Kansas City Restaurants’ Wine Programs: A Guide
As winter envelops us, thoughts may turn to cozy evenings in front of the fire with a bottle of wine and some pâté, let’s say.
There is a better approach, however – bundle up and trek to a great Kansas City restaurant and have that bottle of wine selected by an expert to go specifically with what you’ve chosen for appetizer and dinner. Let your cares and issues dissolve . . . you’re not at home.
Plus, even better perhaps, you don’t have to agonize over difference between an 88 or 92 wine rating (not that much it turns out.)
|Gaslight Grill’s Wine Room displays some of their finest bottles|
But first, a few fascinating wine facts. Wine has been part of life probably longer than you think – since around eight thousand years ago. The oldest glass wine bottle was found in Speyer, Germany in an ancient Roman chest, theoretically dating back to 325 AD. Although there are thousands of wines created from around 10,000 wine grapes available worldwide, they all fit into just three basic categories: table wines including the finest, fortified wines and sparkling wines.
But for those three categories, there are thousands upon thousands of different bottles of wines produced, translating into very healthy and continuing to rise US wine revenues at some $38 billion per year. (Other statistics are available in our on-line version of this article.) No matter how you count it, we drink a lot of wine, borne out by the fact that the U.S. has been the largest wine consuming nation since 2010.
Just these few facts may hint that knowing much about this industry is a huge job. There are oh, maybe around 14,000 – 15,000 different wines on the market; knowing a substantial number of them is the task of that earlier mentioned expert. Often the best at that task are called wine stewards or sommeliers. Pronounce, with my simple non-symbolled phonetics, with me: (sum maul yay). Say this originally French word that meant transporter several times.
Certified or Certificated
We are fortunate to have many such experts in Kansas City; several are “registered,” or more accurately, “certificated” sommeliers.
Anne Woods of the Sommelier Society of America points out there is no way to assess the number of "certified" sommeliers in the United States, or the number of sommeliers by state and the title; the profession, does not require state certification. However, there are many courses and classes exist that include stiff, difficult written exams along with blind-tastings for wine identification and descriptors, given by several organizations recognized by the wine industry.
The first such organization is the Sommelier Society of America which was established in 1954 – the very first time that "wine waiters" succeeded in achieving recognition and status. Their knowledge and expertise in wines and food pairings created a separate prestigious position in the restaurant. At that time the common title was Wine Captain. Another is the Court of Master Sommeliers, located in California, established in 1977. The North American Sommelier Association is another association that provides sommelier certification and was founded in 2006.
So, a sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, one who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. He or she is probably responsible for the development of a restaurant’s wine list, its purchase and delivery of the wine service, training other restaurant staff, and pairing and suggesting wines to complement specific menu items as well as complete meals. This means a full recognition of how food and wine, beer, spirits and other beverages work in harmony. Sommeliers usually also work the floor and must work within the taste and price parameters of their patrons, even if they’re not terribly sure of what those might be.
There are levels which require increasing years of arduously gained knowledge. To achieve even the minimum level, these oenophiles require a good memory and a good palate, one able to distinguish among those varieties, the regions all over the world that produce the grapes, and even the years the wine was produced.
The North American Sommelier Association has three phases and two tiers: Silver-Pin and the higher Gold-Pin. The Court of Master Sommeliers has four levels of certification from Level I to IV. Others include the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, the Society of Wine Educators, the International Wine guild, the International Sommelier Guild. Several colleges offer programs. Many choices, many variations.
Besides the time and effort involved, the courses are not inexpensive, either. There are college degrees available requiring two to four years. Though a basic education may be attained for anywhere from $1,000 – $4,000 over the course of six months, advanced professional certification requires years of costly study, practice and experience. Keep in mind that while some have chosen to go this route, others have decided against it and simply continue to enhance their expertise through their own reading, studying, and working. And we assume, tasting.
Why, Why, Why
David Crowe, the Wine director at Pierpont’s, a Certified Sommelier (Level 2) from the Court of Master Sommeliers, will make his first attempt at the Advanced Sommelier (Level 3) in 2016. It’s grueling, he says, but he started down the path because he quickly figured out just knowing grapes and their countries was nothing compared to “understanding what the guest is looking for in his personal experience that evening, and going above and beyond what the guest is expecting.” Working towards the Level 3 is a natural progression for him.
Rick Compton at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, not only has his sommelier designation from the Court of Master Sommeliers, but also has his Certified Cicerone. He says that the biggest impact from having the designations is that he is better able to match a wine or a beer to a guest. “There's a lot of importance placed on beer/wine/food pairings, but at the end of the day, I believe that pairing a beer or wine to food is much less important than pairing the beer/wine to the guest.”
Wine Spectator Awards
Four restaurants in Kansas City earned the esteemed Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence in 2015: the American in Crown Center, 801 Chophouse in Leawood, Story in Prairie Village, and JJ’s in the Plaza. The task of building that list is typically the job of the sommelier or a combination of owner or manager and sommelier. Owner Jimmy Frantzé of JJ’s, regarded for having the most extensive wine list in town for many years before the 2013 explosion that destroyed his restaurant and some 7,200 bottles of wine, has rebuilt his list beginning with the 6,000 bottles he had stored in a different location.
Another 18 Kansas City restaurants earned the Spectator’s Award of Excellence including the 801 Chophouse Power and Light, 801 Fish, Final Cut Steakhouse, Fogo de Chao, Gaslight Grill, Pierpont’s, Room 39, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and the Melting Pot. But what do these awards mean and why do they matter to you, the drinker? For starters, this means that the restaurant management is interested enough to apply for the recognition. Winning an award is a great honor which they do their best to publicize.
So Many Wines, So Little Time
Of course you need to narrow down those choices that the wine experts have already made for you. Personally, I think one of the very best ways to do that is to go to wine dinners or tastings that usually include special menus. And Kansas City is in luck, there. Genovese and Story, for instance, have a regular wine dinner every month. Webster House hosts tastings and lets people “vote” – and the winner ends up on their list. The best way to find many of these wine dinners is, modestly, to go to our web site and click on Calendar Events. You may also find additional events and offers by signing up for your favorite restaurants’ emails or newsletters – truly handy for discovering such events as Stephen Malloy heavily discounting wines at the Classic Cup starting in January and running through mid-March.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that it’s smart to take advantage of the many wine specials our restaurants offer. Beyond Happy Hours which almost always have discounted wines, we’ve found more opportunities. What is especially cool is that they are available almost every day of the week. We’ve done the research on our favorites for you. The increasing number of wine drinkers and their improved knowledge is one trend that Jimmy Frantzé has noticed. With nearly 30 years in the restaurant business, he says that nothing surprises him but the number of new regions producing good wine is a source of wonder to him. He cites South America, Portugal, southern Italy, even South Africa. He also adds, “But there is no doubt that Americans are more savvy and more interested in drinking good wine and knowing about it than they ever have been” – not that he’s endorsing the pinot noir trend.
|Matt Nichols, Partner, General Manager & Wine Expert at JJ’s|
Perhaps that interest in wine is somewhat fueled by media attention like the recent article headline in the October Wine Spectator which exclaimed: “Moderate Wine Consumption May Fight Alzheimer’s,” a conclusion from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. The article explained the (many) finer details, but the headline is enough for me.
And I will definitely continue my practice of asking the experts what I should try next – they’ve always been veracious. I have a friend who, not originally, says, “Life is too short to not drink good wine.” I think the best way to do that is to consult your knowledgeable and helpful wine expert on these long winter nights – or any time you want a good glass of wine.
K.C. Restaurants’ Wine Programs:
|Wine Spectator Award 2015 *||Certified Wine Expert on Staff||Wine Dinners / Tastings||Wine Flights or Pairings||Wine Specials Offered|
|801 Chophouse Leawood||BAE||√||√|
|801 Chophouse P & L||AE||√||√|
|Andres (Main St.)||√|
|Cafe Trio||√||TU & SU|
|Cleaver & Cork||√||√||TH|
|Espirito do Sul|
|Final Cut Steakhouse||AE||√||W-TH|
|Fogo de Chao||AE||√|
|Le Fou Frog||√|
|McCormick & Schmick's||√|
|The American||BAE||√||√||F (Lunch)|
|The Melting Pot||AE||√||TH|
|* BAE = Best of Award of Excellence|
|* AE = Award of Excellence|
Printed version: K.C. Restaurants’ Wine Programs