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A winsome wine event

Once viewed as pretentious and intimidating, wine these days increasingly is becoming a drink of the masses.

One brand embracing this new reality is JW Marriott, which boasts a brand-wide Wine Ambassador program designed to help bar staff educate guests about wine in an approachable way. The JW Marriott Chicago has taken this program a step further, opening Wine Ambassador tastings to select VIP guests for almost two years now and, more recently, hosting “Women on Wine,” an extension of the program open to the public that I was fortunate enough to attend.

For US$15, patrons could sample four wines from California’s St. Clement Vineyards and meet winemaker Danielle Cyrot.

Wine tastings included (clockwise from bottom left) St. Clement’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, “Oroppas” Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Wine tastings included (clockwise from bottom left) St. Clement’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, “Oroppas” Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The experience also included food pairings to match the wines.

(clockwise from bottom left) Bruschetta of crushed English peas, buratta, pea shoots and olive crumble (paired with the Sauvignon Blanc); lobster spring roll with roasted corn, edamame and truffle aioli (paired with the Chardonnay); Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona cheese with cocoa nibs, raisins on the vine and chocolate truffles; and grilled lamb sliders with heirloom tomato-and-ginger jam and feta on toasted brioche.
(clockwise from bottom left) Bruschetta of crushed English peas, buratta, pea shoots and olive crumble (paired with the Sauvignon Blanc); lobster spring roll with roasted corn, edamame and truffle aioli (paired with the Chardonnay); Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona cheese with cocoa nibs, raisins on the vine and chocolate truffles; and grilled lamb sliders with heirloom tomato-and-ginger jam and feta on toasted brioche.

JW Marriott Chicago Chef Pete Pettorossi’s delicious dishes married well with the wines and effectively illustrated how different wines can taste when paired with food.

Most interesting for me, though, was chatting with Cyrot, who was much more down-to-earth than I expected a winemaker to be — appropriately so, given the nature of the event. Cyrot emphasized that at its core, wine is actually quite simple — a matter of each individual’s palette and what he or she likes or doesn’t like. She noted that a growing number of younger people are eager to explore wine, presenting a huge opportunity for hotels.

“I like menus that say ‘light and fruity’ or ‘crisp and dry,’ especially if people are not familiar with a certain grape or brand,” Cyrot said. “Tell people what to look for — especially the consumer who doesn’t know a lot about wine but wants to learn.”

What is your hotel doing to help guests learn about and enjoy wine — and boost your F&B operation in the process? I’d love to hear about your examples.

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