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Top Five Dining & Wine Trends of the Year


Benchmark Hospitality International's Top Five

Dining & Wine Trends of the Year

The Woodlands (Houston), Texas, September 2012 … Benchmark Hospitality International, a leading US-based hospitality management company, has just released its Top Dining and Top Wine Trends for 2012 and beyond. The trends were observed by Benchmark's executive chefs and culinary experts at the company's 35 luxury hotels and resorts coast to coast and off shore.

Benchmark Hospitality International's Top Dining Trends of the Year

(Top Wine Trends follow.)

Dining Trend #1 The Search for Truth, Transparency and Clarity

There is a rising movement that wants to verify the truth behind oft-used descriptions of ingredients and dishes, such as Artisan, Natural, Healthy, Organic, Farm to Table, and Hand-crafted. These adjectives were previously solely used in the realm of chefs and culinary experts.

Today, however, we see a noticeable increase in the use of these descriptive words for products that lack credibility for the use of this language. The debasement of certain significant descriptors is being exploited for sheer commercial use without much value added to the guest experience, and this robs the true artisan producers from being recognized for the difference that they make in the quality of our food and our lives.

When fast food restaurants start claiming their product to be artisan related, it is time to revolt, and many chefs today say that time is now!

Dining Trend #2 Foraging: The Nature-Kitchen Partnership

Though not everyone will forage for their dinner, foraging is significant for specific regions of the country. Consider this – you're sitting by a clear, flowing creek and looking at all the gorgeous, lush greenery that is growing around you. It's nature's beauty.

It's also nature's bounty. At least, this is what the forager sees in Dandelions, Amaranth, wild Asparagus, Clovers, Chicory, Chickweed, Sheep Sorrel and more that are among those green masses by the flowing creek. Suddenly one's life is enriched doubly – a beautiful sight that is potentially delicious too. Some restaurants are allowing one cook to be a forager for the week; others are employing external foragers with much success in creating a sense of the true nature-kitchen partnership.

On your next nature hike, take along a Forager's Guide, a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and a whole lemon to enhance your walk in the wild.

Dining Trend #3 Molecular Gastronomy/Cooking

Understanding the cooking process is as important as the beauty and taste of the end product. Cooking isn't just about the drama or the gorgeous plates, it's about grasping the chemistry of the process and really dedicating oneself to understanding everything that occurs to create superb flavor, aroma, color and presentation.

We believe as strongly in the molecular gastronomy revolution today as we did at its advent some years ago. Though perhaps intimidating to some, this knowledge of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients, which occur while cooking, enriches our culinary lives immensely without taking away from the simple pleasures of a grilled steak, or roasted prime rib with potatoes.

A caveat is to recognize the real culinary artist from the dramatist, as no foam or liquid nitrogen or disappearing pouch raviolis or reverse spherification will succeed unless it also provides wonderful flavor and evokes a sense of discovery.

Dining Trend #4 Being a Part Of The Process ~ A Moveable Feast

The classic dining experience known for centuries involved customers ordering from a menu, the kitchen cooking the meal, and the service staff delivering it to the table. In the 21st Century, that is changing, especially in avant garde restaurants.

Today, successful restaurateurs know that guests want to be entertained and informed of the culinary process during dinner, in addition to enjoying a wonderful meal. Observant restaurateurs are responding with a dining environment that allows guests to participate in the process. This may take the form of tours of the Chef's herb garden prior to dinner, requesting the bartender create a specialty cocktail with guest-chosen elements, sampling the artisan cheese menu and taking note of the defining flavors, or sitting at the kitchen counter watching the Chef prepare a multi-course meal.

This active consumer involvement transforms a sedentary multi-course dinner into an engaging moveable feast!

Dining Trend #5 Creative Gluten Free?

No, it's not an oxymoron. Our commitment to our customers that follow gluten free diets should be much more than just serving steamed vegetable medley.

Today, the rich ethnic and culinary diversity of the United States provides us with excellent gluten free recipes that have been evolved naturally over time, originating from various parts of the globe. Pan Asian and North African delicacies are some of the many ethnic foods that Chefs are serving in a gluten free state, while preserving the richness and the flavors of the dishes. And most large and medium size cities and even a few small towns now produce gluten free pastries without the preservatives, whole wheat pizzas that are truly delicious, and some of America's classic recipes sans gluten.

A Bonus Trend: Gems in Cocktails

There exists a movement today that takes the creation and serving of cocktails to a much more exalted level. We all know that the classic cocktail is back, but did you know there are today beautiful gem-like drinks? Yes, we said "gems." Behind the bar we're seeing the rise of highly trained mixologists utilizing natural ingredients, herbs, exotic fruits and homemade mixes that defy established standards and mix world flavors. The largest visual impact is in the use of proprietary, artisanal garnishes, which range from edible diamonds, silver and gold to naturally dehydrated fruit and vegetable chips. As delicious as they are gorgeous!

Benchmark Hospitality International's Top Wine Trends of the Year

Wine Trend #1 Moscato: The Hottest Grape on the market.

Moscato is an easy grape to like. Its wines are fruit-driven, refreshing and perfect for out-door dining. They pair well with a wide variety of food, especially spicy Asian and Mexican. Moscato d'Asti from Italy has practically replaced Pinot Grigio in current popularity.

Moscato is the grape for fabulous sparkling, dry, sweet and fortified wines … and the grape even makes delightful pinks and reds. Like we said, an easy grape to like!

Wine Trend #2 Champagne and Sparkling Wine

There is no better way to begin a meal than with champagne or sparkling wine -- now produced worldwide. They pair brilliantly with almost any food. More grower champagnes are coming available from France and beyond in restaurants and fine wine shops throughout the USA. Bars and restaurants throughout the country are pairing champagne and sparkling wines with their menus, and some feature specialty drinks made with sparkling wine.

Cavas from Spain offer a great price/value, as does Gruet from New Mexico, Yalupa from California and Santa Julia from Argentina. Prosecco is a terrific entry into the world of sparkling wine. There is even sparkling Moscato and Lambrusco for those who prefer something sweeter. In essence, today there is bubbly produced throughout the country and around the globe for everyone, and for every occasion. We'll toast to that!

Wine Trend #3 Sherry, it's Not your Grandmother's Wine Anymore!

Long thought of as our grandparent's drink, Sherry is gaining in popularity with a rediscovery of especially dry versions and small-batch sherries, including those produced by Valdespino.

Sherry is wonderful served cold or over ice with a twist of lemon as an aperitif with antipasto or roasted nuts. Sweeter styles are lovely when paired with chocolate and fruit desserts. Tio Pepe, La Gitano and La Ina are great examples of a dry sherry, and Lustau makes incredible sweet dessert sherries. Or, just sip it as a night cap … turns out grandpa & grandma may have been on to something after all!

Wine Trend #4 Aperitif Wines

Lillet and Dubonnet have always been particular favorites for aperitif wines, both red and white versions, and Lillet has just introduced a Rosé. Also, sweet and dry vermouth grape-based mixers, served on the rocks with a twist, are terrific substitutes for the usual mixed drink before dinner.

Beverages to stimulate an appétit indeed!

Wine Trend #5 Chardonnay Un-oaked

A lot of winemakers today are backing away from the huge oak-bomb Chardonnays of the past and producing wines that are crisp, clean and more fruit forward. These wines appeal to a much broader range of wine drinkers of all ages, and are much easier to pair with food.

Since no expensive oak barrels are involved, un-oaked Chardonnays also tend to be less expensive, which appeals to today's price-sensitive consumers. Lighter, fruitier and less pricey, nice!

One More of the Road

All 50 states produce wine. With the increased adherence nationally to Farm-to-Fork and Eat/Drink Local initiatives, wine appreciators today are discovering that there are many excellent US possibilities to select from -- including very good wines produced in their own backyard. A bit further afield, wine consumers can expect to see an increasing presence in their local markets of wines from Georgia (former USSR), Moldova, China, India and Mexico. Wine today is as local as it is global!

About Benchmark Hospitality International's Personal Luxury Resorts & HotelsSM

Personal Luxury Resorts & HotelsSM represents a hand-picked group of 13 luxurious properties, in spectacular U.S. destinations coast to coast and off shore. Each hotel and resort delivers personal luxury in a spirit true to its own distinctive locale, yet in unison with the collection's shared mission. A division of Benchmark Hospitality International, for 30 years a leading US-based hospitality management company, and led by a proven and seasoned team of award-winning luxury hospitality professionals, Personal Luxury Resorts & HotelsSM is the preferred choice of guests who yearn for transformation over accommodation, customization over conformity, and inspiration over predictability. With Personal Luxury Resorts & HotelsSM, luxury is always personal.

About Benchmark Hospitality International

Benchmark Hospitality International is a leader in the management and marketing of resorts, conference centers, hotels, and Personal Luxury Resorts & HotelsSM. The independent company, launched in 1980, is a worldwide organization operating properties in major metropolitan and resort destinations. Benchmark's international headquarters is located in The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston. Benchmark Hospitality is also a founding member of the International Association of Conference Centers. The company's eastern regional office is in New Jersey, western regional office is in Washington, with international offices in Tokyo, Japan, and Santiago, Chile. For the location of Benchmark's properties and additional information, visit

To access Benchmark Hospitality's Media Center, including high-resolution photography of its luxury hotels and resorts, visit:

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Ken Ellens
Ken Ellens Communications