Jean Louis Montecot reaches into his black leather wallet for his wine shopping list for his new holiday season menu at Jean Louis Restaurant and Bar. The short slip of paper is dominated by Pinot Noirs — a wine called Dusky Goose is underlined and beneath it, another called Robert Sinskey, one he says has elements of plum and berry.
"(Pinot Noirs) are nice and rich with a full body and complement a lot of poultry, game dishes and beef," he explains. "They’re not cheap, but it’s worth it."
It’s important to be versatile when the holiday season hits, especially when presenting wine as gifts, he cautions, since, "you don’t really know what people might want to prepare." That’s where wines like Pinot Noir shine, he explains: the red wine doesn’t need a particular meal partner, and they work with heavier, meat dishes.
As families plan rich meals to topple over plates this season, many find themselves scratching their heads between aisles at Utah state liquor stores last-minute, some stocked with all 3,500 available wine varieties, ultimately making a beeline for the familiar. Park City’s Snow Creek Liquor Store Wine Manager Drew Ellis, a professional chef since 1981, hopes to divert their attention beyond their go-tos.
When Ellsworth approaches a customer initially, he asks a lot of questions. "I ask them what they’re looking for, how much they want to spend, but I also ask them questions about their knowledge level to point them in the right direction," he says.
Among the bigger eye-opening recommendations Ellsworth shares with shopper is the perception that a wine at a higher price-point is necessarily better.
"I feel there’s a real knowledge gap out there, namely that a good wine starts at $15 instead of $8," he says. "There are a lot of $8 wines that can blow you away."
Ellsworth came to Park City’s store after working at Cottonwood’s liquor store, where he spent two and half years helping Salt Lake City residents match their meal with wine. He got out of the full-time chef business to break with the stress of operating a kitchen and now teaches private cooking and wine pairing classes.
"Sometimes customers will come into the store and look at me like I’m a Utah state employee and couldn’t possibly know about wine," he says. "But this is my passion it’s not what I do to make a living. I’ve been a professional chef for decades. The thing I do best is picking wine to go with food."
Park City’s state liquor stores are open Mondays through Saturdays and can be found at Snow Creek Plaza near The Market at Park City (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and 524 Main St. (open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) To contact the Main Street location, call (435) 649-3293. To contact Drew Ellsworth and the Snow Creek Liquor Store, call (435) 649-7254.
All liquor stores are closed on holidays.
Tips from his trade
Snow Creek Liquor Store Wine Manager Drew Ellsworth parts with a few secrets when it comes to selecting wine this holiday season:
-Check out the "shelf talkers" — cards located above each wine with reviews from various wine magazines. The system ranks wines from 1-100 points. A wine with a rating of 88 points or higher is a good bet, says Ellsworth.
-Spanish wines are affordable (often $5-10 cheaper than other wines) and Utah State Liquor Stores offer a good selection that is often overlooked by customers. Look at the label for Albarino grapes, white grapes from northern Spain that can be paired with fish and lobster.
-Bang for the buck: Also a good value are wines from Argentina and Chile.
-When shopping for zinfandel wine, look for the description "old vines." Zinfandel tastes best when the wine’s grapes have been harvested from vines 35 years old or older.
Holiday season wine list
Wines by the magnum
Snowcreek Liquor Store Wine Manager Drew Ellsworth recommends:
Fish Eye Shiraz ($13.99)
Vieille Ferme Cotes Du Ventoux ($12.25)
Ellsworth calls Pinot Grigio "the new chardonnay," since California chardonnay can sometimes be "too oaky and buttery to pair with anything." Snowcreek carries nearly 70 bottles of Pinot Grigio. Ellsworth recommends:
Kris Pinot Grigio ($11.99)
Riesling wines can accompany Mexican and Chinese dishes which are often difficult to pair, according to Ellsworth, and can also blend with unusual flavors like cranberries, fruit salad and potatoes. He recommends:
Willm Alsatian Gewurztraminer ($13.45)
"A great holiday wine. Sweet, but with a spicy attack and an effervescent burst of flavor the name translates to ‘spicy grape,’" says Ellsworth.
Spanish wines have a lot of history, and Ellsworth confesses, the liquor store section devoted to Spain is one of his favorites because of its value. Most customers know about Spanish red wines, but Ellsworth says Spanish whites offer just as much punch. Try:
Vina Godeval –100 percent Godello grape ($14.99)
Park City Chef Jean Louis Montecot goes for the $40 bottle of champagne, but there are also some more affordable options.
Dom Perignon ($357)
Buval Leroy ($40)
Trocadero (good for mimosas) ($7.52)
A Spanish sparkling wine.
Soracco Moscato D’Asti ($16.99)
— According to Spotted Frog Bookstore and Wine Store Sommelier Zev Rovine, this wine from Northwestern Italy is low in alcohol, only slightly sweet and semi-sparkling. "It’s a fun, easy-going wine that’s good for meals," he says.
Montecot says he recommends Pinot Noir for the holidays because of its versatility it can be paired with all kinds of dishes, he says, heavy meals included.
Robert Sinsky ($35.88)
Dusy Goose ($52.99)
The sometimes overlooked grape creates a wine that Rovine recommends for the holiday season as a "food wine" to accompany meals:
Ridge Passo Robles 2005 ($30)
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.