By The Glass
Exclusive wines offer unique dining experience
PRIVATE-label wines are something you don't really hear or read too much about, but if you eat out, you see them fairly often -- and you'll be seeing more of them.
These wines are made by wineries for the sole use of particular restaurants or hotels. Not much is known about them because they are never offered to reviewers for tasting and they are not advertised. Because they are made exclusively for certain establishments, they are not usually available for purchase on retail shelves, so no marketing is involved. The only place you will hear about the wines is in the restaurant -- and today, here in this column.
MANY of these wines are exactly the same as what the wineries produce for their own labels, but instead are marked with the label of the restaurant. Take for instance Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne. The Four Seasons Resorts chain puts its own label on bottles of Brut Premier, but it is in effect the same product.
Some wineries or winemakers (usually only the good ones) will produce a special bottling, entirely different from the wines that they produce under their own labels, specifically for a restaurant -- either to match a particular cuisine or because the wine director or sommelier decided that the wine is so good that they want it exclusively.
In Hawaii there are many examples of this. The Halekulani Hotel has a special chardonnay called Clos Windsbuhl, made by Olivier Humbrecht of Zind-Humbrecht, entirely from grapes grown in the famed vineyard of Clos Windsbuhl, something that Olivier sells nowhere else. The Halekulani also has a cabernet sauvignon called Celebrate, made by renowned pinot noir and chardonnay producer Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat.
These types of private-label wines are always made in very limited quantities and can be quite rare.
MANY top restaurants, such as Roy's and Alan Wong's in Hawaii, design private labels to offer distinct and unique wines to their customers and provide a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
More often than not, these wines are offered by the glass so they can be tried without having to purchase the whole bottle. Tasting these wines is really fun and interesting because it offers a glimpse into the synergy between a winemaker and the wine director of a restaurant.
The winemaker usually designs the wine to meet a standard or to go with a particular range of flavors that come into play at every table. The wine director must make sure that the wine is indeed fine, plays an adequate role at the table (read: tasty) and complements the food. These are considerations most diners don't even think about when ordering the wine.
Lastly, these wines often provide great value. They are not usually expensive, but are unique snapshots that only that particular restaurant can offer. And if the winemaker and wine guru have done their jobs, these wines should be completely satisfying and delicious.
So the next time you're in a restaurant and see a private label, check it out. Chances are you'll enjoy it with the food you order. On top of that, you might never have a chance to try it again.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org