Carlin Karr of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder on Sangiovese and Barbera – Wine & Spirits Magazine

Carlin Karr of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder on Sangiovese and Barbera


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 job working with Bobby Stuckey, MS, 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, which opened in fall of 2017.

The wines of Montalcino seem to hit a sweet spot at Frasca, with four on your top-selling lists, including two from Stella di Campalto [2013 Rosso di Montalcino and 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva]. What makes those wines so successful?

Brunello’s price point is something that works well here. I recognize that our top ten bottles are expensive, but Frasca is inherently a special occasion restaurant, where people are comfortable going beyond what they’d usually spend on wine. And Brunello offers a wide range of styles, from Stella di Campalto—feminine, ethereal, almost Burgundian—to Salvioni, more masculine and fiercely tannic. Our wine team is obsessed with Stella di Campalto. Her wines are different from other Montalcino sangioveses. She’s not using straight-up carbonic maceration, but something like that, and it makes the wines super plush and juicy in their youth, almost like grenache-meets-sangiovese. These are bright, red-fruited sangiovese wines with a rose-hip aromatic that people go wild for. They’re just delicious.

Another sangiovese-based wine, Monsanto’s 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva, also made your list. How are your sales of Chianti Classico as compared to those of Brunello?

I was actually surprised when I pulled the data: We’re a Friulano restaurant that sells a lot of sangiovese. But it’s what people want; that’s why we sell so much Brunello, and some Chianti Classico. We have a Chianti Classico by the glass at all three restaurants, but it’s more of an uphill battle to get people to drink it; they think it’s going to be sour and shrill, but that’s not the way it is anymore. There’s no better value in the world of wine right now than Chianti Classico. You can get great wines for $15 that are delicious and ageable. Monterapone, for example, is like a baby Montevertine, ethereal and elegant; then there are more plush styles like Fontodi that we can sell all day every day. Most young somms don’t get excited by Chianti Classico, but they should be digging deeper and finding what Chianti Classico has to offer. I learn of a new producer every week, and I’ve been doing this Italian wine thing for a while. And Brunello is only getting more expensive; 2012 saw a big price hike and that will only continue.

What are the factors behind the sales of the two barberas that made your list? [Giacosa 2014 Barbera d’Alba and Scarpetta Barbera del Monferatto.

Bobby [Stuckey] loves barbera, and we sell a ton of it. Barbera is like a gateway drug to Italian reds, and Italy’s answer to pinot noir. It’s like biting into a perfectly ripe red plum—a little tart and totally juicy. If you have a table of four that is all over the board with what they like, from cabernet to sangiovese, barbera is always friendly and versatile, and always at a good price point. The Giacosa is just super delicious –a little oak rounds out the edges and gives it a modern touch that people like.

Friulian whites continue to do well at Frasca, with four of them making your top-seller lists.

We’re a Friulian restaurant, and we’re constantly seeking out wines from Friuli, and wines like Venica & Venica [2015 Sauvignon Blanc Ronco del Cero, number eight in bottle sales] deliver every year. The same goes for the wines from Keber [2015 Collio Bianco, number three in bottle sales]. The whites of Friuli are really what matter, more so than the reds. Friulano [the white grape variety] is always going to be the most important wine at *Frasca,† even though it might not be what we sell the most of. Sauvignon has also gotten better from Friuli, and 2015 and ’16 were great vintages. Producers like Miani have also made great wines.

How did a white Burgundy [François Carillon 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet] slip into the number four spot on your mostly-Italian list?

We sell a ton of white Burgundy at Frasca. It’s such an important part of the world of wine. About ten percent of our buying budget goes to white Burgundy, we invest in it, and there’s high demand from our guests. We have a need for village-level white Burg to match our fall truffle menu, and we always have a Chablis by the glass. It’s what we love, and no matter how good Italian whites can be, nothing is as good as white Burgundy.

is the Italian wine editor at Wine & Spirits magazine.