Carlin Karr of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine on Fighting for Chianti Classico and Merlot - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Carlin Karr of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine on Fighting for Chianti Classico and Merlot

Carlin Karr came to wine through cooking; she attended the California Culinary Academy, then teamed up with some fellow alums to open Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. After a couple of years as the general manager and wine buyer there, she moved to Boulder, Colorado, to take a sommelier job working with Bobby Stuckey at Frasca. She took over as wine director in 2016, and also oversees the wine programs at sister restaurants Pizzeria Locale in Boulder and Tavernetta in Denver (due to open this spring).

Mostly northern Italian, but fighting for Chianti Classico

The inspiration for Frasca’s list comes from northeastern Italy, especially Friuli; that’s always what we think of first. About 40 percent of list comes from northern Italy, and we have a ton of nebbiolo. We invest in a lot of the great wines of Tuscany, like Brunello and sangiovese-based wines of Chianti Classico, although that’s still an uphill battle. I couldn’t be more passionate about Chianti, but people continue to have a negative perception of these thin, scrappy Chiantis from 30 years ago. I tell guests that there was definitely an era where this was true; I blame the mezzadria (sharecropping) practices and the DOC system that required white grapes. But that’s over now. They’ve improved their farming and clonal selections, especially through the work of Isole e Olena. There are great producers like Bibi Graetz and Fontodi (one of greatest values in Italian wine); I also love the wines of Monteraponi and San Giusto a Rentannano, or Castello di Ama for a more New World style. So things have come around, the wines are far better, and that’s a battle we’ll continue to fight.

Overcoming merlot phobia

People are hesitant to order merlot; they’re much more open to cabernet. I’m a huge merlot advocate, especially Italian merlot. Andrea Franchetti’s Tenuta di Trinoro 2013 Le Cupole from the Tuscan coast was our best bottle seller. The 2013 is merlot dominant (just over 50 percent), then about equal parts cabernet sauvignon and franc. It’s a great answer for people looking for a California cab, but it tastes very Italian, with enough plushness and a mineral finish. It’s also at the right price point, just under $80. Ornellaia’s 2013 Le Serre Nuove, also merlot-dominant, was our top glass pour. People know the name, and even though not inexpensive, at $28 a glass, it’s a great value, has great pedigree, and checks all the boxes. It’s been the meat and potatoes of our glass list, especially in the winter months.

Turning on the regulars

Pian dell’Orino’s 2010 Brunello di Montalcino was our biggest success last year. We’d been researching the producer for several years and trying to get it into the market, and finally got five cases. It’s so great—dense and powerful, but clean and beautiful; we can sell it to so many different types of people. The 2010 is delicious and super approachable. It may not be our top seller, but it was a big new discovery and exciting for us. We work to turn our regulars on to exciting new wines they’ll love. To have a new $245 Brunello that we could offer them is a really big deal. When the staff is excited about a wine, it sells.

Wine pairings

Wine pairings are what drive our by-the-glass sales. We do a four-course tasting menu, so often guests will have the server select wines from the glass list to pair. We also have a seven-course Friulano menu that has a set pairing with mostly Friulian wines. Our dry, glass-pour wines change quarterly, for each season. All the wines turn over at once and we do a big staff training; it makes everyone re-set and refresh, look for new options.

is the Italian wine editor at Wine & Spirits magazine.