Juliette Pope joined Gramercy Tavern in 1997 as a pastry cook. She later worked the front of the house as a waiter and began to learn about wine from Paul Grieco, who managed the list at the time. Pope became a captain, then a floor manager, and then assistant beverage director before earning her current title, Beverage Director, in 2004. Today she manages a list of 600 wines in one of NYC’s most popular and beloved dining rooms.
People aren’t vintage sensitive when it comes to Sancerre; they just order Sancerre. But they are price sensitive. People who pick the more expensive one think they’re getting a better wine. It sells itself, it’s just a perceived quality sort of thing. It always gets my goat that some of the things we sell the most of are the least interesting to think about. In any case, they’re both good wines. I’d like to lie and tell you three Jura whites are the three top sellers.
What’s in a name?
I used to list the Sinskey POV [a blend of merlot and franc with a bit of cabernet sauvignon from Carneros] as a cabernet, then started feeling guilty that I was lying. Then I listed it as a Bordeaux blend and sales crashed. Then I said, let’s compromise as a “cabernet blend.” (I had to confess to Maria Sinskey.) “Cabernet blend” gets people over the hump of anything they don’t know. It’s the only cabernet by the glass. It’s a familiar name, it’s Napa, and its sells. [It’s now her number one wine by the glass.]
Pinot noir set the world on fire several years back and it’s still going strong. Pinot is just pinot. Pinot under $100, it’s just: boom.
I think Domaine Serene [#7 on her top 10] has a certain name familiarity. We know it as a bigger style of pinot, so recommend it when people are looking for something more extracted. And there is a $100-$125 sweet spot for anyone who thinks that anything under $100 is junk and not worth drinking. Domaine Serene might be for someone who’s thinking California, but there’s no California pinot noir in that range. Honestly, I’d say more people who walk in here know Domaine Serene than Cristom [#9 on her list]. More people know California and Burgundy [a Joseph Swan Russian River pinot was #5], but for people who know Oregon, Domaine Serene is the more prominent name.
We are selling good amounts of red Burgundy. Good, modestly priced Burgundy is sort of an oxymoron now. And then there’s the education factor. There are people who are open to red Burgundy, but we also know when people ask for red Burgundy, if they’re used to drinking Kistler but want to try red Burgundy, there are only a few things there that will suit what they want. It’s also just the limitations of price point: I just don’t have much under $100. The things that are there—Marsannay, Maranges, Mercurey, the little guys—are things they don’t want to drink. We don’t have a Vosne-Romanée for under $100; if we did, it would fly off the shelf.
La Rioja Alta 2005 Viña Ardanza Reserva: a by-the-glass success two years running
It just is an ongoing phenomenon, really strong and endlessly available. Or it has been seemingly endlessly available. We’ve had it on all year solid by the glass and that drives the bottle sales as well. It’s on now by the glass at just over $20, and it just flies out. People know Rioja and people who know Rioja better know that 2005 is a great vintage, drinkable on its own and really food friendly. It’s ten years old and well priced and delicious. It’s just nice that it all comes together that way.
New York wines in New York City
We do well with New York wines in general: We sell the hell out of Dr. [Konstantin] Frank Rkatsiteli. For guests, there’s decreasing skepticism and increasing loyalty for New York wines. It’s just the building momentum of consumer interest in all those things we talk about—local, seasonal, organic—but it’s mainly about supporting local. Tourists, more and more, and people in the wine business are increasingly curious about New York wines. And there’s increasing quality as well. As quality grows, demand grows, staff curiosity and interest grow. I’m selective: The wines are good, modest, well-made and well-priced, not extracted like California. We’re not doing $200 Bedell Cabernet, we’re doing mainly under $100. Christopher [Tracy]’s pet-nats from Channing Daughters flew out the door this summer. There’s an adventuresome spirit in terms of drinking as well as winemaking, and people are very responsive to that.
Local is not really trendy anymore, it’s established here in our upper-middle-class New York restaurant world.