By Jrm

July 12,2016

What to consider when choosing wines for your wine list

JRM met up with Brendon February to get some tips on what to consider when choosing wines for your wine list. And, what to think about when you are matching wine with food.

Brendon has been responsible for the wines and wine lists at some of Sydney’s most well-established restaurants including Otto, Boun Recordo and Aria. Today he works as a Wine consultant for Annandale Cellars and Veno where he consults for private buyers or collectors.

What are the most important things to consider when you are writing a wine list?

The most important aspect is to show varietal character, and range of varietal character for every grape you represent. There is such enormous diversity in what a grape can show, so it’s great to have options. The goal is to keep people excited about drinking wine and change their perception of what different varieties can offer. Value is a huge consideration. You want to show people the best possible example for their money. I think most sommeliers enjoy that part of the service more than anything else. Tailor your wine list to the client base that you have first and foremost. But try to sit on the boundary of satisfying people’s expectation and showing them something new within that.  And I always try to list wines that people can identify characters in. My wine lists are generally crowd pleasing. People go to restaurants for many reasons, regardless of what I’m trying to contribute to their meal I think the best experience is when people feel most comfortable. And to do so I look for the best example at a decent price point.

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So how important is it to have something like a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on a wine list?

That’s not that important to me. You can be arrogant about it but there are good producers in Marlborough. Hans Herzog is a good example of that, his sauvignon blanc taste like a Bordeaux blanc which is extraordinary. If I don’t have a Malborough Sauvignon Blanc on the wine list I will have a wine that reflects that style. Interestingly enough a lot of the Sancerre from 2012-2013 has that Marlborough floral note to it that people can identify and are very happy to drink.

There is so much wine out there, how can you keep on top of it?

When you have tasted for so long, you gain a good overview of who the progressive producers are. They are the guys that you want to keep ‘on top of’ as far as tasting goes. Generally, what they are doing now, the big producers will be doing 5 years down the track. But in short: Just keep tasting as much as you can!

As a sommelier or restaurant manager who is looking to create a wine list, how do you decide what importers and producers to work with?

The wine industry is all about relationships. A lot of the booze that I work with is because of the relationships I have in the industry. It’s important to find someone who understands what you do, and for you to have a good understanding of what they do as well. If you know the producer well enough you can see his personality in the wine, same goes with the suppliers/importers. If you know them well enough you get a good understanding of their taste and their portfolio.

What do you look for when your matching food with wine?

The thing that I get obsessed with now is texture. To gain the textural weight of the dish as well as the textual complexity of the wine. The palate weight of the wine needs to be a bit lighter than the dish to allow the wine to interplay with the dish. You don’t want the wine to be too heavy on the palette for the food. I’ve found wines will generally build weight with food anyway, which is why I tend to look for slightly lighter, more elegant wines when matching with food. Lighter wine will generally have good acidity and tannin structure, which are important factors to consider. A lot my knowledge of food and wine matching I’ve gained throughout years in the industry, through tasting and trying different combinations. In a way, it almost comes instinctively now, but I think the biggest key is to understand the texture of wine.

Texture is not normally something we talk about when we talk about wine.

No, it’s not something a lot of people talk about, but when you point it out to people during tastings they’ll often notice it. A wine that you would sit around and drink socially would generally be more fruit driven whereas the bottle of wine you’ll drink with your meal might not show that until you have it with food. For me nowadays it’s more about food and wine than it is about wine.

What makes a good sommelier?

I don’t think you become a good sommelier until you get over yourself. Knowledge is a very powerful thing and unfortunately when you first start out its easy to become a bit arrogant. It’s not until you get to a point where you understand that providing a service for people is to find out what it is that they want to experience, not necessary what you want them to experience.

How important is it to tell a story?

I think it’s very important. Unless you have a connection to what it is that you’re doing, it kind of gets a bit washed out.  All the wines I work with have a story. A story gives you a better sense of appreciation. Wine and food should be about appreciation. For me, it’s about finding people that have integrity in what they do and promote that integrity. When I taste a great wine, I appreciate the amount of effort that has gone into making that wine.

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Tell us a bit about Biodynamic wines and your view on the effects of the lunar cycle

Biodynamic is all about the vineyard being handled as natural as possible with no external influences or additives involved in the process. In a way it’s like going back to the pagan times. Traditionally wine has always been made this way.  Some vineyards won’t make wine if their vintage is not that good that year, even if they might have a choice to use additives to save that vintage they won’t do it. That why it is so expensive!

All techniques and processes used in the production of biodynamic wines are done with respect to the lunar calendar. Wine is a living ‘thing’ and is affected the same way that all living things are affected by the moon’s cycle. It’s with this knowledge that you can look at the same bottle of wine and see it changing. You can taste differences depending on when you drink it in the cycle. It has happened to me several times. For example, I used to look after a vineyard in Central Otago in New Zeeland.  We were showcasing our wines at a trade show and in the morning both my colleagues and I were amazed of how beautifully the wine presented (and we sold heaps)! When we got back after lunch for the afternoon session, the wine had completely changed and tasted so different. We found out that at midday that day the lunar cycle had changed from a flower day to a root day and consequently changed the appearance of the wine.

So will you organise your tastings around that?

If I see a particular wine change throughout the day or if a wine that I’m very familiar with is not tasting like I expected, I might look it up. The calendar has actually been very accurate on those occasions. The other thing about biodynamic wines is that you can taste the energy in the wine and it’s very unique. The more I work with these kinds of wines and learn about the biodynamic process, I see how the producers are pushing the boundaries of non-manipulation in order to get a higher quality of the wine.  You can taste a huge difference in the quality/style of these wines. And because they are ‘alive’ they change over the time that you drink them.

Do you think that biodynamic wines are easier or harder to match with food?

I actually think they are easier. The biodynamic wines are made in a way where the grape is being showcased on its own. Because there are no additives in the process you can almost taste the surrounding nature and climate. Therefore it’s easier to pair with food that is produced in that same environment.  Lets say you are having lunch at a vineyard in Tuscany for example. You drink their wine and eat their locally produced food, and the combination is amazing because they’re literally made for each other.Brendon sommilier interview with JRM Hospitality I think nowadays a lot of producers make their wines in order to tick boxes for what the general public wants. And in order to satisfy expectations on what we think is ‘great wine’. I like featuring the guys that are not all about just the wine but about the whole experience. A lot of those wines are made naturally and have very natural tannins and acidity which makes it easier to match with food.

If you would like to attend one of Brendon February’s tastings or get in contact with him. Visit www.veno.com.au

Do you want to learn more about Biodynamic wine, click here 

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