2016 Restaurant Poll Interview

Ben Teig of Redbird in Los Angeles on wine for millennials and pulling for syrah

Redbird, in downtown LA’s Historic Core, was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of late 2014. There, in the former rectory of a majestic declassified cathedral building not far from City Hall, chef Neal Fraser takes a wide view of modern American food, pulling influences from the world over. The wine list has always been similarly eclectic, but when Ben Teig took over Redbird’s wine program in May 2015, he sought to broaden out its strengths. The one Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, for example, had been from Emidio Pepe, and $275. “It’s a great wine,” says Teig, but people think of Montepulciano as an affordable wine we needed at least one other that fit the profile.” He added one, as well as a host of other bottles that would allow guests more options.

The Millennial Effect

There’s much more willingness to go outside box. It makes it fun for us wine geeks. Natural wines, orange wines: they have a huge presence in marketplace now. Generally people are asking more and more for different varieties, not traditional varieties. Most of these people are the ‘millennial’ kids; they’re coming in and asking ‘Do you have wine from Jura? Do you have grüner? Do you have any nebbiolo that I can afford?’ They definitely don’t want to drink cabernet sauvignon, especially from the New World. And definitely not Napa because that’s what their parents drink. They want to try something else.
[On our list now], there’s more New World pinot noir, there’s more syrah. But there’s also interesting wine from Greece and Slovenia—I’m pouring two Slovenian wines by the glass, Movia’s ribolla gialla and a teran from Stoka [in Slovenia]. I love the wines from Greece and there’s so much more to them than assyrtiko. We’ve got xinomavros [from Diamantakos] and malagousia [from Porto Carras].

A push for syrah

I love syrah, I’ll sell it any chance I get. The Dragonette is a great wine and hits a value price point. Then there’s the Gamine Syrah—that’s a wild one, super meaty, gamey syrah, not hugely full bodied but dark, inky black, all bacon fat and meat juice, very savory for the New World.

The US market has been a challenge for syrah. People love big jammy cabs, but when you to try to turn them on to something different, like from Australia, they all go ‘no! it’s too sweet, too jammy.’ Well, that’s exactly what you’re looking for in the cab category. And this wine goes better with our food than cabernet—with our wild boar, our Red Wattle pork chop, with steaks and with the veal. Syrah is one of those wines I think always needs a bigger push in the states. We need a sequel to Sideways about Syrah, and in the alley Miles can say ‘I’m not drinking any fucking cabernet!’”