top charity auctions—took place on May 8 and raised $2.2 million in live bids to help support Texas youth programs and local education. American rapper and producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson made an appearance with his Champagne label Le Chemin du Roi.

The top wine lot was 1 case of 2014 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus, four 9-liter bottles of the same wine and four belt buckles, which sold for $200,000. Another top wine lot, which sold for $160,000, included a case of Le Chemin du Roi Champagne, four 9-liter bottles of the bubbly and four belt buckles. Another lot featuring a 15-liter bottle of Le Chemin du Roi Brut and a 10-person dinner with Jackson sold twice at $100,000 each. Jackson was also honored with the auction’s Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show award.

“When they told me I won, I almost fainted. I was really excited,” said Jackson in a statement. “I’m very proud of this.”

“We were thrilled to have Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson support the 2021 Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction in such a big way,” Rodeo president and CEO Chris Boleman told Wine Spectator via email. “With his award-winning wine selling for $160,000, coupled with his Champagne and dinner packages that sold for $100,000 each, he helped us raise $360,000, which is extraordinary. These dollars will help the Rodeo fund scholarships for Texas youth and we are so honored that he could play a role in that.”


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Changes Afoot in Chianti Classico

On a gorgeous Tuscan summer day, Chianti Classico can look like a sleepy region resting on its history, but the region’s wine producers have been moving forward with major developments.

The assembly of the Consorzio Chianti Classico, the official alliance of wineries, voted earlier this month on two important issues for the region. It agreed to formally recognize 11 subzones of Chianti Classico, known as Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (“Additional Geographical Units”), or UGAs. Members also voted to stiffen the rules of wines in the Gran Selezione category. Wines in that elite category must now contain 90 percent Sangiovese, with the remaining grape varieties traditional to the region.

“The assembly voted with 90 percent the introduction of the UGA, and I didn’t do anything special to convince them,” consorzio president Giovanni Manetti told Wine Spectator. “They are all increasingly aware that ‘the territory makes the difference’ and that we had to reinforce the relationship between the wine and the specific piece of land giving birth to it. Quality is not only satisfaction for the palate but also uniqueness, and the territory is the production factor that mostly provides it.”

As consumers become increasingly interested in the wines’ vineyard origins, the modifications highlight the region’s unique terroirs. The names of the 11 subzones will also be added to the labels. They are: Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli.

Chianti Classico’s producers have long debated whether it is better to offer straightforward labeling or highlight the historic region’s distinct terroirs. The UGA decision definitely moves toward the latter.

In formalizing the UGAs on the labels, some regions, such as Castellina, Gaiole and Radda, will keep the same boundaries as in recent years. Others have been modified: The former Castelnuovo Berardenga has been carved in two, its western half now called Vagliagli. Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavernelle have been combined in San Donato in Poggio. Greve has seen the largest modifications, split into four UGAs: Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle and Panzano.

Chianti’s new map

The new zones showcase the different terroirs of Chianti Classico, which offers multiple altitudes and soils. (Courtesy Chianti Classico Consorzio)

Initially, the UGAs will only appear on the labels of Gran Selezione bottlings, the region’s highest-quality wines, representing about 5 percent of the wines produced each vintage. The goal is to extend the UGA concept to the Chianti Classico and riserva wines over the next four years.

“We planned to start with the Gran Selezione because it has to be integralmente prodotto e imbottigliato (estate grown and bottled) and also because it is the category with higher positioning in the market,” said Manetti.

The other approved proposal eliminates the use of international grape varieties in any blend of Gran Selezione. It also increases the proportion of Sangiovese to a minimum of 90 percent, while the requirement for estate-grown grapes remains unchanged.


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Wine Spectator Reveals 2021 Restaurant Award Winners

Restaurants were put to the test this year. Many were forced to pivot, reinvent or reimagine their business entirely. Some were unable to endure. But the owners of those who did are now grateful for the opportunity to do what they do best again: offer great food, wine and memories.

Despite the challenges, more than 2,900 restaurants have earned Restaurant Awards from Wine Spectator in 2021. Winners represent all 50 states and 72 countries and territories. The awards are given across three categories: Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence and Grand Award.

“Winning a Restaurant Award from Wine Spectator means that you are in the company of the world’s greatest beverage programs,” said Zachary Kameron, wine director of new Best of Award of Excellence winner Peak in New York. “For me personally, it means validation for all of the overnights, marathon stocking sessions, tirelessly poring over distributor inventories and offerings, and all of the other efforts that go into putting a wine program together.”

The Award of Excellence is given to restaurants with thoughtfully chosen selections appropriate for the cuisine and representative of a range of regions and styles. These lists can vary in size but typically offer 90 options or more. This year 1,673 restaurants earned the Award of Excellence.

The Best of Award of Excellence recognizes wine programs that go a step further. These lists are usually 300 selections or more and offer both vintage depth and regional breadth, with most wine territories represented. A total of 1,141 restaurants achieved the Best of Award of Excellence in 2021.

The Grand Award is the program’s highest honor, recognizing world-class wine lists. This award is presented to restaurants that show the utmost dedication to the quality of their wine program. Typically, with 1,000 or more selections, these lists showcase immense depth and breadth of regions, producers, vintages and bottle formats. On top of impeccable presentation and service, all Grand Award winners must also pass a rigorous inspection of their restaurants, including the wine cellars.

Wine Spectator is pleased to award three new restaurants with our Grand Award this year: Brennan’s in New Orleans, Le Bernardin in New York and SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, Calif.

Read the full profiles of them in WineSpectator.com’s Restaurants section, or in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator, available on newsstands July 13.

Discover more great places to dine by going to WineSpectator.com’s free Restaurant Search tool, which features all of Wine Spectator‘s 2021 Restaurant Award winners in a database searchable by location, cuisine type, wine strengths, pricing and award level. To access restaurant recommendations on the go, try Wine Spectator‘s Restaurant Awards app, available free in the App Store. All award winners are featured in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator.

Throughout the year, keep on top of restaurant-related news and trends and learn more about the Restaurant Award winners in Q&As with leading sommeliers, chefs and restaurateurs, as well as in roundups of exciting restaurants in different categories, from restaurants with value-priced wine lists to bucket-list destinations. Sign up for our free Private Guide to Dining email newsletter so you don’t miss the latest in restaurant news.

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Delicato Family Wines Acquires Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Delicato Family Wines, which has quietly become one of the fastest-growing wine companies in California, is now adding the sizable Francis Ford Coppola Winery portfolio. The company announced today that it is acquiring the wines and brand names of Francis Ford Coppola Winery, including the Diamond Collection, Director’s Cut and Sofia, as well as the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Virginia Dare Winery facilities and the Archimedes Vineyard, all located in Sonoma.

The Coppola family will continue to own and operate Inglenook in Napa Valley and Domaine de Broglie, the Oregon Pinot Noir property they purchased in 2018.

No purchase price was disclosed. The parties expect the transaction to be completed within a month. Until the purchase is final, Delicato staffers say details about future plans for the brands and properties will not be disclosed. In a statement, CEO Chris Indelicato said, “There is a strong cultural fit between our two companies, and by combining two highly complementary portfolios, we create a more diversified winery.”

The Indelicato family has been in California wine for four generations, first planting vineyards in Manteca in 1924, and has grown to total sales of more than 16 million cases a year. Their diverse portfolio includes California brands Gnarly Head, Noble Vines, Z. Alexander Brown and Black Stallion. Their fine wine sales and marketing portfolio includes partnerships with Australia’s Torbreck Vintners and Chile’s Casa Real and Triple C, among others.

Delicato is perhaps best known for the boxed wine powerhouse Bota Box, which grew sales by 41 percent in the last year, to 11.3 million cases, and nearly doubled in size during the past three years, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator .

Filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola first entered the wine industry in the mid 1970s, when they purchased a part of Napa’s Inglenook winery in Rutherford, piecing back together the historic property over decades and buying back its name. The Coppolas’ wine interests moved in two directions simultaneously: They developed both the Napa heritage property and its high-end wines and their higher-volume, value-priced brands and tourist destinations in Sonoma.

Francis cemented his presence in Sonoma in 2006 when he bought the former Chateau Souverain winery and established operations there. In 2015, he purchased the old Geyser Peak winery in Geyserville, setting up the brand Virginia Dare there. He also established brands such as Sofia, Pool House, Archimedes, Diamond Collection, Lost Colony, Pitagora, Mamarella, Rosso & Bianco and Roanoke. All of these brand names, including his interests in spirits and cider, are included in the sale.

With Inglenook and Domaine de Broglie not included in the sale, it’s safe to assume Coppola will focus his efforts on his premium wine operations. He will also join Delicato’s board of directors, and winemaker Corey Beck will join Delicato’s executive leadership team as executive vice president of production and chief winemaker. Coppola is also reported to have acquired an equity stake in Delicato as part of the deal.

“Over my lifetime, Coppola has become a household name across America,” said the vintner, in a statement. “What started as a dream to buy a family cottage in Napa Valley has turned into a million-plus case business producing iconic award-winning wines.”


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Grand Award Winner Eleven Madison Park Returns with Plant-Based Menu

More than a year after shutting its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Eleven Madison Park has reopened. The New York destination typically debuts new menus every season, but this one comes with a twist: As of June 10, the restaurant is the first Grand Award winner to offer exclusively plant-based cuisine.

Chef-owner Daniel Humm says that the shift was inspired by a desire to forge a more sustainable footprint and strengthen the team’s creativity and bonds with local farmers. “Every dish is made from vegetables, both from the earth and the sea, as well as fruits, legumes, fungi, grains and so much more,” Humm said in a statement. “We’ve been working tirelessly to immerse ourselves in this cuisine. It’s been an incredible journey, a time of so much learning.” The restaurant is not entirely vegan, though; milk products and honey will be available with coffee and tea service.

The 5,000-selection wine list backed by a 22,000-bottle cellar will largely stay the same. “Our desire to serve an entirely plant-based menu is largely a creative decision based on the ingredients that we find inspiring at this level of dining,” wine director Watson Brown told Wine Spectator via email. “That concern does not extend to the use of animal products in wine, which are primarily used in an optional process called fining. Some of the producers on our list may fine, many others do not. As we are not a vegan restaurant, we will not be adjusting the wine program in this way.”

[article-img-container][src=2021-06/tt_empb061721_1600.jpg] [credit= (Evan Sung)] [alt= Sweet pepper with swiss chard at Eleven Madison Park ][end: article-img-container]

Still, the menu change offers an exciting opportunity to reconsider the wine list and how it pairs with Humm’s food. “There seems to be this [misconception] in the wine world that certain styles of wine (red wine specifically) can only be served with red meat, and that those producers are not the ones focused on sustainability,” Brown continued. “These wines work well with meat because it is roasted, grilled, smoked, etc., not inherently because it is meat. Similarly, the producers we champion on our list work to ensure the highest quality fruit for their wines, which means paying attention to the ecosystem of their vineyards.”

While the tasting menu will retain its fine-dining price tag, a portion of the proceeds will support the restaurant’s continued efforts to deliver free meals to hungry residents across New York City. Since the start of the pandemic, the restaurant’s food truck has worked in collaboration with Rethink Food to provide nearly 1 million meals to those in need around the city. “It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community,” Humm notes. “A restaurant experience is about more than what’s on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet.”—Taylor McBride

Michael Mina’s RN74 Seattle Closes Permanently

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The Seattle outpost of chef Michael Mina’s RN74 announced this month that it will not reopen following its 2020 closure in response to the pandemic. This ends a long run for the RN74 concept; the original location in San Francisco opened in 2009 and held a Grand Award until it closed in fall 2017.

In Seattle, the wine program had consistently earned a Best of Award of Excellence since 2012. The list was overseen by wine director Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, who built the selection count to nearly 2,500 labels. The substantial list showed off numerous regional strengths, excelling in Burgundy but also offering an impressive range of selections from Bordeaux, the Rhône and Champagne, as well as Washington and Oregon. Chef Shawn Applin ran the kitchen, serving French-influenced steak-house fare.

The space itself will live on, though, as Mina’s restaurant group plans to replace RN74 with a Bourbon Steak this fall. The chain is one of several Restaurant Award–winning ventures from the group, along with Margeaux Brasserie in Chicago, Michael Mina in Las Vegas and San Francisco and three locations of Stripsteak.—Julie Harans

Girl & the Goat Coming to Los Angeles

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Chef Stephanie Izard is bringing her Award of Excellence–winning Girl & the Goat to Los Angeles’ Arts District in mid-July. With similar cuisine to the original farm-driven restaurant in Chicago, this is the latest addition to Boka Restaurant Group, which includes Award of Excellence winner Boka and Best of Award of Excellence winner Swift & Sons. “We originally announced Girl & the Goat [Los Angeles] in 2019, but waited to open until we felt we could safely do so,” said Izard via email. “Our space and team have been ready to go for a while and we’re so excited to open our doors.”

Overseen by wine director Ken Fredrickson, the 80-label wine list offers a mix of California and other regions around the world including France and Oregon. An 18-label by-the-glass list is also available. “[It’s] bold and globally influenced, while approachable with a sense of fun,” Izard said. Much of the focus is on sustainably and organically made wines, with particular emphasis on smaller wineries. Chillable reds and low-alcohol wines are also featured.

“This is an international list with some thoughtful areas of emphasis,” Izard said. “Respect for the ‘new California’ movement, a desire to promote wines that are made from truly biodiverse farms and, perhaps most important, a user-friendly philosophy.”

Multiple menu items have been carried over from the original location, including wood-grilled broccoli, goat empanadas and pan-roasted halibut with blueberry–nuoc cham sauce. Guests can also expect new dishes that highlight Californian ingredients, like Vietnamese sausage over french fries, carrot-tahini dip with tahini tofu and curried goat with radishes, pickled vegetables and masa chips.

Girl & the Goat will open in the new At Mateo complex with both indoor and outdoor seating. Izard describes the casual space as “timeless and familiar, with an air of ‘come as you are.’” This includes plenty of plants, bright colors and high ceilings. Izard said she settled on the location once she discovered the Arts District had a similar atmosphere to Chicago’s West Loop area, where the original restaurant is located.—Collin Dreizen


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Wine Spectator’s 40th Annual New York Wine Experience Is Sold Out

Wine lovers may have had to wait an additional year to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience, with the event canceled last year due to the pandemic, but if ticket sales for this fall’s Wine Experience are any indication, they’re intent on making up for lost time.

Tickets for the 40th Annual New York Wine Experience went on sale June 2, and full weekend packages have already sold out. The wine world’s signature event will be held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square from Oct. 21–23. Attendance will be limited this year to ensure maximum safety for all attendees. Vaccination or negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event is required.

“I am both pleased and very surprised that the 40th Anniversary edition of the New York Wine Experience has sold out in the first two weeks of ticket sales,” said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator. “We are limiting attendance due to the pandemic, but we have established a waitlist in the event that we’re able to increase occupancy for the Wine Experience in the weeks and months ahead.”

The blockbuster program for this year’s Wine Experience features a host of wine world superstars who have graced the event’s stage over its four-decade history. Among those presenting their wines and telling their stories are:

• Piero Antinori, Marchesi Antinori, Italy
• Jon Bon Jovi and Jesse Bongiovi, Hampton Water, France
• Angelo Gaja and his children, Gaja, Italy
• Bill Harlan and Will Harlan, Harlan Estate, California
• Cristie Kerr, Kerr Cellars, California
• Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Château Haut-Brion, France
• Trudie Styler and Sting, Il Palagio, Italy
• Chuck Wagner, Caymus, California

The program for the Wine Experience’s Friday and Saturday seminars also includes the world premiere of Shanken’s interview with wine legend Ernest Gallo on the occasion of his 90th birthday; a vertical tasting of Château Margaux led by owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos; the ever-popular Chefs’ Challenge featuring José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse, Danny Meyer and Eric Ripert; as well as a celebration of California Cabernet Sauvignon; and of course a tasting of Wine Spectator‘s Top 10 Wines of 2020 and Top 3 of 2019, led by the magazine’s editors.

While there will be no Grand Award Banquet this year, Wine Spectator will present its Distinguished Service Award to chef, entrepreneur and humanitarian José Andrés, as well as its annual Grand Awards for the restaurant industry.

Those interested in joining the festivities can visit www.nywineexperience.com to join the waiting list for full weekend packages, for which more tickets may become available. Limited tickets for the Critics’ Choice Grand Tastings the evenings of Oct. 21 and Oct. 22 will go on sale later this summer.

The event is hosted by the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which has funded over $20 million in scholarships to a number of leading institutions in the wine and hospitality industries, such as University of California, Davis, with over 800 scholarships funded, and Sonoma State University with its Wine Spectator Learning Center. The Foundation also recently donated $250,000 to World Central Kitchen, the charitable organization led by chef José Andrés. An additional announcement regarding upcoming donations and scholarships is scheduled for this fall.

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The Future Is ‘Collective’ for Napa Valley Vintners

Last year, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association announced the discontinuation of Auction Napa Valley, one of the nation’s premier charity wine auctions. Today NVV announced that the nonprofit association’s fundraising efforts will become a year-round program, called Collective Napa Valley, with a series of seasonal, multifaceted events both in and out of Napa.

“By moving to this more fluid structure, we will be able to more easily adapt and evolve,” explained Linda Reiff, president and CEO of NVV. “We will be able to be a lot more nimble with what we’re doing. We will have a lot more fun, quite frankly, and not be tied to one tradition of one event on one weekend.”

Auction Napa Valley (née Napa Valley Wine Auction) was founded in 1981 by a group of vintners, including Robert and Margrit Mondavi. For nearly 40 years, the anticipated events of the fundraising weekend culminated in a live auction at Meadowood Resort, where rare lots of high-priced wines, fantasy vacations, jewelry and tickets to exclusive experiences at the Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl were auctioned off for tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cumulative proceeds from the event topped $200 million and were distributed to dozens of local nonprofits in the areas of community health and children’s education.

The 2020 and 2021 Auction Napa Valley events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Meadowood Resort sustained extensive damage caused by the 2020 wine-country wildfires. But Jack Bittner, managing partner at Ovid and chair of NVV’s board of directors, explained that the conversations about changing the auction format started eight or nine years ago.

“There was just a general feeling that we always fell back to one sort of format, this one construct,” said Bittner. “The pause in the last year gave the group a chance to discuss different ideas and concepts. It was really a let’s-throw-out-the-rulebook discussion, where everything was possible.”

Blakesley Chappellet, co-leader of the Auction Napa Valley reimagining committee, said that one of the themes of the conversations about retooling the event was “inclusion.” Auction events were both expensive and typically sold out quickly. There was a years-long waiting list even for local volunteers.

“How do we engage more people, and not be—for lack of a better word—an elitist weekend?” asked Chappellet. “We realized that what we were doing had become intimidating for a lot of people. We wanted to expand our base, and we wanted to be significantly more inclusive of wineries, of wine collectors, of Napa Valley fans, and to create these seasonal campaigns that would allow more people to have great experiences in Napa Valley outside of just that one weekend.”

For now, the NVV plans to keep an anchoring event scheduled for the first weekend of June 2022, called the Napa Valley Futures Auction. The event will continue the tradition of the barrel auction formerly held during Auction Napa Valley. The team insists that despite the changing format, the focus on fundraising remains at the core of their events. “[Auction Napa Valley] has been this extraordinary engine for local philanthropy,” explains Bittner. “Essentially what we’re doing is creating a new engine.”


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Farm Purchase Marks Major Expansion for Sonoma’s SingleThread

A 5-acre plot along California’s Russian River has been the backbone and heart of SingleThread Farms inn and restaurant in Healdsburg since 2014. Now husband-and-wife owners Kyle and Katina Connaughton are expanding their passion-driven project by relocating farming operations from Alexander Valley to a much larger property in Dry Creek Valley.

“We will have the opportunity to significantly increase our footprint in sustainability, strengthen food security and bring more biodiversity to a predominantly grapegrowing region,” Katina, who manages the farm, told Wine Spectator via email. A partnership with Price Family Vineyards owner and SingleThread investor Bill Price, the purchase of the 24-acre farm site was announced earlier this month. Katina and her team have already gotten to work.

Added space means the farm can implement even more eco-friendly practices, like using animals for land management and planting greenery that supports birds, insects and other wildlife. Katina can also now produce a greater quantity of ingredients while introducing new offerings to SingleThread’s rotation, like mushrooms. And the Connaughtons have plans to add features like a floral design studio, retail sales and educational workshops with experts in food and farming.

Because the restaurant is so closely tied to the farm, guests can naturally expect more diverse ingredients on the seasonal menus. But in addition to supplying their own needs, the team will also use the site to expand their ongoing meal-donation efforts in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with help from local organizations Sonoma Family Meal and Farm to Pantry.

Due to pandemic-related dining restrictions, SingleThread is currently serving guests at a rooftop wine bar and through a pop-up outdoor dinner series in collaboration with Kistler that’s planned through the end of November, but may be extended.

The original Alexander Valley site is now owned by a new team, and though it’s emotional to let it go, Katina has full faith in its future. “We are very fortunate in the fact that we are leaving our current 5-acre farm in the hands of thoughtful chefs and farmers,” she said. “We have put so much love and energy into the land.”—Julie Harans

D.C.’s 1789 Restaurant Reopens with New Chef

Chef Kyoo Eom; New Zealand King Salmon from 1789 Restaurant

The dishes on 1789 Restaurant’s new menu are carefully sourced and carefully plated, like this swiss chard–wrapped salmon with crispy shallots and smoked sea salt. (Courtesy of Clyde’s Restaurant Group)

After shutting its doors mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions, Award of Excellence winner 1789 Restaurant in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood reopened Nov. 6 with a new leader in the kitchen, chef Kyoo Eom. Previously chef at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco’s Dirty Habit, Eom is now part of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which owns three other Award of Excellence winners: Clyde’s of Georgetown, Old Ebbitt Grill and the Hamilton. “I’m excited to join 1789,” Eom told Wine Spectator via email. “2020 has been a rough year, and it is more important than ever to surround yourself with the right people.”

His menu draws from French influences and techniques, with hints of contemporary American and Asian cuisines. The result is dishes like kombu-cured salmon, Wagyu tartare, grilled Spanish octopus and roasted duck breast. These join a new cocktail program and beverage director Brian Zipin’s 250-label wine list, which now features an enhanced focus on French regions.

Three of the restaurant’s dining rooms have reopened so far, with 1789’s bar, the Club Room, slated to return in December, followed by private spaces in early 2021. The Club Room will feature a separate menu that includes Eom’s lamb sliders, as well as a charcuterie program with offerings of lamb porchetta and house-cured duck prosciutto.

The restaurant has also started a weekly sale of fresh baked goods from pastry chef Shari Maciejewski, plus wines from its cellar, including rarer bottles. And 1789 is now open for Sunday brunch for the first time in at least 40 years. “With extraordinary safety measures in place, we created an inviting space for a memorable dining experience,” said Eom, “The pandemic hasn’t stopped life’s milestones, and we’re excited to be here to help people celebrate safely.”—Collin Dreizen

Hakkasan Closes in New York

Hakkasan’s steamed dim sum

Hakkasan’s restaurants are known for serving Chinese staples like dim sum. (Courtesy of Hakkasan Group)

Hakkasan Group, the company behind the Restaurant Award–winning Hakkasan chain, has permanently shuttered its New York location. The group is known for serving Cantonese cuisine with a superior wine focus in glamorous settings at its international outposts, which include Best of Award of Excellence winners in Las Vegas and Miami, plus an Award of Excellence winner in Dubai.

The New York Hakkasan held a Best of Award of Excellence for a wine list managed by wine director Gabor Foth. The program was particularly strong in selections from France, California and Italy. The news comes after the group quietly closed its Best of Award of Excellence–winning San Francisco location in May, reducing U.S. operations to Miami and Las Vegas. Foth also managed the list in San Francisco, which stood at 600 selections and excelled in France and California.—Taylor McBride


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As Shutdowns Return, Restaurants Grapple with the New, New Normal

For restaurateurs in cities across the U.S., winter is arriving early. After a trying year of pandemic shutdowns followed by a dance of takeout, outdoor service and limited indoor service, the industry is looking at shutdowns again as COVID-19 cases spike throughout the nation.

“I was and am extremely concerned for our restaurant community,” said Rachael Lowe, beverage director at Spiaggia, Chicago’s famed Italian eatery. “To closely experience the myriad emotions our hourly employees are experiencing with the constant state of upheaval, closures, reopenings and then closing again, it’s really devastating. So many people are not only without work, but now faced with decisions they might have never considered, such as another career path.”

Local governments are reinstituting measures—including a halt on indoor dining—in an effort to help control the spread of the virus. Chicago banned indoor dining Oct. 30 and San Francisco followed suit Nov. 14. Today, new shutdown rules went into effect for indoor dining at restaurants and bars in Michigan and Oregon. New York, New Jersey and Minnesota have implemented 10 p.m. curfews for restaurants.

Restaurateurs that have survived the pandemic thus far are worried that their already-struggling businesses won’t make it through the winter. According to Lowe, many former employees are either living off of their savings or unemployment checks with no stimulus support in sight.

Dining outdoors in winter?

Chicago was the first city to halt indoor dining for a second time. The safety measure went into effect Oct. 30 when the city’s COVID-19 infection rate reached 7.7 percent. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Nov. 13 that 1 in 18 Chicagoans have active COVID-19 cases. Still, the measure took some in the restaurant industry by surprise.

“It was absolutely devastating,” says Adam Sweders, wine director of Dineamic, a local restaurant group. “While we were expecting reduced capacity, we were shocked about the complete closure indoors.”

The city first allowed outdoor dining to return in early June, followed by indoor dining in late June, which was capped at a 25 percent capacity limit. On Oct. 1, the capacity limit increased to 40 percent.

According to Sweders, indoor dining, despite the reduced capacity, helped keep his restaurants afloat. “We had a clear change in our business model but were doing enough to keep the lights on and folks employed. We lost the weekly business clientele and corporate cards, but gained a lot of new clientele on the weekends we hadn’t really experienced before. The lack of conventions and private events also proved to be devastating, as those are both huge avenues of business for Chicago restaurants.”

Earlier this week, the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group, which has 40 locations in Chicago, announced that it would lay off more than 1,000 employees by the end of the year. The employees had been on furlough since March. 

At Spiaggia, Lowe reports that indoor dining was doing well at the restaurant. “When we reopened for indoor dining, even at a limited capacity of 25 percent, I found that those who came out still chose to spend money on wine,” she said. “We definitely hit our stride about a month into reopening, where we would hit our maximum covers, based on city guidelines, on Fridays and Saturdays.”

With Chicago’s halt on indoor dining, Lowe said that Spiaggia will have to focus on takeout and delivery and other creative measures such as virtual events. Because Spiaggia is located on the second floor of a corner high-rise, outdoor dining isn’t an option.

But even for restaurants that have been able to set up outdoor dining venues, the concern surrounding Chicago’s cold weather grows by the day. “Currently, we have four restaurants [with seating] tented, covered and heated outdoors,” said Sweders. He adds that outdoor dining is very busy at his “tented” restaurants, which regularly experience three full turns on the weekends. “It’s actually quite pleasant, even if it’s 40° outside, but come January, when the temperature sinks to single digits and the wind starts blowing, I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”

Tonya Pitts

Tonya Pitts, wine director at One Market in San Francisco, says the restaurant opted not to reopen when restrictions lifted. (Photo by Sarahbeth Maney)

Mixed Feelings

San Francisco halted indoor dining only six weeks after indoor dining resumed with a 25 percent capacity. The decision was made after Mayor London Breed announced Nov. 10 that COVID-19 cases in San Francisco had increased by 250 percent in the past month. The new shutdown has sparked mixed responses.

“In truth, I wish we had more coordinated and advanced notice from the city, or at least a coordinated set of standards that we could navigate by,” said Andrew Green, wine and spirits director for Bacchus Management Group. “It’s very challenging to make business decisions like staffing, purchasing or investing, when you aren’t told what the rules are.”

For Green and his team, which oversee several restaurants including the Village Pub in Woodside and Spruce in San Francisco, it’s been about doing whatever it takes so support their restaurants and employees.

“The pandemic has had an enormous financial impact, but really our focus has been to ensure our employees are supported to the best of our ability,” said Green. “We’ve set up employee relief funds, we pivoted our restaurants to offer more robust takeout menus, we’ve built outdoor dining rooms, and have found alternative job placements within our other restaurants where we could.”

Others in the city’s restaurant industry were not too surprised by the indoor dining pause and even supported it. “Personally,” said Gianpaolo Paterlini, wine director at Acquerello, “and I must emphasize personally because not everyone at Acquerello feels the same, I do not think indoor dining should resume anywhere until there is a vaccine. So I disagreed with San Francisco allowing it, and now I agree with them rolling it back.”

According to Paterlini, the Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant never reopened for indoor or outdoor dining. Instead, they have been relying on takeout and delivery since April, which has “been very successful.” Even wine sales have been strong. “We have been offering a small selection of bottles and a suggested bottle pairing to go with our weekly menu, and we launched a curated retail operation called Acquerello Wine Experiences,” said Paterlini.

Tonya Pitts, wine director of San Francisco’s One Market, says they also didn’t reopen for either indoor or outdoor dining because of the threat of a second wave. “We just felt there was still too much uncertainty surrounding containment and knew based on the information coming from the [Centers for Disease Control] and the state and city that there was a strong chance of another winter wave,” said Pitts. “We didn’t want to reopen just to have to close again. That would have been really difficult for us, but even more so for our staff.”

Acquerello’s fortunate and maybe even enviable position has enabled the restaurant to support its employees during this uncertain time, “We hired a few [employees back] for takeout, and we have been covering every employee’s health insurance, including those who have yet to come back to work, since the lockdown started. I’m sure not having to stress about that is a big relief.”

For restaurateurs across the country, the welfare of their employees, current and former, is their biggest concern. “Honestly, I fear things may get quite bad,” said Sweders. “I’ve seen great people lose their jobs and take other ones in construction, retail, driving for Uber, etc. I’ve seen other people start to abuse drugs and alcohol. I’ve seen depression and anxiety like never before.”

“I fear the worst is not over,” he added. “And I pray every day for all my employees and colleagues. Please hang in there. Call a friend. Call a family member. We need each other to get through this, and we need positive people to lead the way. As I’ve been telling everyone: It’s not forever, it’s just not today.”

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