Wine smarts, sans snobbery
Reserve’s Peter Marantette says ‘it’s OK to ask questions.’ We took him up on it.
Detroit-area native Peter Marantette ventured to DePaul University in Chicago, where he worked in the thriving restaurant industry and made his way up from server to bartending and into management.
During his time at the now-closed Bistro 110, two mentors pushed Marantette to learn more about wine. In spring 2010, Marantette was asked to move to Grand Rapids — his first time ever in the city — to help open Reserve Wine & Food. A month after the restaurant’s opening, Marantette obtained both his Level 1 and 2 certification of sommelier, an expert in wine service.
The Business Journal chatted with Marantette, Reserve’s general manager and beverage director, about wine.
Business Journal: What does a sommelier offer to a restaurant?
Marantette: For me, what I try to focus on for my staff — but also for the guest experience — is knowledge, knowing the product better than anyone else. Why does this California cabernet taste different than the Washington cabernet? What do they offer as far as food pairing with the rib-eye on the menu? A big part is wine can be intimidating, and we take that into account and try to disarm that situation by being friendly. It should be a fun thing. Food and beverage is meant to be enjoyed, so we try to take that approach. If you don’t know something, that’s OK. We’ve been there and want to help guide you through that. If you’re willing to learn something, then we’ll take you down that path.
BJ: What’s the food and beverage community like in Grand Rapids?
PM: I’m excited about it. Both food and beverage throughout West Michigan is growing. When I came six years ago, I think we as a community were fairly far behind Chicago in terms of culture and trends. We’ve caught up tremendously. The culture of food and beverage is more widely accepted. We have great beer, cider, distillers. Obviously wine is a big culture as a whole, but it’s growing in the West Michigan community. It’s exciting to be a part of that as Reserve is becoming well known as the spot to go for a glass of wine in Grand Rapids. To be a part of that, but also the growth as a downtown, it’s very exciting.
BJ: How do the types of beverages interact?
PM: Without each other, they’re not going to survive. As a wine guy, I rely on the success of Founders as a beer culture. We have to feed off of each other and the spirits, as well. We have a great cocktail program, and without those distillers in town we could rely on Russian vodkas or London dry gin, but to do it with a local product is that much more exciting.
BJ: Favorite wine right now?
PM: I drink my wine very seasonally. I might be abnormal in that I drink more white wine than red wine. I find it to be more friendly and easier to pair with food and better to drink on its own. For a lot of red wines, they need food. Seasonally I drink a lot of rosé, a lot of clean, crisp whites. For me to peg a favorite wine is tough. I have the luxury to taste quite a few through the week and taste hundreds through the year.
BJ: What’s your favorite wine style?
PM: I really do enjoy dry Riesling. Riesling is thought of as a stepchild in the wine community by most people. They think sticky, sweet wine and yes, there are those Rieslings. In reality, most are semi-sweet to dry and are just refreshing and complex. For me to find a really interesting Riesling is super exciting. I’ve been drinking a lot of dry Vouvray and Chenin blanc recently. Those are really exciting to me right now.
BJ: Where’s the best place to drink wine?
PM: I’ve been very fortunate to travel and visit different regions throughout the world, but I’m never going to recreate the experience a guest could have in Tuscany. You have to be there to experience it. Willamette Valley is beautiful, that’d be up at the top. Traverse City with Old Mission, they have great restaurants that support the wine industry. If you’re looking transcontinental, Tuscany and southern France are tough to beat.
BJ: What’s your opinion of Michigan as a wine region?
PM: The Michigan consumer does a great job of supporting the Michigan wine industry, but I would love to see the rest of the nation give the Michigan wineries the respect they deserve, because they’re making some world-class wines up in Old Mission and Leelanau. They’re really world class. We’ve had some difficult vintages, and in that regard there aren’t a ton of Michigan wines out there right now, but 2016 looks like it’s going to be great.
There are a handful of great producers up north, and there are several very good producers. For me, the Michigan wine producers really need to focus on the grape varietals that will do well. I understand the consumer need of wanting cabernet sauvignon, but it doesn’t get warm enough for those to be good. Varietals like pinot gris, grigio, gewürztraminer, Riesling, those will continue to be what Michigan can hang their hat on. It’s the right climate for those up north.
BJ: What’s your favorite under-the-radar wine region?
PM: California and Napa Valley have the lion’s share of the market in West Michigan, whether it’s cabernet or merlot or chardonnay. I’d love to see more people drink more wines from Washington. To me, they’re just a bit more nuanced and balanced. German Riesling and German wines in general would be great to see more people take interest in. We’ve had some fun playing around with wines from countries you wouldn’t expect, like Lebanon or Hungary. We have a wine by the glass from Slovenia.
BJ: Advice for beginner wine drinkers or big beer fans?
PM: There are so many people who say, “I’m a vodka guy” or “I’m an IPA guy.” The most important thing for any consumer is to find what you like, and whether it’s different than the spouse, brother, friend or mother, you have to enjoy it because you’re ingesting it.
It’s about what you like, and that’s something we try to convey to every guest that comes in here. It’s a matter of what you what.
Slowly try different things. Ask for advice. Wine, and food for that matter, can be intimidating if you don’t know enough about it. People can be thrown off by it, but I encourage people to disarm themselves, and it’s OK to ask questions.
It’s OK to not know. That’s why we’re here. I’d have so many questions when I walk into a bank or law firm. For those people that come in here, that’s what we’re here for.