Canadian Pizza Magazine

marketing insights: Perfect pairings

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Your wine list is an essential component of strategic planning. After
all, a strong offering of vintages will increase cheque averages,
complement your menu and provide a point of difference from your

Your wine list is an essential component of strategic planning. After all, a strong offering of vintages will increase cheque averages, complement your menu and provide a point of difference from your competition. Wine consumption increases year over year and the category is poised for incredible growth. A study conducted by British firm ISWR for Vinexpo (the international wine and spirits exhibition being held in Bordeaux June 19 to 23) confirms that Canada’s wine consumption is expanding. The study forecasts that wine sales by volume are expected to increase another 19 per cent by 2014, while average worldwide volume growth totals 3.18 per cent. In the span of 10 years, Canada’s wine consumption will have grown six times faster than the world average, says Xavier de Eizaguirre, president of Vinexpo. However, much like characters in a play, each kind of wine has a specific role and knowing how to cast it effectively on your menu can translate into great success and profitability for your restaurant. Here’s a look at the characters vying for stardom in your cellar.
Think Katherine Hepburn: clear, classic and able to play a wide range of roles and accompany a variety of menu items. Rieslings are great with fish, salads and Sushi. Riesling is a safe bet for servers stuck for a white wine pairing suggestion because it goes well with so many things. Riesling may not be new news, but it’s certainly well established and popular. The cool climates of Ontario and Germany produce some of the best Rieslings in the world, so if you want a solid Canadian wine on the menu, Riesling is a good choice.

Sauvignon Blanc
It’s been reported that Sauvignon means “wild or savage grape.” It could very well be the Angelina Jolie of your wine list with the way its bold character stands up to strong dishes. Sauvignon Blanc whites are known for their tropical fruit, melon and grassy green notes. These wines are beautiful with asparagus or white pizza with green peppers and goat’s cheese. Any wines with lovely acidity like this pair well with salty cheeses in the same way a tequila/salt combination works.

This is an up-and-coming, trendy white varietal that’s starting to appear in Canadian vineyards. Viognier is the Marilyn Munroe of the menu: luscious, full-bodied and able to go toe to toe with many flavours. Viognier is known for its floral nose (smell) but delivers some weight on the palate. As a result, Viognier pairs beautifully with risotto, cheese and Thai.


Always full bodied, sometimes buttery, with characteristic toasty notes that remind one of a bonfire, Chardonnay makes a vivid, rich character, like the beloved and recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor.  Canada’s climate produces wonderful Chardonnays and there’s nothing better enjoyed with a warm piece of focaccia or fettuccine Alfredo.

Cabernet Franc
Grown especially well in the Loire Valley of France and Ontario, Cabernet Franc has been touted by Vines magazine as a trendy wine with younger consumers. Cabernet Franc crossed with Sauvignon Blanc produced the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, which probably makes it the Brad Pitt of varietal wines. Cab Franc likes growing in a cooler climate and typically shows notes of blackberries with hints of green pepper. A most interesting wine, it pairs beautifully with pizza with green peppers and is awesome with lamb.

Meet the Frank Sinatra of varietals. Smooth, silky, yet when crafted properly, incredibly powerful. Merlot seduces without taking over the experience of the meal. It’s especially food-friendly and complements tomato sauce on pizza without overpowering it, yet stands up to the meat and the vegetables. If the particular Merlot has some nice earthy notes, mushrooms are especially good to pair with it.

Shiraz (Syrah)
Shiraz and Syrah are made from the same grape. The only difference is in the winemaking style, with Syrah being a bit more structured and food-friendly and Shiraz bolder with peppery notes. These grape siblings could be compared to Ben and Casey Affleck. Shiraz (Ben) is more well –known, but Syrah (Casey) is well regarded too . . . if a little less famous. A Shiraz on your menu will get traction because it’s such a popular wine. Syrah may be the more food-friendly, but it won’t get the name recognition. This varietal is a great choice with pizza that boasts a nice layer of spicy meats. It can stand the heat.

Malbec is often described as the rustic version of Merlot. If Merlot is Frank Sinatra, then Malbec is Justin Timberlake. It’s like Merlot but a bit edgier, jammier and softer, but still with a backbone. It’s a great choice with tomato sauces, cheddar cheeses and lasagna.  This Argentinian varietal is definitely trendy, so keep your eyes peeled for a good one.

People tend to think of sparkling wines only at anniversaries or other celebrations, but chances are they’re celebrating these occasions at your restaurant anyway, so a bottle of sparkling will truly make it special. It’s a great way to cleanse the palate between courses and never fails to put everyone in a celebratory mood. In a class by itself, sparkling is the chameleon of wines, pairing beautifully with any food it meets. If sparkling wine were a famous actress, it would most likely be Meryl Streep. Do carry a great sparkling wine and promote it on your menu for special occasions . . . like tonight. 

A great wine selection can make the meal and your establishment more memorable. Keep this handy cast of characters in mind when planning your wine menu. 

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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