Aldo Sohm of NYC’s Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar on Chablis and Syrah - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Aldo Sohm of NYC’s Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar on Chablis and Syrah

Aldo Sohm landed at NYC’s Le Bernardin the year before he won the 2008 Best Sommelier in the World championship—the World Sommelier Association’s competition. Since developing the wine list for chef Eric Ripert’s temple of the sea, he’s launched his own wine label with fellow Austrian Gerhard Kracher and opened Aldo Sohm Wine Bar—one of the W&S NYC 50—across the plaza from Le Bernardin.

Sancerre and Chablis on top

Crochet Sancerre, [the top-selling wine at Le Bernardin] is in an easy price range, and it’s much more readily available than Vacheron, for example. We buy the Le Chêne; it’s a little juicier and has a little more oak treatment. The oak doesn’t show, but it’s there and people like it. People are willing to spend money on Sancerre. If you go to Pabiot [in Pouilly-Fumé] across the river, nobody cares about it—the wine is half the price and delicious. For Crochet, we put three-case orders in nonstop, even though we don’t pour it by the glass.

In Chablis, it’s basically the same with Piuze [the 2014 Butteaux was his second-best seller]. There are certainly Chablis that are more available, but we don’t list those. The Puize comes in and goes right out. I got a bunch of Chablis from Laurent Trebut, the nephew of Vincent Dauvissat. The labels look similar; Trebut was making the wine in Dauvissat’s cellar. The Trebut wines don’t cost a lot, but you get very little of that. I showed it to the sommeliers and they were all over it. I said, “Take your fingers off that wine.” You have to filter. If it sells out, we don’t get more. With Piuze, we can get more. It’s a style of wine that’s more Côte de Beaune–like. I spoke to a French sommelier recently. He said that Raveneau made some wines in 1990 with 100 percent new oak, but never released them. The sommelier had tasted them and he said they tasted like Meursault—nothing to do with Chablis. The Piuze wines have more generosity; they’re not as austere as some other Chablis. Chablis is easy for lunch. Chablis and Sancerre are the strongest lunch wine sales; that adds up at the end of the month.

It’s impossible for me to sell Chablis at the wine bar. I did seminars on Chablis for the sommeliers there because I thought maybe it isn’t selling because they don’t know it. We have everything there—Dauvissat, Piuze—and we sell very little. Yet we sell so much Chablis at Le Bernardin. No idea.

Bordeaux and seafood

How is it that Le Bernardin sells more of the 2010 Echo de Lynch-Bages than either US pinot noir you list among your best-selling wines?

First of all, we have a chef who says Bordeaux goes with everything. When he says that, I’m just rolling my eyes—with Dover sole, there are many more wines that work better. But you have all these people who want red wine no matter what. They want their rich styles of red.

I’ll tell you a story. We are at a beach party, it was with 300 people minimum and it was ninety-degree weather, and most of those people were drinking California cabs. I was just speechless. What you realize is that there’s a large audience in America of people who just like this sort of wine.

Rare little wines

Now you even have Beaujolais allocated. Who would have thought that ten years ago? If you said Beaujolais would be allocated, everyone would have laughed at you. With Lapierre, they tell you how much you get. Or just look at the little syrah from Jamet; it’s harder to get than the Côte-Rôtie. It seems to be that the entry-level wines from the cult producers are getting big traction—the cult producers for the sommelier community. It makes sense: The entry-level Jamet is delicious, but those wines are hard to get. Pierre Overnoy is the hardest wine to get. You used to struggle to get Pétrus…

Flights of the geeky stuff

I was really surprised by the success of that syrah [the 2012 Michel Ogier Collines Rhodaniennes La Rosine]. I don’t know why Americans have a strange relationship with syrah. Sales people come with their heads down when they come to sell syrah. Monier Perréol makes a delicious syrah from St-Joseph and there’s the St-Joseph from Gonon, which is fantastic. But we only get a small amount of those wines, so we can’t satisfy the demand if we were to pour them by the glass.

We’ve been selling special flights of wines. We give guests three glasses to show them our world as sommeliers. Now we have a Beaujolais flight on—each is a three-ounce pour. I did a riesling flight. And a flight from Goisot, a biodynamic grower from Saint Bris. He’s very friendly with Vincent Dauvissat—super pure, very finessed wine, not the biggest, but classic, razor-like. He works with three vineyards in three locations—at the bottom of the slope, in the middle, and high up the slope. Everything else is the same. People were astonished at the differences in the wines. We also had a malbec flight, and that flew out the window. The Beaujolais flight is $23. We try to be aggressive with the pricing on those flights, to make it reasonable.

People are hungry to learn. They don’t want to sit in a seminar, but when they go out with friends, they want to learn something on the side, and still want to satisfy their palate. So you have a slightly educational component there.

photo by Thomas Schauer

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.