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The Power Lunch Is Back. Are You Ready?

12 wines worth choosing when you're wheeling and dealing

Janice Williams By April 22, 2022
group of people eating lunch while working outside with wine bottles in the forefont
Illustration created by Pix. Photo by SrdjanPav/iStock.

Workers are on their way back to the office.

According to a Microsoft survey, about 50% of company leaders are already requiring or planning to require employees to work in the office in person, full time in 2022.

Some people are dreading the return. According to that same report, 52% of workers want to switch to a full-time remote position or at least a hybrid one. 

For those who go back to work the old-fashioned way, there is, at least, an upside: The power lunch is back.

Restaurants across major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are seeing a boom in lunchtime foot traffic. Some of them are even back to pre-pandemic levels of business.

“In the last two weeks, business has really started to come back, especially for lunch. We’re doing numbers similar to what we were doing in late 2019, early 2020,” says Francesco Grosso, the beverage director at Michelin-starred restaurant Marea in New York City. 

But, he says, the clientele has changed — and so has their ordering behavior.

The power lunch social hour

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to pop into a bustling city restaurant during lunchtime and see people in suits sitting around a table decked with white cloth and plenty of courses. Go back to the 1980s, and there would be plenty of cocktails on the table too. Nowadays, the midday rush is full of people taking a break from the office and folks just looking to meet with friends for a more social lunch setting. And it’s wine they’re ordering.

“We’ve always been fortunate enough to have a crowd during the lunch hour, and we’ve always done really nice, strong wine sales during lunch. But we’re seeing a lot more social lunches,” says Grosso. “Yes, people come in during their office lunch breaks and break away from Zoom. But there’s a noticeable more convivial atmosphere of people just wanting a good lunch out of the house.”

Grosso adds, “Now lunch feels a bit more celebratory.”

Ray Lee, chef and owner of the popular sushi restaurant Akiko’s, told Eater San Francisco he noticed an increase in out-of-towners trickling in during the lunch hour. And it’s obvious visitors are genuinely excited to be out dining again. 

“We were just seeing more people on the street, but more than that, we were getting a lot of email requests [to reopen],” Lee told the publication in April. “Alright, [I thought], maybe it’s time to set up lunch again.”

Grosso has also noticed that customers have become wine-savvy over the last two years. And it’s become even more apparent that they are looking over the wine list well before they arrive at the restaurant, Grosso says. Some people have even “called before they came in and asked for bottles to be put aside.” He adds that they’re also seeing a lot of younger people, who are “really interested in trying a variety of wines at lunch and during dinner.”

While the regulars that are back in the office have returned to their favorite lunch haunts, restaurants in Los Angeles have noticed new clientele dining during the lunch hour, too. “We are seeing a lot of new faces coming in for meetings,” Gabé Doppelt, maître d’ of the Tower Bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel, told Town & Country magazine in February.

And patrons are ordering more wine than ever. “When we opened, we were coming off the tail end of the financial crisis of 2008. People were very guarded about spending, and that has shifted. With people being more wine-savvy and more interested in a variety of wines, there’s been a shift of people willing to try more and explore,” says Grosso. “It seems like people are coming in at lunch and enjoying wine in every way.”

More bubbles, please

That same celebratory mood that’s driving people to socialize at lunchtime is influencing their drinking choices, too. They’re calling for Champagne and sparkling wine, both by the glass and the bottle.

“The biggest overall noticeable change is in the uptick in Champagne sales. People are ordering it significantly more than what I remember before the pandemic, especially during lunchtime,” Grosso says, adding that people have been notably more interested in trying bottles from smaller producers than the same old big names. 

“We’re seeing a lot more orders and requests for grower Champagne. There haven’t been many requests for popular labels like Veuve Clicquot or Moët & Chandon. People are more open to trying Champagne from smaller growers.” 

…With people being more wine-savvy and more interested in a variety of wines, there’s been a shift of people willing to try more and explore,” says Grosso. “It seems like people are coming in at lunch and enjoying wine in every way.”

Keeping it light

Bubbles are great, but a bottle will be too much for people who need to get back to the office. For them, Grosso recommends sticking to wines that are lower in alcohol.

Spätlese Riesling is one of his favorite recommendations, though he also suggests wines from Northern Italy and the Loire Valley of France.

“We’ve got some great options that are a little lower in alcohol and many Old World-style wines by winemakers who really focus on keeping alcohol levels as low as possible,” Grosso says.

Bubbles, classics, low alcohol wines. The new generation power lunch is the perfect way to ease back into the office.

Bottles to try:

bottle of Karthauserhof Bruno Riesling Trocken

Karthäuserhof Bruno Mosel Riesling Trocken 2020 (~$24)

Produced by Karthäuserhof in the German wine region of Mosel, this low alcohol Riesling sings with citrus fruit aromas enhanced by lemon, honey, and herbal characteristics. The wine displays mouth-drenching acidity and a mineral backbone that lends to its delicate structure.

bottle of La Caravelle Niña Brut Champagne Cuvée NV

La Caravelle Cuvée Niña Brut Champagne NV (~$24)

This blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier is produced by La Caravelle winemakers Rita and André Jammet, who previously owned the darling New York City restaurant of the same name. This Champagne could easily be classified as a celebration in a bottle with its tasty flavors of orchard and ripe stone fruit flavors supported by fine bubbles and a rich texture.

bottle of Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2019 (~$43)

Here’s a sophisticated Pinot Noir from Washington state’s Willamette Valley to accompany your lunch burrito bowl. Displaying complex aromas of red fruit and tobacco, the palate of this youthful wine is easy-drinking and elegant, with concentrated red berry flavors and a hint of spice. The finish is long with earthy undertones that end with a note of vanilla.

bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco

Produttori Del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2018 (~$47)

This Nebbiolo hails from the Italian region of Barbaresco and is made by winemakers at Produttori del Barbaresco. It’s a perfect food accompaniment, with its medium body rich with red berry, dried earth flavors, and firm but light tannin structure.

bottle of Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc 2020 (~$47)

This wine is made of a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon from Ashes & Diamonds vineyards in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll District and Yountville. It’s ripe and layered with zesty citrus fruit and green, highlighted by bright acidity.

bottle of Domaine Tempier Rosé Bandol

Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé 2020 (~$56)

Zesty citrus. Fresh peachy aromas. Soft nectarine flavors complemented with herby nuances. This rosé by Domaine Tempier has it all. Produced in Bandol, an appellation within France’s famous Provence, the rosé is a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Cinsault that is completely balanced with fruity freshness and crisp texture.

bottle of Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru

Pierre Péters Cuvee de Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV (~$63)

The Pierre Péters estate has produced world-class Champagne for six generations. The Champagne house’s non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is a consistent favorite among critics, earning 90-point scores from reviewers at Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. Made with 100% Chardonnay, the bubbly is complex with apple and citrus fruit flavors, toasty, vanilla characteristics, and an intense minerality that provides structure.

bottle of Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains

Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (~$66)

This deep purple Cabernet Sauvignon comes from California’s Santa Cruz Mountain AVA and is produced by one of the oldest wineries in the region, Ridge Vineyards. It’s every bit of what’s expected of a Cabernet Sauvignon — robust with black and blue fruit notes backed by earth and spice. However, pine and forest floor nuances give the wine a fresh edge. With its round, supple tannins, the wine features a long finish.

bottle of Luigi Baudana Cerretta Barolo

Luigi Baudana Cerretta Barolo 2017 ($80)

Go big or go back to the office — that’s the attitude this wine delivers. With its deep ruby red hue, this full-bodied Nebbiolo from Luigi Baudana is intensely aromatic with complex fruit and savory qualities. The wine is structured with ripe tannins but balanced with fresh acidity and generous fruit flavors that evolve into baking spice and leather on the back end.

bottle of Frederic Savart Bulle de Rosé Premier Cru Brut Champagne

Frédéric Savart Bulle de Rosé Premier Cru Brut Rosé NV (~$80)

Made with a blend of Premier Cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, this rosé Champagne by Frédéric Savart features crispy, tart, red berry flavors, and aromas. The wine is food-friendly and can work with many dishes, though its fine bubbles are perfectly enjoyable without.

bottle of Egon Muller Wiltinger Braune Kupp Riesling Spatlese 2020

Egon Müller Wiltinger Braune Kupp Spätlese 2020 (~$220)

From one of Germany’s oldest wineries, Egon Müller, comes this spectacular Riesling. Ripe with alluring aromas of tropical and citrus fruits, this wine is drenched in juicy fruit and almond character, while the back end displays a slightly herbal edge. The finish is long, intense, and dominated by sweetness.

bottle of Domaine Roulot Meursault

Domaine Roulot Meursault Chardonnay 2019 (~$299)

Lunching with clients you need to impress? You can never go wrong with a glass of Burgundy, especially Domaine Roulot’s Chardonnay. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with a waxy texture complemented with complex citrus fruit and lemon grass nuances. The finish is long and memorable with bright acidity.