A 16-year Atlanta hospitality industry veteran, Stephen Racheff joined the Holeman & Finch Public House team as general manager and wine buyer in spring 2016. After less than one year at the helm, he’s managed to streamline the wine program from an ambitious, multifarious list to a concise selection of food-friendly hits that befit the restaurant’s neighborhood pub atmosphere. Racheff spoke to Carson Demmond about his love of Spanish wine, converting cocktail drinkers and his ideal pairing for carrot cake.
There aren’t many French wines in your top sellers.
The style of cuisine here is American tapas. We’re meat-centric with a whole animal program… So I would say it’s because of what works with the food, but it’s also because of what people ask for. We’ve kept a lot of French wines on the list in the past—even by the glass—and they just sit. Our servers and bartenders are great at making sure everything is paired properly, so that may be part of it. The wines that do best are hearty, gamey, and meaty… Things that will hold up to dishes like venison consommé, which is superrich, or our aged New York strip with pepper and blue cheese.
Spanish wine, on the other hand, does quite well.
Before I was here, I was at The Iberian Pig—a chef-driven Spanish small-plates joint in Decatur. That’s where I really fell in love with Spanish wine. And so many of those same styles work with the food here. Take something like tempranillo. It has the oak, it has the complexity, and it’s bold. It’s not one of those wines I’d sip on the back porch hanging out watching the dog run around, but when you’re heaving a hearty meal of lots of bites, it’s going to go with every one, whether it’s carpaccio or deviled eggs or a double-cut pork chop.
You also have a strong bar program. Is there a divide between the cocktail-drinkers and the wine-drinkers?
A lot of people still start with cocktails, but a growing number are starting with wine. And they won’t usually stick with just one; they’ll go through a couple different pours, seeing what works well and experimenting with new things. It might be because our list is more navigable. We transitioned over the last year from having a massive wine list to narrowing it down to things that we really love that are at reasonable price points. So we’ve sold through a lot of the higher-end more expensive stuff to really fine tune that idea, and now our sweet spot is the $40 to $70 range. That’s where I try to keep most of our wines.
Are people ordering dessert wine?
People here know their Ports. Sherry is also a category that’s getting big. But not a lot of people think about ordering dessert wine. My strategy, mainly because it’s fun for me, is to just pour a little for our regulars. If you give it to them—let them know it exists—then the next time they come in, they’ll say “Yeah, I want that thing you poured with my dessert.” If you want someone to have the experience of that perfect sweet wine with their carrot cake with blood orange marmalade—our late-harvest grüner from Höpler is such a killer pairing with that—just pour it.