1 of 2
Clever Chains image from ML1011
2 of 2
Doug Frost: mug
It’s a common prejudice in my business that chain restaurants’ wine programs are less interesting than independent restaurants. And once upon a time, it was true. In the past, independent restaurants were seen as closer to customers, more likely to know what was being said about them. As a result, independent restaurants tried new things. The last five to 10 years have seen an abrupt rise in available information to chain restaurants though, and now they are more likely to know what is happening on the restaurant fl oor (who is buying what and how often) than an independent restaurant.
One prominent chain, the Capital Grille (found in Kansas City) ran a summer wine and food program called the Generous Pour. For a bit less than the price of a standard entrée, diners can have as many as nine wines with their courses. Capital Grille offers a broad selection, not just the usual California names, though there are prestigious American names, including Freemark Abbey’s Bosche Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.
Showing cabernets with some age to them, like this, is exactly what chains ought to be able to accomplish with their buying power, but many restaurants of any size or ilk too often settle for current releases. The remaining wines are notable for breadth: Marquis de la Tour Loire Brut, Tarima Hill Monastrell 2009, R.L. Buller Portly Gentleman (a delicious port-like Aussie sticky).
About the only arena in which the chains lag behind is in the matter of regional Missouri wines. Usually, it’s the independents who understand the importance of supporting local wines, if only weakly. Perhaps this too will change. National buyer George Miliotes (a fellow Master Sommelier) is to be applauded for promoting wine diversity in chain steakhouses like Capital Grille, where California and Bordeaux often dominate. His wine list for another Kansas City restaurant, Seasons 52, is even more adventurous, and this is what we are beginning to expect from national restaurant chains.
None of this is intended to denigrate independent restaurateurs; for decades, they created the trends. It’s just that now they have some honest competition from the chains, and we diners will benefit.
-By Doug Frost