It is very rare that I write my column based on meeting someone, but I came across such a “find” while working the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. I was so blown away by Ashley Hall and her extensive wine knowledge that it would be wrong of me not to share both with you, my dear readers.
Ashley is the wine concierge at H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta and was responsible for managing the alcohol education program at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which offered 30 educational wine/spirit tastings. Previously, she worked for wine distributors and as a regional sales director for Kermit Lynch, a famous wine importer out of California.
Ashley is very passionate about the trade and educating her customers on wine choices that are in the best interest of the “drinker.” Even after 25 years in the business, my wine knowledge isn’t great, and I know that many planners have difficulty cutting through some of the snootiness surrounding menu wine choices, so I sought Ashley’s help in demystifying this portion of F&B.
Old World vs. New World wines
Basically, Old World means wines of Europe and New World means everywhere else. Personally, I am a New World girl but, luckily, Ashley covers all continents. Ashley quickly pointed out to me that all wine is technically white. In laymen’s terms, red wine is the result of how long the skin of a red grape is pressed in the juice. Think about putting a tea bag into hot water. The strength of the tea depends how long the bag is in the water. It is this same concept for red wine. Ashley’s pet peeve about wine today is that people think a sophisticated red wine has to be big and bold. Not true, she insists, a lighter wine can be just as sophisticated and complex.
Wine for the times
Ashley also recommends planners think about the weather when selecting wines. When it’s hot outside, it’s best to go with lighter wines, whether red, white or rosé. In the summertime we aren’t going to eat heavy foods, she explains, we tend to go with lighter foods. The same goes with wine.
Red, rosé, white and bubbly
So let’s talk about the different types of wine. It is common knowledge that Pinot Noir is a classic lighter-bodied red wine. But it’s not commonly known how difficult the Pinot grape is to farm. Many times it isn’t grown properly, Ashley says, so inexpensive Pinot Noir may not be the best choice for a summertime red. The most cost-effective way to serve a Pinot-style wine for a group is to choose a wine made with a Gamay grape, which is most commonly found in Beaujolais wine. What Ashley likes about the Gamay grape is that it is close in characteristic and flavor to Pinot, but it creates a more consistent quality wine because it is easier to farm. Both of these light red wines are great summer choices for food because they don’t overpower. Heavier red wines like Cabernet and Merlot are a better match with fall and winter menus.
Rosé is Ashley’s current pet project, so she was excited to talk about it. No longer looked at as “cheap or inexpensive,” rosé has picked up a lot of momentum in the last two years, especially among savvy white wine drinkers. What I didn’t know is that rosé’s have been part of an elegant tradition in Mediterranean countries and along the south of France, especially Provence, where a lot of rosé is produced. What people like about rosé is that you get the nuances of a red wine with a much lighter feel.
Ashley says that the widest variety of good, inexpensive wines on the market today are white. The most popular choices for banqueting are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. All three of these wines have very different flavor profiles:
- Pinot Grigio is where most wine drinkers start from as it has mineral qualities to it and is very neutral in flavor.
- Chardonnay is the most common wine in the United States and tends to taste “buttery.”
- Sauvignon Blanc has a lot of the citrus tones to it like grapefruit, lemon and lime, etc.
If you are looking for a good across-the-board wine for an event, Ashley recommends going with a Sauvignon Blanc. It is a good wine regardless of the price point, and its citrus tones complement a wide range of food.
For summer celebrations, Ashley recommends Prosecco. The charming sparkling white wine has a hint of sweetness that doesn’t weigh drinkers down during the dog days of summer. It’s a good banqueting choice because of its price point and because it’s not as intense as champagne, so it is easier for many people to drink.
When ordering wine for banqueting, I have one last piece of advice. Bear in mind that it is your responsibility to remind banqueting of how big the pour will be. If you don’t pay attention and you are buying by the bottle, they will over-pour to go through more bottles of wine. I recommend you take a minute to go over the size of that pour with your banqueting bartenders prior to your events. In general, you should get 4.5 glasses per bottle.
Folks, all the above tips are equally applicable for events as they are for just enjoying a glass at home or on the town. As we wrap up, I thought I would leave you with some wine choices in each category that Ashley would give four stars:
- Red: Colonias de Las Libras Bonarda, Mendoza – $9.99
- White: Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, California – $14.99
- Rose: Janasse Rosé Principaute d’Orange – $15.99
- Bubbly: Nino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco NV – $21.99 retail
With this, Ashley and I raise our glass to all of you in a “toast” to the wines of the warmer months.
This is my story for now and I am going to be sticking to it.