Restaurant owners and sommeliers share wine tips and analyze trends

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Published: September 4,2006

The interest in wine continues to increase among state residents as it does all over the country. Restaurant owners and sommeliers say diners are ordering more wine and becoming more knowledgeable about the abundant wine choices available.

Scott Jackson, manager and sommelier at Fairbanks Restaurant at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, says he’s noticed over the last decade that Americans are beginning to understand the role of wine with dining.

“It can be a perfect marriage when the right wine and food are paired,” he said. “It’s an education thing. There are a lot of sommeliers now who are educating the public; an influx of talented, trained wine-knowledgeable sommeliers.”
He feels that as a young country Americans were drinking spirits and beer. The proliferation of micro breweries led to experimenting with different tastes in beer and that was followed by an awakening of wine interest.

“We’ve had a renaissance of wineries. There are many good quality wineries that weren’t there before,” he said. “Now there’s good training and better equipment that’s causing more competition. Liquor shops are focusing more on wine and there are wine tastings everywhere. All of that benefits consumers.”

The Purple Parrot Café in Hattiesburg has hosted monthly tastings for several years, and Clint Taylor, managing partner of the Purple Parrot Company, says they typically sell out.

“We’re also having wine maker dinners several times a year with 60 seats that sell out,” he said. “Guest hosts from the West Coast, Germany and Australia have come to show off their wines with our food. We’re selling more wine than ever.”

Taylor finds that diners are more adventurous and are trying new products. “People here are becoming more sophisticated,” he said. “We’re offering more names and now have 225 wines on the list.”

The Purple Parrot Café received a Wine Spectator magazine Award of Excellence for 2006. Another state restaurant receiving this honor is Mignon’s Steaks & Seafood at the Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi. The two are among 3,000 restaurants nationwide listed in the magazine’s annual dining guide in the August 31 issue.

Mignon’s manager and sommelier Brad Maples says customers are ordering a lot more wine these days. South African and Australian wines are popular among the restaurant’s 400 wines. Since Hurricane Katrina damaged the casino barge, gaming now occupies the lobby space that Maples used for monthly wine tastings.

“We don’t have space for the tastings now but we hope to start doing them in the restaurant one night each month,” he said. “We always had a big crowd for them.”

Seasoned Jackson restaurant owner Nick Apostle says he’s poured a glass or two of wine in his day and notices that people are drinking more wine now. “It’s a fashionable, social thing to do,” he said. “It’s been on a steady increase and people are looking for more variety.”

He thinks stricter driving-under-the-influence laws are also contributing to the increase in wine drinking.
He acknowledges there are more producers of wine but not many more varieties are shipped into the state. “I know as a restaurateur that I do not have the availability of product that my peers have in other Southern states,” he said, expressing displeasure with the state-controlled system. “Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee all have more varieties available to them.”

Apostle sees diners drinking more of the lighter Pinot Grigio instead of California Chardonnay that’s heavy with an oak taste. Taylor notes that diners are drinking more German Riesling because it complements the Purple Parrot Café’s Creole food.

Jackson observes the latest trends are Spanish red wines and German Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and California for white wines. “The Spanish are making the best value reds in the world right now,” he said. “They have an upsurge in their number of wineries and they’re learning how to market them. You can find a lot of good ones under $12. That’s my recommendation.”

This sommelier who’s published wine articles offers the following tip about the proper temperature for red wine. Wine stored in a cellar is about 56 degrees, the ideal temperature for drinking.

“Not many of us in America have cellars and our houses are too hot. Wine at room temperature is 72 degrees,” he said. “I put red wine in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or in the ice bin for about 15 minutes and then pull it out. If the bottle feels slightly cool when you touch it to your face, it’s ready to serve.”

Experienced sommelier Maples also offers tips for enjoying wine. “Don’t be scared or intimidated. It can be easy and you don’t have to spend $100 to get good wine,” he said. “Try what you like and keep trying different wines. The more you drink, the more you’ll know about it.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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