Dustin Wilson of NYC’s Eleven Madison Park on Cornas and Corsica - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Dustin Wilson of NYC’s Eleven Madison Park on Cornas and Corsica

It looks like you’ve been really successful with a Cornas you’ve added to the list. How has that done so well?

One: It’s delicious. Two: The staff really got behind it. It’s a relatively new producer, Vincent Paris, the nephew of Robert Michel, who’s a big name in Cornas. It’s got a great story—from a single vineyard site and from old vines. It pairs well with a variety of food. Also, I’m passionate about northern Rhône wines. If people like syrah in general, this wine in particular over-delivers for the price. And I like turning people on to offshoot appellations and new producers. They may be familiar with Côte-Rôtie and the bigger producers, but they might not know Cornas as well.

You only have one California wine in your top-ten best-selling wines—and it’s a ’97 Calera pinot!
Actually, we have lot of European guests who are interested in tasting New World wines, so we’re trying to steer them towards wines that might bridge the gap between New World and Old World. Something I would feel confident they’d like. Calera is a nuanced style with great terroir character. We can be excited to turn someone on to it, and the guests are really liking it. It’s something that we’ve been able to repurchase—we know it’s been cellared at the estate, so it’s in great shape. Then, especially with the type of food that we serve, wines of subtlety tend to perform better than wines of impact. And it’s not that often that you get to drink older domestic wines. It’s a great selling point. We can showcase how well this ages.

You have a Jean Foillard Morgon listed among your top selling wines. How are people coming to that wine?
I love Beaujolais, and I think the other sommeliers have grasped my excitement for it. Then it filters down to everyone else. If you’re a pinot noir drinker but want to try something different, it’s a great go-to: fruity and fresh. Foillard is considered the best—or at least the top tier—of Beaujolais. It’s silky, perfumed, great texture. I like to put this in my category of “Delicious Wines:” You don’t have to think too much about them, but they’re amazing.

If some people say, “I just like something light-bodied and am open to suggestions,” we all love pinot noir and Burgundy, but that’s the mainstream way to go. Beaujolais is not on everyone’s radar and it delivers tremendous value.

How does a white from Corsica get to be a best seller at Eleven Madison Park?
Great vermentino like this one from Comte Abbatucci has a briny edge to it. It’s high in acidity, really bright and refreshing with a briny tang, so we’re pairing it with a lobster dish right now. Pairings are a great introduction to a wine.

There have been great producers in Corsica for a long time, but we’re seeing more on the market here now. And again, it’s one of those off-the-beaten-path wines that we like to turn people on to. It would be difficult to sell on its own, but we’re having success with the pairings.

It looks like the number of “oddities” among your best-selling wines has increased.
I just try to showcase things that are fun and that I have passion for. I try to communicate that excitement to the guests. Not being geeky for the sake of being geeky, but picking wines that pair well with the food, that offer good value and at the same time will broaden their horizons a little. When I get really happy and giddy about a certain wine, I think the staff gets that way as well. That said, I still very much enjoy all of the classics: Burgundy, and Rhône especially. But some of these off-the-beaten-path wines are fun. They keep life interesting. When it comes to the vermentino, when people hear it’s from Corsica, they get really interested. Then the wine speaks for itself. It’s what’s in the glass that completes that circle. The great story helps. It raises the level of the experience for them.

All of your top-selling wines by the glass are white and sparkling. Have people slowed down on ordering reds?
We have a beautiful Champagne cart and guests will often start with a glass then move to a bottle of white or a bottle of red. Beyond that, the wines by the glass are specifically designed to go with chef’s food. When a new dish comes out, I try a whole lot of different wines with it—then the selected wine will be a glass offering. Because the food is more white-wine friendly right now, that gets reflected in our by-the-glass list. The reds are there but white wines move a lot faster because they go with the food.

Is that the story behind the ten-year-old López de Heredia white?
The reason that López wine does so well is that we really enjoyed pouring it with lobster with matsutake mushrooms. A very earthy dish. Given the age of this particular white wine and the fact that the producer keeps it in barrel for so long, it works well with that dish. But often, because of the proportions on the list, guests will order wines from France or Italy before they get to Spain. We’re not steering people one way or another; I think they just get excited going through pages and pages of French wine.

Even so, some of your best-selling reds by the bottle are from Piedmont…
Well, outside of France, the next most represented region on our list is Italy, for sure. Our Barolo selection is amazing. We’re really excited about all of the different nebbiolo-based wines. So there’s definitely a push for a strong representation from Piedmont, and that might be why they move more. We do have some great wines from Tuscany, but we just had our truffle season, and truffles and Barolo are such a natural pair. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Giacomo Conterno Monfortino—perhaps the greatest expression of Barolo. That said, there are a lot of fun Barolos out there. They’re Italy’s answer to Burgundy. The wines are often misjudged to be big, but more traditional styles are on the delicate and aromatic side—they tend to work really well with truffle and mushroom dishes.

What’s behind the increase in wine sales you’ve reported in the poll?
We’ve been really lucky with the accolades that we’ve received. Towards the end of last year, with the recognition of our three Michelin stars, it helped to bring in a clientele that’s more interested in exploring the really great wines we have on the list—and to keep our seats full. The things that this restaurant’s team has pushed really hard for are coming to be known to the rest of the world. That’s bringing people in who are excited about drinking great things.