Having come from Danny Meyer’s Maialino, where he worked with Italian wines for many years, Ben Scheffler was enthusiastic about diving into the all-Austrian list at Wallsé, a 20-year veteran of the West Village dining scene. Scheffler joined the restaurant in 2021, managing the wine program with just one other person.
On working with an all-Austrian list
With the wine list being 100-percent Austrian, people are very willing to give themselves over to the experience. They open the wine list and they don’t know what they are looking at. It makes it possible for me to have a guest interaction every single table—at least those who want to order wine. It makes my job fun, as every table who wants to drink wine needs to talk to me.
When first started, I was looking at the list, and thought, you know, it’s fairly expensive; I want to stack this with cool stuff at 50 or 60 bucks—there are so many great things to be found in Austria at that range. And I did, and no one touched them. Which I thought was really interesting. But Wallsé is not an inexpensive restaurant to go to; it’s a nice night out and people don’t want 50-buck wines; they want to treat themselves. That was something I wasn’t expecting to see, the average spend being upwards of $100.
People are drinking liquor more so than I’ve experienced in my career. I’m not sure if that’s a direct result of being locked in the house for months but I just see people drink cocktails throughout their entire dinner. One of the highest-selling cocktails that we have is a twist on an Old-Fashioned. Even throughout the summer, in the dead height of August, people were sucking back these spirit-forward Bourbon cocktails.
Tegernseehof Wachau Federspiel T-26 Grüner Veltliner was your biggest new success—what do you attribute that to?
That’s been a runaway train: that wine does what every single person who wants white wine wants from it. If you want Sancerre or pinot grigio or whatever clean, fresh, bright, easy white wine, that wine hits the mark. But it’s also pretty textural and, despite being Federspiel, has some body and weight; it satisfies that craving for someone who wants something fuller bodied. It’s all wine to all people; it does everything; it’s a versatile weapon in my arsenal.
On selling Sekt
I don’t do a lot by the bottle, but by the glass, we do really well. The edge that I have is that Sekt is a very interesting thing. The world is filled with a lot of sparkling wines that want to be Champagne and try to emulate Champagne but the rarely hit the mark. And that’s what’s really cool about Sekt—it is its own thing, its own category; they are very unique, and frankly delicious. It’s an interesting conversation to have with a guest who asks about Champagne, and I say, ‘well, try this sparkling grüner. It’s not going to taste anything like Champagne but it’s a really fun, really delicious thing.’ I do very well with them.
is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.
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