Friday, May 13, 2011

Wine and Tapas on Madison’s West Side – Eno Vino – Part II of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Jennifer Cameron, Wine Director of Eno Vino (, @ENOVINO on Twitter, Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro on Facebook) at 601 Junction Road, Madison, WI 53717, 608-664-9565) about their wine business.
A previous post discussed Eno Vino’s wine list.  This post continues that discussion and also discusses Eno Vino’s wine and food, training of staff, and wine events.
MWS: Who makes the decisions about which wines to offer on the wine list? What do you look for?
Jennifer: I do. Our General Manager is very helpful if I get stuck and may suggest directions to try, but for the most part I make the decisions.

Right now, as I had said, I know what I want to add in terms of French reds – also with white wines some more funky stuff -- I might like to add an Albarino or a Torrontes.  

I will then contact my wine vendors, and see what wines they have, sample the wines and take notes and when it comes down to actually making the changes I will go through all my notes and see which ones I like, which ones may or may not fit and what kind of price range they are in, and go from there.

I also have to keep in mind that my tastes are not the same as everyone else’s taste. With the Sauvignon Blanc I prefer more of the French style, like I really enjoy Sancerres, but a lot of our guest really love the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs so I have to keep them. I have to remember that I may not choose that to drink, somebody else will love it. Same with Pinot Noirs, for me I would rather have an Oregon Pinot Noir versus a California Pinot Noir.

So what I will do sometimes is that I take wine samples from our vendors and sit down with some of our servers who absolutely love Pinot Noirs and have them taste the samples and ask them what they think; I have other people who love Cabernets and others like to try the Pinot Grigio and I will sit with them and try to make decisions that way.

We tend to add between five and fifteen new wines each time we change our wine menu – which we do about twice a year, in Spring and Fall.

MWS: How did you learn about wine?
Jennifer: I learned here. I have been at Eno Vino since it first opened and I started as a bartender, so I have seen every single wine list change that we have had. I was more of a spirits person, and I was the bar manager but I learned more and more about wine. I was offered the job as Wine Manager and I said, “Sure. Let’s try it”.  

Well, it turns out there was a lot more to learn about wine then I had thought.  It has been fun and educational to learn about wine and all the elements about it.  I have had some patient wine vendors and have learned from our guests as well. In my opinion, you can never stop learning about wine, which makes it such an enjoyable job and hobby. The more you learn, the more you appreciate drinking a wonderfully tasty glass of wine.

Also I found the Wine Bible (by Karen MacNeil - $12.92 at very helpful – one of the best wine books I have ever read. I enjoy the way she writes. She is very witty and funny, but she breaks it down to make it very easy for you to understand. She breaks it down by region, and makes everything a little bit more simple.

MWS: Are there some wine labels that you try to always carry?
Jennifer: Wines by the bottle - yes. I never get rid of Caymus just because it is the Cabernet that everyone wants, same with Jordan. Not necessarily so much by the glass, although there are some that have been on the menu since before I was a wine steward, that are still our top ten sellers – Madrigal Zinfandel, Erath Pinot Noir, The Show Cabernet.

At the same time, I have to be looking to get the best -- even if something is selling great, I have to find out if there is something out there that is even better.

MWS: Any surprises – wines that do better than expected?
Jennifer: Yes – for example the Cotes-du-Rhone – it was the Janasse – has been doing very well.  We had a Cotes-du-Rhone on our wine menu a few years ago and it did not move at all back then.

I also put a Super Tuscan on the menu and Super Tuscans had not done well in the past, but I had somebody actually make the comment the other day that if I ever get rid of that Super Tuscan – Poggio alla Badiola -- from the menu that he would be very mad at me.

Also Petite Sirah has done very well. I don’t know whether it is because of the name of the wine – it is called Cupcake.  I have had Petite Sirahs on the list before and it was too big for some, but this has been selling like crazy.

MWS: What are your personal favorites on the wine list?
Jennifer: There is a Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It isn’t your typical Sauvignon Blanc – it has the typical New Zealand nose but it is vey tropical on the palate, which I really enjoy.

For red wine --I really enjoyed the Cambria Syrah, which we used to have on the menu, and other than that I would have to say the Black Sheep. It is an Australian Shiraz, Merlot and Malbec blend by Stanley Lambert which is one of my favorites to recommend to guests who are having their food to share just because it pairs well with a lot of different foods.

MWS: Given the variety of foods served at Eno Vino, is wine pairing a challenge?
Jennifer: Yes and no.  

It can be difficult and easy at the same time. It depends upon how perceptive guests are and how much wine they would like to have. That is why we offer the quartino, which is a glass and a half, so that way when they are sitting down and they are starting off with something like a salad or a Carpaccio or a seafood dish they can have a quartino of white wine to share and for dinner you can get a quartino of a red wine – so that can make it easy. Another great thing about wine is that it can be so versatile – you can have a spicy dish and you can either tame it with a sweet white wine or you can add to the spiciness by maybe doing something like a Tempranillo or a Zinfandel – so you can go in either of those directions.

MWS: Does your chef have any input into wine suggestions?
Jennifer: Yes. Like I might have a problem with a certain cheese and he might suggest a wine that could go really well with it. For our Wine & Tapas, I’ll provide notes for the chef, and he creates the meal off the wine. For our special dinners like the New Year’s Eve dinner or for Valentine’s Day, he will create a dish and then I will read the components and decide which wines would be great, and then when we meet with the staff we will talk about how the two work with each other.

MWS: How do you train your staff to answer questions about wine?
Jennifer: We have training and we also let them try wines. We have five days of training. Whenever we have a new server we have them taste every wine that we offer by the glass, so that they can say that they have had the wine, and we try to choose three words to describe that wine. That way it is easier to remember. Whenever we have a change in the wine menu we always have our servers taste the new wines.

Our bartenders have been here for a while and have seen several wine menu changes so their knowledge is very good because they have been able to taste everything, so the guests really rely on them – so when we have a wine menu change, guests frequently ask them what their favorites are on the menu change. And so we get to introduce a guest to wines that they may not have been familiar with.

The best thing about our staff that we have right now is that they really want to know more about wine – they enjoy wine, they want to try more wines, they want to know what might go with it – they are always open to learning more – which is what I think is great about them.

MWS: What do you focus on in your Wine & Tapas tasting on Wednesdays?
Jennifer: We sign up a distributor for each our weekly tastings, and then that distributor looks at what is strongest in their wine portfolio that what they might want to showcase, and we organize around that – so the typical focus is on a region  – like Oregon, or the California Central Coast -- and so you can become familiar with the wines from the region. I guide the distributor’s selections to some extent to make sure that we are not repeating our themes. Each dinner features three wines.  Our chef then creates three dishes around the tasting notes for the wines. The distributors also speak at the dinner because they have all the tasting notes, and they know all that there is to know about the wine.

MWS: What is your Private Wine Lockers program?
Jennifer: It is like a wine club. It is an annual membership. We have three different levels – Platinum, Gold and Silver. With each membership you get a certain number of wines – for example with the Silver you get 12 bottles of wine for the year. I select the wine each month and put it in the locker and when the guests come in they can see their wine book and have one of their wines. It is a lot of fun, because you really start to work with the guests and understand what they like and what would be fun to put in their locker and what would be a bad idea. We also have four Wine Locker events a year where they get to meet our wine vendors and to purchase wines for their lockers. Wine locker members also have the opportunity to buy two bottles of wine a month from our wine list at our cost.

MWS: Do you have wine for sale?
Jennifer: If you like the wine you had with dinner you have the opportunity to buy a bottle at 25% off the price and take a bottle home with you.


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