Eric Zollicoffer of Atlanta’s Sotto Sotto on Tuscan reds - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Eric Zollicoffer of Atlanta’s Sotto Sotto on Tuscan reds

Tuscany and Piedmont seem to be climbing the charts this yearand your best selling list shows the same. Why are diners so interested in these regions?

They’re the most popularly known wines. People know Chianti and Vino Nobile. On my list, those are also the two best-represented regions, and there’s a large selection of super Tuscans.

I like to have several listings of Barolo and Barbaresco. It’s good to keep a variety. We do a good amount of business with wines over $100—it seems like the economy’s turning around and people are willing to spend more on a bottle of wine. Some of that is brand recognition. Gaja does well because of that. When I can get his wines they sell well. His Tuscan estate wines also.

The Avignonesi Vino Nobile does well with you. Is that brand recognition or are you recommending it?
It’s been on the list for six or seven years. The price has gone up, but I like to keep it by the glass. A lot of people ask for it because they’ve had it here before. They get used to it. Or they ask specifically for sangiovese or for something with a little spice to it. The wine just works really well.

You also have an Amarone among your top-selling wines.
I’m amazed at how much Amarone sells at the restaurant. It’s not the best wine to pair with food, but if you have one by the glass, it flies. People like it because it has a lot of body. People know Amarone. Some people know it’s made from dried grapes, but most don’t. It’s all about the name. Also, the California cab drinkers are tough to sell to here, with an all-Italian wine list. They may go for those.

How has a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo done so well?
The one I have, from Fattoria La Valentina, is more full-bodied than most. If somebody wants a heavier pour, I give them a taste of that. I also have a regular clientele. If you give them something once and they like it, they’ll come back in and ask for it by name. We have a ribeye and a vealchop – it works well with those.

Have you had the Vietti Barbera on your list a long time? How do you get people to order barbera over nebbiolo?
That particular barbera I’ve only had on the list for six months. It’s one of those things that people are starting to know. Obviously they know Barolo and Barbaresco… But the quality of barbera in general has gone way up in the last few years, and if they want a nice medium-bodied wine, it fits the bill.

In the Tuscan sector, are people ordering more of the international varieties and blends? That Chianti Classico is not very high up the list…
What sells most from Tuscany is the Lucente – a blend of merlot, sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. People are into blends right now. People will specifically ask for Tuscan blends or “super Tuscans.” Some of it may be that people are intimidated by an all-Italian wine list. But also, the cabernet really comes through in those. People that are mostly cab drinkers are comfortable ordering those. I don’t sell as much Chianti Classico as you’d think I would. People want to try something different. I have 17 reds by the glass, so there’s a lot for them to choose from.

Are people just looking for something familiar?
I do have two chardonnays; one with no oak and one that has oak and more body. For somebody who likes the California style, that’s the Coste Bianche Chardonnay from Coppo. A lot of Italian whites aren’t full in body. And chardonnay’s an easy sell. In fact, I get a lot of people asking for chardonnay, cabs and malbecs – there’s a syrah on our list that most malbec drinkers tend to like. It’s from Sicily – Rapitala. Malbec has obviously exploded over the past couple of years. I try to find something on my list to suit [a albec drinker’s] tastes. For some people, you give them a taste of something, and it’s a crowd pleaser, they realize they like Italian wine more than they thought. But every once in a while, you get someone that you can tell is not excited. You taste them on three or four things, and nothing sticks. Other people will take down the name of the wine and go out and look for it.

How have dessert wines done for you this year?
I only have a couple of dessert wines. I have a moscato d’asti. Four months ago, I would serve a half of a bottle by the glass then have to dump the rest of it out. It wasn’t moving. Now, people just drink it up with their meal. They just want a sweeter wine. People order it by name.

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