Also Sohm has been directing the wine program at chef Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin since 2007. He sells a lot of Burgundy there, from Marsannay to Romanée-Conti, but as he spoke with Josh Greene recently, his thoughts turned to younger diners, and what he’s noticed about the way they approach wine.
We can see people becoming more knowledgeable, more familiar with wine; not everybody, but especially the younger generation, they seem very interested.
Some younger people are more price-sensitive. When I was 22, I couldn’t afford the high-caliber wines. But sometimes you have a table [of young people], and they order a $300 bottle of wine, and they seem comfortable with it. Some young people are willing to spend money.
They are open to trying; they are more critical; they question much more. They are looking for the benchmark wines, but they don’t care much about the label—they care what is in the glass, and: Does it give them that experience? They are really open-minded. You can suggest: “Why don’t you try this or that? This could be an interesting alternative.”
It’s best to explain that in the Champagne category. If you go 20 years back, young people would order Veuve Clicquot because it was their benchmark; now they go to growers. They want to be in that farm-to-table development; they are into that. That’s where we see the shift. There are still young people who order Veuve Clicquot, yes, and I am fine with that. Let them come three times, four times. We build a relationship and then we shift them, and they are happy. But if we try to shift them before that, it is a lost cause and we are all only losing. I’m not a big a fan of Far Niente, but we sell a fair amount. Are you going to argue with those people who want a big, buttery chardonnay? You can’t give them Sandhi or Ceritas. Plus, if everyone would drink those wines, there wouldn’t be enough there. If all the Veuve Clicquot drinkers start drinking Pierre Péters, the show is over. It’s a fact. There’s not enough there.
Back in the day, we were able to drink DRC and Latour; for a young person, its more challenging to access those wines. We know the classics, they don’t. Or it’s more difficult for them [to access them]. They have to be more open. They are not stuck in one category. They go to Beaujolais, to alternative wines in California, all sorts of alternative areas.
How do you deal with the tightening of the market for Burgundy?
The price of Burgundy is driving a lot of people away. A big hedge fund manager said to me: “I can’t afford Burgundy anymore.” I said: “If you can’t afford it, who can?” If you go to one of these big lawyers with a Marsannay, they will turn you down. But we have to get used to go to the fact that Marsannay, Auxey-Duresses and St-Aubin are where Meursault was five years ago, in terms of price. How many St-Aubin are above $150 on a wine list? Meursault we sold in that category, Puligny Villages we sold in that category, and now we can’t get enough St-Aubin and it goes in that category. How high can we go?
What do you look for in a Bordeaux for a restaurant specializing in fish? Puy Arnaud and Echo de Lynch-Bages, both among your most popular wines, are quite different.
Clos Puy Arnaud—I was there and there couldn’t be a more Burgundian Bordeaux in production. Of course, it’s merlot, but it doesn’t taste anything like merlot. It’s a great little Bordeaux you can drink. He also makes vin de bistro, a Beaujolais-like Bordeaux. He calls it Cuvée de Bistro. I sold it at Le Bernardin; it’s great with charcuterie. We had Clos Puy Arnaud on the pairing, with tuna–wagu beef, our surf and turf, and people wanted to order it again. So people had a glass and said, “Why don’t we have a bottle?” That wine came in and we literally hammered through it.
Bordeaux seems to be slowly coming back, not in the top, high-end châteaux, but in that mid-part. Lynch Bages is known as a brand; this is the Echo, it’s in the sweet spot at $150, a pleasing, easy wine. We have a lot of people who come in and say, “We want red wine with dinner.” I’m not here to judge. I do tell them, “Bear in mind, we go very strong here on fish.” And they say, “Yes, we know.”