Brad Wermager at Wildfire in Chicago on Steakhouse Pinot—Noir and Grigio - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Brad Wermager at Wildfire in Chicago on Steakhouse Pinot—Noir and Grigio

A sommelier explains why two varieties are performing so well at his steakhouses and predicts what may be making a comeback.

Brad Wermager started out as a server at Wildfire 23 years ago; after making the rounds at several other Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, he set his sights on getting into the wine side of the business. He now oversees the beverage program for all seven Wildfire locations, focusing the lists on West Coast bottles plus a smattering of imports. While cabernet sauvignon moves as briskly as you’d expect at a steakhouse, Wermager finds that pinot sells even better—and merlot may be making a comeback.

Pinot—a Top Steakhouse Pour?
The Erath Oregon Pinot Noir [his No. 1 best-selling by volume] is something we’ve had for many years. When a wine has been on for many years, servers get more comfortable with it. When you have that table that has ordered a steak, chicken, and fish and wants one wine to go with all of it, pinot noir is the go-to to make the whole table happy. Plus, the Erath is in lots of wine shops, so guests are familiar with it.

Stealth Pinot Grigio
A lot of people order pinot grigio because it’s simple: It’s easy to drink—it’s not oaky, not heavy, so you can drink two or three glasses no problem. More people gravitate to it than chardonnay, which you either love or hate. Pinot grigio is a little more versatile with food; it’s not going to overwhelm anything. Plus, people know that it’s dependable.

On Malbec and Merlot
Dona Paula and Alamos [from Mendoza, Argentina] both do really well. People like the texture of malbec. Before malbec became popular, people loved merlot for its silky, velvety texture; malbec took that spot. Now I think merlot is seeing a resurgence—I see a lot of sommeliers and wine people really getting into it, and a lot of my colleagues are experimenting and putting it on their lists.

is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.