Scott Gardner
The Claret Cobbler from The Katharine Brasserie & Bar.

Wine and Brunch are the Perfect Pairing

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Wines with brunch are perhaps the most delicate and delicious pairings with that daypart’s lighter fare.

By Kristine Hansen November 2016 Wine

At its core, brunch is a casual weekend meal, which is why sommeliers and beverage directors strive to remove any perceived fussiness from the wines poured alongside egg dishes, burgers, and raw-bar items. 

This is especially true at the 21 Del Frisco’s Grille locations across the U.S. “The restaurants are geared for that younger group of people,” says Jessica Norris, director of wine education. “We’re aiming for that young, hip, fun, funky, eclectic group. The millennial generation likes to drink outside the box. They’re not necessarily going for California Cabernets. The value piece is huge.” At Del Frisco’s Grille, 50 wines are priced under $50 a bottle.

Sangria served in a carafe and Mimosas in a milk-glass jar have been happy compromises. “It still counts as wine sales,” Norris says. Whether sangria or wine, the choices are just as whimsical as the brunch dishes, which include a Red Velvet Belgian Waffle and Bananas Foster French Toast.

The Boston institution Aquitaine—celebrating 20 years in the South End in 2017—is also working hard to promote its wine sales during brunch service. Aquitaine reopened in July after a five-month closure to renovate and expand its footprint. Now the bar space is larger than ever before. “The restaurant has really become lighter and brighter. A new life, a new spirit of energy, has been created,” says general manager Emily Ackerman. Waitstaff are often thrust between old and new, offering familiar dishes and service to long-time customers while also courting first-time clientele.

The full wine list is available at every meal, including at brunch where it spans 150 selections, about 60 of those are white, the rest red. The majority, about 80 percent are French, explains Ackerman, and the rest are domestic. 

“With the reopening, we wanted to better represent ourselves as a wine bar,” she explains. Served by the glass are Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Albariño, Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon–Merlot blend, and two Pinot Noirs. By offering a Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Ackerman hopes that people will stray from an expected California find into new territory. Even so, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is available by the glass.

Ensuring these wines pair well with brunch foods is key. “Rosé is at the height of its popularity,” says Ackerman, who suggests sipping it with Mussels en Cassoulette, a signature recipe on the menu since opening day that is served in a beautiful copper pot for an elegant twist on brunch. With a Salmon Gravlax Salade featuring capers, shaved red onions, dill crème fraîche, and fingerling potatoes, a Coté Mas Crémant ($10 a glass or $40 a bottle) is pitched as an affordable sparkler. “It cuts a little bit of the sweetness of the crème fraîche,” Ackerman says. 

To encourage brunch customers to order wine, especially if they might feel deterred by the early hour, a dish and its suggested pairing are posted on social media. Each member of the waitstaff is trained in recommending wines for brunch. “You’re setting the tone for a leisurely afternoon. It’s acceptable to sit and enjoy a bottle of wine,” Ackerman explains.

Like Aquitaine, The Katharine Brasserie & Bar—inside the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, which resides in the historic R.J. Reynolds Tobacco building in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina—doesn’t abbreviate its wine list during brunch service. What’s available by the glass and bottle for lunch and dinner is also served at brunch. But assistant general manager Logan Gebhart won’t stop there. He wants guests to receive a little education about what drinks are best during brunch, while enjoying entrées like house-smoked salmon or an omelette with Gruyère and fines herbes.

Scott Gardner

“We’re working toward getting a menu insert that highlights the brunch wines. Trying to get someone to order a glass of wine [at brunch] is definitely very different,” he says, although he’s cautious about the concept becoming too pretentious. “My theory with brunch wines is to try not to take it too seriously and make sure the wines are affordable and fun.”

To that end, 18 wines are poured by the glass or carafe, and about half of those come from kegs. Around 70 wines are sold by the bottle and—because it’s a French-inspired restaurant—are primarily French.

Among Gebhart’s suggestions for diners who enjoy white wines are a sparkling Vinho Verde from Portugal that’s “a very lightly carbonated wine” and “lighter white wines that are racy because brunch food is heavy and fatty,” he says. For reds, a glass of sparkling Lambrusco from Italy “gives them the opportunity to enjoy something on the red side,” and Beaujolais—when served chilled—is a lighter style of red wine more suited for daytime hours. 

Pinot Grigio, he’s found, has been a go-to wine for many, but by consciously not offering it he is forcing diners to look outside of their comfort zones. “It forces the guest to try something different,” Gebhart says. 

What are good brunch wines for the cooler months? Last summer when Norris sat down to plot an upcoming change-out of wines in the fall, she sought to broaden geography. She added an Oregon Pinot Noir to a roster of California Pinot Noirs—“It’s not just about California anymore,” says Norris. And she chose blends because, as she notes, “Red blends and white blends are super easy to drink and easy to sell.” 

Current bestsellers are Albariño by the glass, Au Contraire Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California), and Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Charles Smith Wines in Washington state. 

Table service to promote these wines is key, says Norris, to defuse misconceptions about day drinking. Waitstaff armed with notebooks taste wine between three and five times a week before their shifts. To personalize the experience, they are also required to come up with keyword descriptors for each wine “so it sounds totally different than some stock description,” she says. 

As with any meal, wine pairings can help nail the sale of a glass or bottle of wine. And you can’t beat the preferred pairings suggested by the waitstaff. For Norris, describing how fried chicken and waffles taste with sparkling wine evokes a mouth-watering description. “I am a die-hard fried-foods-with-bubbles fan.”

Mulling over the various ways to promote wine at brunch service, in a way that social media cannot, Gebhart says, “A lot of it just really takes place at the table.” Because who can turn down a mouth-watering recommendation delivered in person—wine pairing included?