One of the country's most chef-driven restaurants has a brilliant focus for its newest menu: terroir.

By Kate Krader
Updated May 23, 2017
© Con Poulos

One of the country's most chef-driven restaurants has a brilliant focus for its newest menu: terroir.

If you want to separate the casual wine drinker from the geek, start talking about terroir. Nonexperts will hear a lot of blah, blah, blah. But to the fanatics, terroir is an all-important term describing how wine reflects the place it's from—the soil, climate, elevation and so on. Coffee roasters and chocolate makers name-check terroir a lot these days, too. And now one of America's most brilliant restaurants is dedicating itself to the far-ranging concept.

That restaurant is Next, the ticketed Chicago dining room that undergoes a metamorphosis every four months inspired by a different theme—Paris 1906, for instance, or Vegan. For Terroir, Dave Beran (an F&W Best New Chef 2014) is working with beverage director Jordon Sipperley to create a wine-driven menu. When guests sit down to dinner, there will be a single red Burgundy glass at their place setting. Geeks will take note: a major red Burgundy at the start of a meal dedicated to wine? "Burgundy is where the concept of terroir started," Sipperley explains. "And when pros taste through Burgundies they start with red." What's more, Beran says, "For most meals you wait and wait, and then you get two reds back to back. Why wait?"

The Next experience will double as a mini history lesson, including natural wines aged in amphorae (clay pots). "It's what wine tasted like for several hundred years," notes Sipperley. "Even if you know nothing about wine, that's cool." To expand on the peculiarities of wine, he'll also pour flights like Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio and Viognier—varieties from very different grapes, united by a bitter edge.

Inspired by the Terroir concept, F&W challenged Sipperley and Beran to work with eight of the world's most popular wines, then create home-cook-friendly recipes to pair with each. They started with Champagne, "the perfect snack-food wine," says Sipperley. "You should break it out for your next Netflix marathon." Beran serves it with potato chips and a luscious dip spiked with peppery beurre blanc. To go with Barbaresco, the chef makes an earthy mushroom risotto with a secret ingredient: whipped cream. "Somehow, the cream makes it taste lighter," he says.

Next's chef-owner, Grant Achatz, who oversees menu development with Beran, is particularly excited about Terroir. A little-known fact about the legendary cook: He took a year off from the French Laundry in Napa Valley to work as an assistant winemaker at nearby La Jota Vineyard. "It helped me understand how important scent is to flavor perception," he says. "It made me a better chef."