What's Old is New: An Interview with VIBE Speaker Madeline Triffon

Image Source: Eater Detroit

When sommelier Madeline Triffon completed the Master Sommelier test in 1985, she became the first American woman to pass the grueling exam. Madeline has developed wine lists and programs for Westin Corporation, London Chop House, Unique Restaurant Corporation, and Trowbridge Restaurant Group. Wine Spectator has recognized several of her wine lists with awards. Now, along with serving as master somm for the Plum Market chain, Madeline sits on the board for the United States chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

2016 VIBE Conference attendees will have the opportunity to attend an interactive tasting hosted by Madeline. The “new” darlings of the wine world, including Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, and Nebbiolo, will be compared to their more widely known counterparts. This session, complete with a blind tasting, is one not to be missed!

Wine can be intimidating to people, even beverage executives. Do you have any advice for beverage executives seeking to become more comfortable with wine?

Tasting wine on a regular basis with professionals who make you feel comfortable is key. Find a restaurant or a retail shop that hosts regular tastings that are reasonably priced. It doesn’t matter so much what specific wines you are tasting as that they’ve been selected with care by someone who loves wine. If you make it a gentle discipline to take a picture of the bottle (front and back labels), look at the winery or importer website when you get home, use Google Images to find a map of the growing region within its respective country, you own the wine: flavor experience, visual, a little info, geography, done. In a year’s time, you’ll be amazed how much you’ve learned. A good online resource for looking up label terms, such as the Oxford Companion on the Jancis Robinson website, is very useful and worth the subscription.     

What current wine trends do you believe restaurants and resorts should be taking advantage of to attract and please guests?

Representing growing regions that used to be considered “alternative” and are accessible to consumers thanks to the Internet. South Africa (dry Chenin Blanc, fine Sauvignon Blanc), Portugal (upper Douro reds) and Greece (Assyrtiko white) can be represented by a moderate wine by the glass. Dry rosé is hot! By-the-glass for sure, and more than one option by the bottle. Grower Champagnes flesh out a section that is often a snooze with the same cast of characters. Not using flute glasses! Many top Champagne producers are transitioning to white wine glasses; check out their websites.   

Which Old World wine regions should restaurants and resorts have their eyes on to draw in and satisfy their guests?

[See above] Dry Rieslings from Germany and Austrian Grüner Veltliner offer interesting options. 

What “new” varietals are experiencing the biggest surge in popularity?

Albariño and Torrontés for sure on the white front. Grenache, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Malbec on the red front. The reds especially are not all that “new,” but not representing them in affordable ranges is an oversight. It’s not a comforting thought that a guest may switch to another beverage category out of boredom… 

What varietals are your personal favorites?

Syrah! Its combination of smoky, meaty, peppery, dried herb aromas coupled with moderate tannins and firm acidity make it both complex and flexible with food. Though classic French Syrah needs a bit of a midwife; its profile is not one that is familiar with many Americans. For white, French Chardonnay, specifically Chablis, Puligny-Montrachet (utterly unaffordable), and Mâcon Blanc (the opposite).


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