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The Truth About Vermouth

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

By Lara Creasy

For the longest time, I have had a desire to make customers love vermouth again – for the very simple reason that I understood from personal experience how sweet vermouth could make or break a Manhattan, and how dry vermouth took a martini from being just a chilled shot of gin or vodka and made it a wonderful cocktail with character.

Vermouth Behind the stick

Bojan Popovic, beverage director for Cook Hall

A Tales of the Cocktail seminar that I attended, years ago, on vermouth as category, further opened my eyes to the proper care and use of the product and the awesome potential vermouth presented.

The amount of specialty vermouth on the market has increased dramatically in recent years, with traditional Italian, French and Spanish producers sharing bar space with artisan products such as Imbue from Oregon and Brovo from Washington.

“We’ve increased our skus substantially in the last few years,” says Jason Walton, Craft Spirits Manager for Savannah Distributors, which currently represents at least 28 artisan vermouths. “People are more curious about the category, after producers like Cocchi and Carpano have paved the way. Having those products (in the market) has really opened a lot of doors.”

Walton says he is often out working the Atlanta market, and in the city, bar managers are always eager to try new products. When he’s working the suburbs, however, he says restaurateurs often need more convincing.

“I hear, ‘I use Martini & Rossi, I’m not interested.’ So I tell them, ‘Do me a favor, and just taste it.’ Every single time I get them to taste it they say, ‘I’ll take it,’” Walton says. “Their whole opinion is changed.”

Walton explains to his buyers, who all understand that high-end bourbon is a hot category, that they don’t want to ruin a fine whiskey in a Manhattan by diluting it with inferior vermouth. If cost is an issue, he encourages them to market a “top shelf Manhattan,” and up-charge for using vermouth like Carpano’s Antiqua Formula, for example.

Part of the perception problem, he explains, is that people aren’t taking care of the vermouth they already have. No one has ever told them that vermouth is wine, that it needs to be refrigerated and that it has a shelf life. “People aren’t taking care of those bottles, so it’s turning people off from the whole category.”

Vermouth 101

What is vermouth exactly? Most people don’t even really know. Put simply, vermouth is an aromatized wine, infused with a botanical blend that is unique to each producer. Unlike spirits, which are distilled and have a higher percentage of alcohol, vermouth can go bad. It will last longer than a bottle of table wine, due to the fact that it is fortified, but it begins to change shortly after opening, and it certainly doesn’t show well after a couple of weeks. (For excellent information about the history of vermouth, the different categories, and tips for storage and care, I highly recommend a visit to

You can imagine the vermouth experience that many consumers have gotten over recent years, ordering a martini or a Manhattan in a bar that has kept the same bottle of vermouth opened on a shelf, or worst of all in their speed rail with a pour spout in it, for months on end. The bad tasting vermouth logically turned many drinkers off from vermouth in general, they started to tell the bartender to “wave the bottle over the glass,” or something equally silly, and the vermouth bottles collected dust for even longer, going even more bad. Bar managers stopped investing in vermouth, because, well the guests don’t like vermouth, and a long, sad slide from grace perpetuated.

But once anyone starts to learn about vermouth, good vermouth, it’s almost as if a light bulb goes off. Because not all vermouth is made from the same recipe — not even close — you can be certain that making a cocktail with one vs. another is going to make a big difference.

Bojan Popovic, beverage director for Cook Hall in the W Buckhead, says that his restaurant stocks a variety of artisan vermouths, and the secret to their success with the restaurant’s guests is the fact that he promotes them directly to the customer.

“People ask the question, ‘I make a Manhattan at home and it doesn’t taste anything like this. What’s the difference?’ The difference is the vermouth. I tell them, ‘You are probably using something inexpensive that you bought at the grocery store, like Martini & Rossi. We use a Spanish vermouth called Yzaguirre. It’s an absolutely delicious vermouth at a fair price.’ I bring the bottle to the table, and I tell them about it.”

Still, says Popovic, the typical Georgia guest is way more interested in the base spirit. “It’s rare that people ask for a specific vermouth,” he says, opting instead to call for Grey Goose in their martini. He likes to tell them how vodka is flavorless and neutral, and how much difference a specialty vermouth will make in their cocktail. “Grey Goose and Ketel One are going to taste the same every time.”

Cook Hall features many cocktails on its printed menus that feature vermouth, particularly paired with bourbon. Popovic says he loves to use Yzaguirre Rojo, and he’s used it on “every menu for the last two years.”

Walton agrees that menu placement is the way to get specialty vermouth into a consumer’s glass. “There is a small group of educated consumers who are pulling them through, but it’s very small. By and large it’s the bar managers showing people the way.”

The cocktail gateway

Leith Shenstone, partner in Fasel Shenstone, a specialty vermouth importer, says that cocktails are the gateway to getting consumers to understand vermouth. “Someone ordering a Manhattan will notice if you change the vermouth, and that starts a conversation. What we are going for is that everyone at least likes the vermouths we sell.”

Fasel Shenstone and Haus Alpenz are two importers who have given a serious amount of attention to artisan vermouth.

“No one has been telling the stories about how the vermouths are made,” says Shenstone, adding that his company brings in brands that are serious about the winemaking portion of vermouth production. While most mass-produced vermouths are made with a very cheap base wine, in order to keep costs down, the vermouths Fasel Shenstone sells are way more labor intensive, often growing the grapes for their base wine in their own vineyards. “They should appeal to all people who love artisanal, estate-made products,” says Shenstone.

He adds that one angle his company has been exploring recently has been going after sommeliers, to get them to recommend vermouth as a food pairing or an aperitif. Vermouths like Lacuesta Rojo may seem an unlikely pairing for oysters, but distinct minerality and black pepper and tomato aromas actually make it perfect. The Yzaguirre dry, which is aged in used sherry casks, is even more of a no-brainer.

“When the somm is standing at the table, and the people want something dry and fresh, the somm just has to recommend it,” Shenstone says.

At the bar, he adds, cocktail menus that suggest a light, effervescent cocktail, like artisan vermouth and soda with an orange peel, are ready-made to appeal to people with a taste for light, dry cocktails like vodka and soda, he adds. “Putting a vermouth and tonic on your menu will make people stay longer, eat more food, and it’s good for everyone.”

The next big thing?

Popovic hasn’t had as much success selling vermouth on its own at Cook Hall, however. “The culture here is very different than in Europe,” he says. “Here people see it as something that will take them way too long to get drunk!”

Even so, when targeted to the right consumers, vermouth seems poised to really take off in the American market. But it seems we’ve heard the same thing in recent years about other unfamiliar products, like sherry.

“The problem sherry suffers from is that it doesn’t fit the flavor profile that most Americans are used to. If there is low-risk, people will give it a chance. The fact that you can use vermouth in cocktails like martinis and Manhattans helps,” says Shenstone.

If you ask me, good vermouth almost tastes like a cocktail on its own, with all the depth of flavor and bittersweet balance that people like, so perhaps the idea that it will catch on as a stand-alone beverage isn’t too far-fetched.

In addition to Cook Hall, other Atlanta area restaurants are having success with selling small-production vermouths on their menus and back bars. The Optimist featured a cocktail called The Cardinal on its menu recently that was built upon solera sherry and sweet vermouth. Holeman and Finch Public House is known to have different vermouths chosen for each Manhattan a guest might order, based on which whiskey they choose. And Ticonderoga Club in the Krog Street Market pours Lacuesta Reserva, a barrel-aged vermouth represented by Fasel Shenstone, by the glass.

“Hats off to those guys,” says Walton, about the Ticonderoga Club. “They are doing the leg-work for everybody.”

When it comes to the trailblazing products like Cocchi and Carpano Antiqua Formula, however, you can find them nearly everywhere these days, “from from your neighborhood pub to the highest end steak place, which is a testament to where the industry is going. For all of those types of bars to have an almost $30 bottle of vermouth,” says Walton, “it’s pretty cool.”

Lara Creasy is a consultant with over 15 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as St. Cecilia and Superica through her consulting business Four 28, LLC.


Industry Trends for 2016

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The team at Melissa Libby & Associates asked some of the South’s leading chefs and mixologists what industry trends are in store for restaurants in 2016.

Tom Gray

 Tom Gray

Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails chef Tom Gray in Jacksonville, Florida, says to expect a few new proteins and grains to land on plates as well. “Alternative forms of protein such as chicken livers, pig ears and flank steak, along with alternative grains with an emphasis on whole and ancient varieties, will be popping up on menus,” he predicts.

Atlanta’s Ray’s Restaurants consultant Chad Crete thinks kale will be overlooked in 2016 as restaurants continue healthier eating habits. “Vegetables will become highlights on all menus,” says Crete. “It won’t be just sides and that one lonely vegetarian option; they’re going to be everywhere. Customers will continue to put a big emphasis on knowing where their food comes from as well, seeking local produce, sustainable fish and free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free meats.”

Moxie’s Gray also sees a focus on sourcing in the new year. “More guests are excited to learn where ingredients come from, how they are handled and what the backstory is on dishes,” Gray explains. “More urban farming businesses like GYO Greens will flourish; small companies that are producing great intown products with a very small carbon footprint.”

Doug Turbush

 Doug Turbush

Doug Turbush of Seed Kitchen & Bar, Stem Wine Bar and Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar sees a bright future for oyster connoisseurs. “Oysters will explode,” Turbush says. “The renaissance and rituals of oyster eating will thrive with increasing interest in oyster terroir, growing methods and the nuances that produce oyster varieties.”

Turbush predicts the traditional cocktail sauce and horseradish will be forgotten in 2016. “My hope is naked oysters goes along with this trend so the distinct flavors from each region can be appreciated,” he says.

Lance Gummere

Lance Gummere

One trend Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy chef Lance Gummere hopes to see disappear from menus is expensive plates with small portions. “Hopefully we’ll see more customer outrage regarding the absurdity of $35 plates consisting of two small bites of food and a few dots of pureed vegetable garnished with a micro green,” Gummere says. “If you’re like me, you like to share your food when you go out to dinner. But in order to share it, you’re got to be able to identify it on your plate! We need to start feeding folks again.”

Matt Ridgway

 Matt Ridgway

Along those same lines, Ridgway sees Southern cooking continuing to deepen in the new year. “Everyone needed homier items to wrap their arms around over the past few years,” he says. “But now I believe we’ll see a move to dishes that rely on Southern pathways and local farmers to achieve more refined dishes using specific heirloom varieties of produce, beans and grains.”

Bellina Alimentari creative director Alice Fabi sees sustainability as a priority in 2016. “We’re learning more and more about how to use and preserve what our land has to offer in creative ways that follow an ethical, natural and sustainable philosophy,” says Fabi. “There will be a widespread need to go to the essence of food and find prime ingredients.”

Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie

Chef, restaurant owner, and cookbook author Kevin Gillespie of Red Beard Restaurants sees an increase in demand for faster, healthier options in 2016. “It’s going to be a re-do of fast food with a healthy focus,” he explains. “I’m not talking about salad bars but healthful, lighter cuisine at fast food speed.”

That coincides with what Crete of Ray’s Restaurants is seeing. “Fast casual will continue to be a growing segment in our industry,” Crete explains. “Millennials 18-35 will soon become the biggest demographic in our country. They want chef-driven and local ingredients delivered quickly and at a price point that will allow for increased visits.”

In 2016 bartenders are expected to borrow more ingredients from the kitchen, according to Johnny’s Hideaway bartender Shawn McCoy in Atlanta. “More and more, bartenders will be utilizing what’s available in their kitchens – freshly squeezed juices, herbs, spices and ingredients like chipotle and balsamic vinegar – to bring out the flavors of the cocktail.”

McCoy also wants better ice options for mixologists. “Right now there are the standard ice machines and hand-carved ice programs. There needs to be something in the middle for high-volume bars so they can provide quality ice for drinks.”

Derek Dollar

 Derek Dollar

According to Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and The Big Ketch Roswell chef Derek Dollar, food sensitivities are now part of the future, and we need to plan accordingly. “The gluten-free craze will continue to increase,” he says.

Gillespie would like to see one specific bar trend come back in 2016. “I’d love to see a renaissance of the Tiki craze,” says Gillespie. “We need more bars like Trader Vic’s!”

Chef Matthew Ridgway of Southern Gentleman and the Gypsy Kitchen says, “I’m going to be using more Middle Eastern spices – black garlic, black lime, black cardamom, white cardamom, Aleppo pepper and wolf berries – for spice-forward cooking.”


Sell More Wine

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Learning more about the wines on your menu will help you sell more without being pushy

By Jennifer Moleski

From Volume 4, Issue 6

“Sell more wine” doesn’t sit well with some people. For them, “selling” can feel unnatural or pushy.

The good news is there is a way to significantly increase your sales by simply offering your guests the best experience possible – nothing unnatural or pushy about that. When the right products are offered to the right guests at the right times, sales naturally happen. Sales are simply the result of providing a great option to your guests and your guests taking that option.

Here are three things you can do to gain wine knowledge and use it to enhance your guest’s experience.

Step 1: Pick one wine to sell
The ultimate goal will be to obtain an overall level of knowledge you can use to sell every wine on your menu, but for now choose one and give it all you’ve got. Choose one wine from your wines by the glass (WBTG) menu. Go with your favorite wine, your restaurant’s most popular wine, or maybe a selection that goes great with your restaurant’s cuisine. If it’s on your WBTG menu, it’s fair game.

Step 2: Learn about your wine
And I mean learn. It won’t take long if you simply find the answers to these four questions:

What kind of wine is it? Know the varietal (what grape the wine came from) and the location the grapes were grown in.

What does it taste like? Do an Internet search and find some tasting notes on your chosen wine. For a more hands-on approach, pour a sample and attempt to find those flavors in your chosen wine. This will help you understand the wine more naturally, and you’ll retain the information easier.

What food does your wine pair best with? Every wine has a unique flavor profile that lends itself to enhancing the flavors of certain foods,
and vice versa. Learn what your wine’s compatible foods are.

What kind of wine is it (almost)? What wine (or wines) are similar to your chosen wine, and in what way?

Step 3: Know When to Segue.
If you want your guest’s experience to be as excellent as possible, simply recommend your wine when it makes the most sense do so: when it will improve their experience. You’ve just learned enough about your wine to know whose experience will be enhanced by drinking it. You’ve created four segue moments in which it is most appropriate to mention your wine:

When your guest is considering, asking questions about or orders your chosen wine varietal. (Tell them about your wine.)

When your guest tells you what they like in a wine, and the characteristics they explain are similar to your chosen wine.(Your wine is the perfect fit.)

When your guest is considering, asking questions about or orders your wine’s ideal food pairing. (Enhance the flavors of each by suggesting your wine.)

When your guest is considering, asking questions about or orders your wine’s “almost wine.” (They are a prime candidate for your wine.)

Step 4: Repeat the process
Once you feel comfortable with your chosen wine and mentioning it to your guests, repeat the process. Learning will get easier and faster every time. Pretty soon there won’t be a wine on your menu that you are unfamiliar with, and there won’t be a guest whose experience you
can’t enhance.

Bonus Hint: When you ask your guest, “May I bring you another glass of wine?” and they answer with an unsure “no thank you,” simply recommend a half pour to them. It’s often exactly what they’re looking for.

Jennifer Moleski is the founder of, a restaurant service focused website. Her passion is teaching the importance of team service. She has traveled throughout the U.S. observing and interviewing the top-rated restaurant service teams and managers to discover the commonality between them. She consults, writes and also offers an online spirits and wine course for service professionals.


Exploring True Terroir

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Excerpted from Restaurant INFORMER, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 1

By Lara Creasy

Lara CreasyAnyone fortunate enough to travel to wine country will tell you that wine never tastes as good as it does in the place where it is made. This is true for so many reasons. The weather is just right. The food of the area pairs perfectly. The sun feels different there. You can smell the wild herbs on the breeze. You can almost taste the dust that’s on your boots as you sip from your glass.

This experience, once you’ve had it, will forever help you understand the meaning of terroir. Terroir is a French word that, loosely translated, means “a sense of place.” The root is the word terre, which means “land.” But the full meaning involves much more. It’s the full expression of a place through its agricultural products. The geology, the geography, the weather, the climate – the sum total of the effects the local environment has on a product and how those effects are expressed in smells and tastes. These are the factors that bring France and Italy and Spain right into our restaurants through the product in the bottle.

I was extremely fortunate recently to be invited by Olé Imports to experience Spain through the lens of its wine producers. I got a firsthand glimpse into how varied the Spanish landscape is, how the same grape can perform so differently in different regions, and how the gracious farmers and winemakers who produce these wines are making magic in the bottle.

The following are three standout experiences from that trip. The producers of these wines are providing buyers with a unique opportunity to experience their terroir in wines of extraordinary value.


The Cava Denominacion de Origen (DO) in Spain is not centered around a place, like nearly all other DOs are. Rather, Cava is a style of sparkling winemaking that can be produced in many regions around Spain. However, Penedès, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea just south of Barcelona, produces 95 percent of all Cava.

Despite the fact that Cava is Spain’s highest volume wine export to the U.S., each bottle is still made using the Champagne method. Secondary fermentation, the step that makes Cava sparkling, happens individually in each and every bottle, and every bottle of Cava must by law rest for at least nine months.

To keep up with demand, most large Cava houses buy grapes in bulk from growers around the area. But the Cava producer we visited, Navarran, grows all of its own grapes on a 272-acre estate near the town of Torrelavit. The estate, which has been producing Cava since 1901, has separate vineyards for each of the traditional Cava grapes: Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, as well as Chardonnay and red grapes used to blend their rosés. Many of the vines are over 30 years old, which results in lower yields, more concentration and better grape quality.

Our host, Michel Parellada, has such a family history in the area that one of the traditional grapes used to make Cava, Parellada, was named for his great-grandfather.

Michel vintage dates every Cava he makes, which is extremely unusual. The quality and attention to every detail shows. The top market for Navarran’s Cavas is France. The home country of Champagne buys 85 percent of what Michel produces.

The best value to be had in the Navarran portfolio is the Vintage Brut. At under $12 per bottle wholesale, it makes an elegant and impressive by-the-glass pour for restaurants at an extremely affordable price point.


Rioja may the most readily recognizable Spanish wine region for many people. It was the first region awarded the top honor of DOCa by the Spanish government and still only one of two regions to hold that designation.

Rioja is divided into three zones: Rioja Alta (higher elevation), Rioja Baja (warmer and drier), and Rioja Alavesa (low vine density). We visited a subzone of one of these, the Sierra de la Demanda area of Rioja Alta.

Vineyards here are said to have the poorest soils in all of Rioja. Because of the altitude and the north-facing slopes, the grapes in Sierra de la Demanda don’t fully ripen until November. In fact, this is the very last region to harvest on the entire Iberian Peninsula.

We visited with a farmer named Monchi who owns 40 plots that total seven hectares in Sierra de la Demanda. We could only access his plots by taking four-wheel-drive vehicles up steep and rocky dirt roads, a testament to the difficulty of farming the area. Monchi showed us numerous vineyards that had been abandoned because farming them became too expensive.

Many vines in this area are 80 to 100 years old, some of the oldest in all of Rioja. To conceptualize what that means, picture it in human terms. Grapevines generally start producing usable fruit around age 8. How must that vine struggle to produce fruit after 70 or more years of bearing fruit? How much vitality would we, as humans, have left after working full time for 70 years? Every cluster of grapes is truly like a gift at that point.

Add to this the demanding elevation, the slow ripening and late harvest, as well as the wild boar and deer that roam the vineyards, and it all adds up to extremely low yields for the farmers. To put it in perspective, the average yield per vine in all of Rioja is 2 kilos per vine (about 4.4 pounds). Here in Sierra de la Demanda, the yield is about 700 grams (1.5 pounds). At some point, farming like this must become a labor of love.

The primary grape grown here is Tempranillo de Cardenas, a high acid mutation of tempranillo. It thrives in the poor soils and slow ripening conditions of Sierra de la Demanda. The late harvest gives these hearty grapes an even longer time to develop thick skins, which adds additional richness and tannin to the wines. Graciano and Garnacha are also grown.

Many farmers in the area sell their grapes to large producers, but Monchi partners with CVA, a project of Olé Imports, so that the grape growing and winemaking become one seamless process. The result is two exquisite wines bottled under the label La Antigua, a Crianza and a Reserva. These are true farm-to-table wines if I’ve ever seen them.

Ribera del Duero

In Ribera del Duero, a small town called Quintanamanvirgo has 94 residents and only two businesses: a bar and a winery. That winery is Torremóron. They produce only one wine. Annual production of that wine is only 66,500 cases. And the final cost to us as restaurateurs is only $8 per bottle wholesale. Like me, you probably wonder, “How is that even possible??” If you had seen their 85- to 100-plus-year-old vines, or their gorgeous historic property, with stone wine caves where the wine was produced in the 1800s, you would really scratch your head. Tasting this little wonder of a wine, which has garnered scores of 90-92 from Robert Parker on more than one occasion, may leave you wondering why you ever paid a higher price for other inferior wines.

The climate in this north, central part of Ribera del Duero is continental. It’s cooler here than in the regions to the west, with less annual rainfall, so the grapes ripen longer and develop more concentration. Wines from this area of Ribera del Duero tend to be darker and more aromatic than the wines from the western part of the DO.

Though this wine is definitely ready to drink now, its ripe tannins and good acidity virtually guarantee that it will be even better in about six months. And it will likely even be drinking well in four to six years.

All of these wines are part of the Olé Imports portfolio, founded by Patrick Mata in 1999. He and his partner, winemaker Alberto Orte, scour the Iberian Peninsula for wines that truly express the unique terroirs of Spain. They also search for quality production and exceptional value. Their portfolio has grown to include well over 100 wines. They are all available in Georgia through Prime Wine & Spirits.

Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 14 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as St. Cecilia and King + Duke through her consulting business Four 28, LLC. Her work has been featured in such publications as Bon Appetit, Imbibe, and Wine Enthusiast.



What Separates the Casual Taster From the Real Trade Tasting Pro?

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Todd RushingBy Lara Creasy

Ah, the wine and spirits trade show. “Must be nice!,” say people NOT in the industry once they figure out that our trade events involve sampling booze all afternoon.

But for those of us that consider ourselves professionals in the beverage industry, events like the High Museum Wine Auction Trade Tasting are actually work. And the way you handle yourself after they hand you that commemorative Reidel glass is what separates the casual taster from the real Trade Tasting Pro.

Here are some tips from fellow pros on how to manage your event experience.

1. Do your homework.

Whenever possible, get a copy of the vendor list before the event. Highlight some producers you are not familiar with or new vintages of wines you have had success selling in the past, and make a plan to stop by those tables.

Ask your sales rep for advice on what not to miss. Kevin O’Sullivan, sales consultant for Prime Wine & Spirits, suggests taking it a step further by making an appointment to meet your sales rep at the show, so they can show you around to the real highlights.

Sales reps actually love this opportunity because they get the chance to show you things they might not bring to an appointment. Having done this before myself, I can tell you that it’s like a guided tour of the hidden gems. It won’t be long before you hear, “Can Lara sample that special bottle you brought?” Score.

2. Go with a plan.

Make a list before the event of what you are really shopping for: holes you have in your wine list, upcoming out-of-stock issues, impending seasonal menu changes. Try to find those items first, before you, and your palate, get fatigued.

Taste in a logical order to get the most out of the wines. Hit the whites, rosés and bubbles before you go full-force into the Barolos and Super-Tuscans. This way you can also avoid having to do a
water rinse, which is really just a last resort, and definitely not to be done between every taste!

3. Pace yourself and know your limits.

Be sure to allow yourself enough time to work the show. Don’t try to squeeze in an hour on your way to your weekly manager’s meeting. And don’t give yourself five hours, which can lead to overindulgence. I’ve found that two to two and a half hours is perfect.

“Everyone has a different capacity when it comes to tasting wine,” said Wine Spectator columnist Dr.Vinny in a recent article. “Some people can taste dozens and maintain their concentration and judgment, just like some people can run marathons. Other people are Sunday joggers who are winded after three miles. Similarly, some tasters should limit their evaluations to just a few wines. As with running, the more you practice tasting wine, the better you’ll be at it. If you only taste a few times a year, you’re not going to be as sharp as if you do it regularly.”

4. Use the spit buckets.

When I first asked O’Sullivan for his trade show tips, the message he sent back to me said, simply, “SPIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Yes, Kevin. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Spit. I have attended numerous trade shows over the years where I was the only attendee actively using the buckets for spitting. I began to wonder if perhaps people thought it was rude or gross to spit.

More than once, however, I have had people imply that I was a “lightweight” or make comments to me, such as, “why would you waste that?” I simply smile and respond that I am there to work, and that I’m driving myself home afterward.

It is true that you may occasionally get a bit of backsplash. And yes, I learned with experience not to wear long necklaces or to keep the lanyard with my plastic name badge around my neck. But with time, you, too, can develop an aim that is true and taste twice as many wines as the guy tripping down the stairs at the end of the show.

5. Take advantage of the cheese display.

Much like at a cocktail party, the food at a trade tasting serves a purpose. It’s there to help mediate the effects of the alcohol. Not to mention that having a few bites of cheese or crackers in between wines actually helps revive your palate from fatigue.

The culinary partner for the High Museum Wine Auction is Muss & Turner’s, and the food table they produce at the Trade Tasting is always quite generous and impressive. Have some cheese!

Besides, your restaurant’s guests will ultimately be enjoying the wines you select with a meal, so why shouldn’t you have a more accurate picture of what their end experience will be?

6. Take notes.

No one can remember everything they’ve tasted at a large trade event without some help. Organizers of many trade tastings will hand out a program, listing all suppliers and the wines they are featuring. But attendees can definitely not rely on that happening.

“I always have a notepad on me for tasting notes and price points,” says Matt Crawford, a Certified Sommelier and Assistant General Manager for St. Cecilia in Atlanta. Crawford, who formerly was a buyer for The Fifth Group’s Alma Cucina, as well as Gary Klaskala’s Aria, adds, “I am also thinking of potential placements or niches, something that I like [that] could fill in the program I am currently involved with. I will throw down some nose and palate descriptors and then categorize the wine and try to have some fun with it (i.e. NW Italian face ripper, Northern Rhone Umami Bomb, Mosel Petrol Express, etc.).”

7. Block out distractions.

The High Museum Trade Tasting is known almost as much for being a reunion spot as it is for being a serious tasting venue. Running into old colleagues, former sales reps, even people you knew in high school can be fun, but it can also distract you from your true mission of tasting wine.

Shake some hands, pass out some business cards and gracefully suggest, “Have you tried that Gevry-Chambertain at the Vintage 59 table? They were almost out a few minutes ago. You should go try to catch that!”

Unless you are the buyer for Bones, you probably don’t need 25 high-end Cabernets for your restaurant’s wine list, so don’t be distracted by “cherry picking.” Pick one or two that you are really intrigued by, and let the masses crowd the tables for the rest while you slip into a quiet corner with the Alsacian Rieslings.

“I think the mental part of tasting is just as taxing as the physical,” said Wine Spectator’s Dr. Vinny in a recent column. “It takes concentration, which is difficult at public tastings, so do your best to block out distractions.”

8. Treat yourself to some special wines.

In a seeming contradiction to my advice above, O’Sullivan recommends tasting some of the wines that you can’t afford. “You may never have the chance to taste these on your own,” he says. “Whether you need it or not, Grand Cru Champagne is Priority #1!”

Well-planned tasting in the higher price points, however, is not just about slamming every sample of 90+ point Cab that is being poured.

Use the trade show as a chance to broaden your wine education. A trade tasting was the first place I ever got to experience Grand Cru Burgundy, and I’ll never forget the experience.

Maybe you are a bar manager, and your restaurant has some high-end wines on the list that you’ve never sampled but would like to be able to sell confidently. Try them here!

Maybe you were thinking about adding one or two pricey bottles to your list, but your sales reps only show you glassable wines at your tasting appointments. Try them here!

I remember one year at the High Trade Tasting, Big Boat Wine Co. (now merged with Savannah Distributors) showed only rosés at their table. For their customers, it was a wonderful opportunity to get a first look at the just released vintage of Bandol rosé, Pinot Noir rosé from Oregon, and Carmenere rosé from Chile. Owner Lisa Allen decorated their table with pink balloons, and they definitely stood out in the crowd. I, for one, made a beeline.

9. Review your notes, and follow up with your sales reps the day after the tasting.

Crawford says he refers back to his notes both immediately after the show and down the line when new changes become necessary.

“One wine I can remember tasting and placing before I even left the event was actually at the High tasting. It was Big Table Farm’s Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir. Killer juice and I just fell in love with it!” he says.

10. Take advantage of attendee pricing deals if they make sense for you.

Many distributors offer special pricing for wines by the glass or purchased by the case based on tasting them at the trade show. Make note of any deals presented, and if there was a wine you really liked, jump on it immediately. Those deals go away fast!

Lara Creasy is a consultant with 14 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as The Optimist and King + Duke through her consulting business Four 28, LLC. Her work has been featured in such publications as Bon Appetit, Imbibe, and Wine Enthusiast.

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