It happens all the time. We get obsessed with a favorite wine and we end up ordering it over and over again. With a little sense of adventure, we can leverage our obsession with our favorites and use it as a springboard to explore. What’s more, newly discovered wines – whether they be old world gems or a new world up-and-comers – are bound to raise both our eyebrows and our wine IQ.
When a wine list clearly states that it is designed for guests to “try something new or something familiar,” let’s embrace this opportunity. It’s understandable that moving out of our comfort zone can be challenging. It can also be expensive. But, Esther’s Kitchen, located in the Arts District of Las Vegas, understands both of these intimately and have figured out how to make wine exploration more approachable. First the price … with no bottle over $40, no by-the-glass over $10, and with everything on the list available by the glass …we are immediately mind-blown, our palates rejoicing. Besides offering the go-to faves such as Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, be ready to try something familiar to these standbys – and allow me to add – rare finds at an amazing value. And who doesn’t like discovering treasures?
“You’re going to see all the wines you don’t know,” says James Trees, chef/owner of Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas and avid wine lover. “The real trick is to just taste everything.” The frequently rotating list showcases approximately 25 wines (mostly Italian) to pair deliciously with Trees’ cuisine. Of these wines, many are familiar in style to some of our favorite wines. The others are rare and unique finds just waiting to be discovered, even re-discovered. During a staff wine education class held by Esther’s wine specialist Paul Argier he mentioned alternatives for guests who are stuck to their own haunts. “Pinot Noir is going to sell itself, Sauvignon Blanc is going to sell itself, try offering something new but familiar and they’ll [guests] be happy you did.”
An example would be Grüner Veltiner from Austria. “I love to pour this for people who ask for Sauvignon Blanc,” says Argier. “They are always surprised by the dry, herbaceous minerality of the Austrian white and by how versatile it is.”
Yet another white wine to pay attention to is Verdicchio, arguably Italy’s greatest native white, yet inarguably one of the least-appreciated great white wines in the U.S. Named for its green(verde)-tinged berries, Verdicchio has a telltale note of sweet almond. Thoroughly charming even in its modest forms, it’s utterly captivating at the top tier.
For lovers of Pinot Noir, Argier recommends Abbazia di Novacella Schiava from the divinely beautiful Alto Adige region of Italy. Schiava’s radiant ruby color with delicious whiffs of summer fruits and cherries, gentle texture, and unobtrusive tannins offer Pinot Noir drinkers a familiar alternative. And once discovered, they hold the bragging rights to name-drop this wine and to know that there’s more to love out there.
And there’s more, such as Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Typically made as a frizzante red wine with varying degrees of sweetness, its high acid, frothy fizz, and little tannins make for a lively wine that loves to pair with food. There’s no coincidence that this wine comes from Italy’s gastronomic capital. Think: Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto. Try Medici Ermete “Concerto” Lambrusco with the meat + cheese platter and pizza.
“For dessert, Velenosi Vino di Visciole is an aromatized cherry wine that has many port-like qualities without the fortification,” says Argier. “The alcohol is lower, while the chocolate covered cherry and baking spice notes are quite enjoyable.”
The wine is made with an ancient sour cherry variety called Visciola, which comes exclusively from the Marche region of Italy. The cherries are harvested when over-ripe and made into luscious syrup. The syrup is then blended with the aromatic Lacrima di Morro grape, resulting in a captivating dark ruby red wine resplendent with dark cherry, spice, and wild flowers.
Trees takes great pride in offering a list that is both diverse and approachable. “We go through and taste all the wines and look for certain characteristics that will go with our food,” says Trees. “One of the coolest parts of the wine list is the unbelievable value we are able to offer.”
Trees realizes that it’s not conventional to run a beverage program by offering wines at near cost. “But, we are having interactions with winemakers and that’s one of the ways we build this program.”
“Drinking good wine shouldn’t be for the ultra rich or only for those who are out on a special date,” says Trees. “A neighborhood restaurant should be a place where you get to hang out, check out some wines, have good food with friends, then afterwards still go out to a show because you didn’t blow your money on a bottle of wine.”
And quite possibly, we might have found ourselves a new favorite wine.
Note: For more eyebrow and wine IQ raising, be sure to ask for the Reserve Wine Cellar List.