When Jeff Kellogg moved across the country to take over the wine programs at chef Michael Tusk’s Quince and Cotogna, he dove head first into global selections after years working only with Italian wine. The former wine director of NYC’s Maialino, Kellogg spoke to Carson Demmond about the top-selling bottles on the list at Quince and the biggest adjustments he’s made since settling into his new city.
What’s the transition been like moving away from an all-Italian wine list?
You know, things have changed quite a bit since the last time I worked with French wines. In regions like the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Chablis and the northern Rhône, it seems like there’s so much more available now—some really exciting stuff. I only ever got to see that with Champagne before. Of course, the wines I really wanted to drink I was checking out in my free time. But getting to try them every once in a while versus working with them and serving them and trying lots of pairings on a daily basis—knowing the wines more intimately—has been a lot of fun.
So, Dom Perignon is your number two top-selling wine by the bottle. Is that for real?
That really speaks to the clientele. We do huge business with this one big tech company, and for whatever reason, the chief design guy’s favorite wine is Dom. It’s literally all he drinks. I’m ordering a case a week; it’s bananas. It’s also because people are coming here to celebrate special occasions, and Dom is something we can keep stocked because there’s a large quantity made. Something like Pierre Péters’ Les Chétillons we can’t keep in stock; Dom we can.
Here, there’s a bit of a trend for grandes marques. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed coming back to San Francisco from New York is that the classics are still very popular here. I hadn’t seen a bottle of Bordeaux sold in New York in like, ever, and we sell a lot of Bordeaux here. And not even because we’re pushing it but because that’s what people are asking for. It’s comfortable. So, part of the reason we weren’t selling a lot of grower Champagne is because there weren’t many on the list when I got here but also because there’s just less demand for it.
Chardonnay seems to be selling. You have two Chablis among your top-ten best-selling wines, plus a Sandhi bottling. Why do those do well?
Chablis works well with Mike’s [chef Michael Tusk] food. But what I see here is that people want one of two styles—either big classic California chardonnay or lean chardonnay that works with the food. They’ll ask for one or the other extreme, with nothing in between. Right now, there’s a full page of Peter Michael. In 2017, you’ll see us bringing on more California chardonnay that works with the food better. That Sandhi, sure, but also producers like Ceritas, to give guests those options.
Your strongest categories are American and French wine, then there’s this outlying Barolo. Is Piedmont the one Italian region that your guests veer towards?
Oh for sure. There’s a little bit of Brunello as well, but again with the food, which is northern Italian-focused, Barolo does quite well. A lot of those American and French wines are things I can buy at least full cases of. We sell a decent amount of Barolo, particularly the blue-chip wines like Conterno and Giacosa. But we can only ever get a couple bottles here, a couple bottles there of certain things, so they never show up at the top of a sales report.
Which brings me to the biggest success, which you state is the 1971 Marcarini Barolo Brunate. It’s $595… People don’t balk at over-$500 prices?
There are a lot of people who won’t jump that high, but honestly, yes; it’s in the wheelhouse. The menu here is over $200, and with people coming here for special occasions, that’s a pretty special wine and is still a great value for its price. I mean, it was made by Elvio Cogno, is from an amazing vintage, and is ready to drink. I was also able to find it at quantity— 15 bottles or so. One of the first things that I did when I got here was buy an entire cellar. I added 80 wines that were all from the last century. I was lucky that the restaurant had enough faith in me to let me do that when I was so new, and the guests have been extremely receptive. I think it helps that I got here in time for truffle season, so those old Piedmont wines were exactly what we needed.
1997 Château d’Yquem by the glass… is that a Coravin pour?
Actually, we go through enough that we can pop those bottles. Yquem is the kind of wine that when you’re celebrating and you see it in front of you at the end of dinner, you just say yes. Everybody wants it. They’ve had it before and know what it is. Or if it’s someone trying it for the first time, it will be a group of four or more, and one will see the Yquem and flip out about it and tell the rest of the table what it is. Then it’s like a domino effect, and other tables around see it being poured and want some too.
What wine absolutely doesn’t move that you’d think would sell like crazy?
I’ve been surprised by how little northern Rhône syrah we sell, but that might just be because I came from New York and assume everybody loves it as much as me. But also, being so close to where wine is grown, you’d think more wines from northern California would get sold. We move a lot of California cabernet, but the crowd that wants pinot noir more often than not goes to Burgundy on the list instead of California, which is surprising. Even in the state, when people think special occasion wine, they still think Burgundy over the local pinot noir.
One other thing that’s interesting here is that everyone talks like a somm. They’re like ‘oooh, nice acidity;’ it’s kind of weird. But I guess they visit California wine regions more and in general have more access to meeting and talking with winemakers, so you hear even lay people talking about production techniques.