Mary and I just returned from New York where we traveled for the New York Now Gift Show. This is one of two trips a year Mary makes to purchase for the shop. New York is one of the shows I typically join her for. My contributions to the stunning collection she puts together for the shop are minimal, save for the occasional “tie-breaker” vote or small suggestion. New York though offers a great chance to peak into the newest trends in the wine world and to see wine customers we have there. That is why I tag along most times.
We had a great trip with several fabulous meals, and a wonderful chance to try many new wines, presented in new and extraordinary ways. The one observation that was both thrilling to experience, and sad to note though was how far North Idaho restaurants have to go. With a few notable exceptions like Fleur de Sel, Vine and Olive, Studio 107, Beverly’s of course and another one or two, restaurant by the glass wine selections here in North Idaho are simply lacking. We know they can do better, simply because we know what they have to choose from, literally all the same wines we can get, yet time after time when we go out, we see the same old stale choices for wine by the glass from the same old stale producers.
While in New York their by the glass selections spanned appellations, producers and varietals with unique and delicious choices with every turn of the page of the wine list. It was not only great fun for wine geeks like us but so refreshing, we did not see one repeat in any category across the 8 restaurants we dined at. Here is the other trend… You get to try before you buy. Every restaurant offered us a small taste of the wine we had ordered to ensure we liked it before they poured us the full glass, and yes, I do mean every restaurant. It gave us the chance to confirm our call and was a lovely thoughtful touch. In just one case it changed our mind on what we had ordered but for restaurants here in the area that wish to set their wine program apart I would highly recommend it.
One particular meal stood out for overall service, that was our first night when we went to Grammercy Tavern. The Grammercy has been around for a very long time, and they have not missed a step in the many years since we had been there, the food was outstanding and the wine selection epic, but it was the service that so impressed. Mary and I ate at the bar as we frequently do when traveling. Our server/bartender Benny was incredibly gracious and carefully watched our choices in wine, making recommendations where appropriate and always offering the pre-pour taste on all we wanted to try. One of our meals was over spiced for our taste and we didn’t need to, nor did we say anything, we were prepared to just chalk it up to a bad selection. Benny noticed though and swept in to suggest another dish and made it happen so quickly and seamlessly it was extraordinary.
His service made our evening and we expected to tip him appropriately, to our surprise though Grammercy is a non-tipping restaurant, as is its sister restaurant The Union Square Cafe. They were not the only ones we encountered however, in talking to some friends over dinner in Harlem they said it is a trend, but one that is not taking hold very quickly.
Another wine trend that is clear in the largest wine market in the east is the move to alternative varietals. It is one we applaud because although there are times when we want a Cabernet or a Chardonnay there are more times when we want a lesser known varietal. So, we will embrace this trend to the lesser known when it reaches here. While Chardonnay and Cabernet were available on every list many times it was just one choice for each. For restaurants here in the Northwest even if just a couple of unusual options were offered, we feel the sales would justify the placement and truly set apart those restaurants that offer broader selections. Add in the use of a Coravin or other wine preservation system and you are very close to offering some diversity in the local wine line-up.
Glassware remains atop the list for focus in New York restaurants. Regardless of their stemware purveyor of choice all were cut edge, thin, tulip shaped bowls that were completely pleasant to drink from. This small detail is important to the wine tasting as the winemaker designed it to, and one that should be the focus in every wine tasting or drinking scenario.
Its always good to get back home, and we look forward to these wine trends as they make their way west.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018.
George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop.
You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.