When It Comes to Wine, Cater to Guests With These Adventurous Selections

On this episode of On Foodable Weekly, our host, Paul Barron, sits down with City Winery’s National Wine Director, Rachel Speckan and Maple & Ash’s Head Sommelier and Director of Wine Imports, Daniel Pilkey. They discuss wine sale trends, consumer attitudes towards different types of wine from various regions, wine selection tips for wine directors and small restaurant concepts and other topics.


Speckan, who teaches wine courses and hosts events at the five different City Winery locations, is pleased to see that people are wanting to be educated about wine and are drinking more of it with their food. She has noticed people are ordering more wine from traditional regions. “We’re seeing Bordeaux sales go up again, people drinking Barolo and really classic standbys...,” said Speckan.

Pilkey, who caters to an award-winning steakhouse clientele in Chicago, agrees. “We do a 60 percent on those key, name-brand, recognizable and staple wines and ingredients and wineries,” said Pilkey about Maple & Ash’s wine sales. Pilkey believes because “classic wine regions are getting better and better...,” these would be a solid selection for fast-casual concepts that have wine as part of their programs, but have less time to educate their guests. “The price-points are becoming much more approachable and what’s inevitably in the bottle is hyper-quality driven...,” said Pilkey. 

Wine Adventuring

So, how are the remainder of guests being more adventurous with their wine selections?

  • Familiar grapes from non-traditional wine regions. “We are seeing people take a grape that is very familiar to them, like Cabernet and doing one from Greece,” said Speckan.

  • Lesser known U.S. wine regions are getting attention. “People are starting to drink a little more adventurous in the U.S. too, but out of Napa Valley and more towards maybe Lodi, or out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and down to Applegate Valley,” said Speckan.

  • Guests are trusting sommeliers more. “They kind of look at us and say ‘I don’t know, what are you into, man? Just go ahead and put something in the table for me, here’s what I want to spend, you know, let’s roll the dice and have some fun’ and that’s really fun to see…,” said Pilkey.

When it comes to getting a bang for your buck, Speckan has found that it is more about the experience that the wine director or sommelier brings to the table. “What they want is really high value for what they are spending. So they are willing to spend more if it’s a better experience,” said Speckan.

Domestic Wine Recommendations

If you are a wine director or an operator at a small restaurant concept and are looking to include U.S.-based wines into your beverage program, look into the following regions for the best value:

  • Amador County - “That area has been marginal in the past, it’s really hot right now, it’s further east, up in the mountains, gets really hot, but old vines... there are some people doing some really cool stuff! I would say check that out, because you can get really good values,” said Speckan.

  • Santa Ynez Valley - “Similarly, down in Santa Ynez and Happy Canyon, it’s really cool stuff going on right there with Sauvignon Blanc, Serrat… Which typically, Serrat is a little bit overlooked, but there is great stuff coming out of there,” said Speckan. “That West Santa Barbara area, it’s just riddled with great, kick-ass terroir and also winemaking, like Liquid Farms out there, I think do an awesome job,” said Pilkey.

  • East Napa Valley - “So, for me it is Sage Canyon to Conn Creek, Stagecoach…,” said Pilkey. “Orientation, plantings, elevation… all the cool things that are making Cabernet sleek, opulent, powerful, seductive, I think it’s really good stuff!”

Watch the episode to learn about whether or not the rosé and bourbon-barrel aged wine trends are going to stick around and why France’s Loire Valley is rising in popularity!