It’s that people are trusting the pricing a little bit. When I took over the list, the markup had been more formulaic. The person running the program had to meet a certain percentage for wine cost and would plug that in for everything. I do more of a sliding scale, so the high-end wines are marked up less than the low, and that encourages people to order those wines that they really want. People are aware that the margin is partially responsible for keeping the lights on. They know what they’re contributing. But then they also know what wines cost these days. You can’t just mark up however you want. They’re too smart for that. But now they’re happy to order the Chassagne-Montrachets – I have a Dugat-Py premier cru Morgeot that’s doing well—and the Pulignys. If I only have a one time markup on them, ordering them doesn’t seem like quite so much of a gamble.
You have a Champagne in second position among your top-selling wines.
We always have at least 8 to 10 sparklings open by the glass. Right now, I’m pouring a Crémant d’Alsace from Wolfberger as well as a Cava and a Prosecco. Those start at $10 a glass. It’s very reasonable. And, of course, I have Champagne—two or three high-end then the more affordable, like the Duval Leroy. A lot of people start with Champagne as an aperitif. And we like to encourage it. We ask, “Can we bring you a glass of Champagne or a cocktail?” as soon as they sit down.
Its looks like Chablis, Sancerre and Muscadet make up a high proportion of your most popular wines.
A lot of that may be my personal preference: We serve a lot of oysters and [our food has] a lot of clean flavors. I like acidity with the food so I encourage people to drink wines with acid and minerality. Also, producers are making their wines more in that way. About sixty percent of people want mineral driven wines, but there’s still so many that want that big buttery style of chardonnay.
And then there’s also an Amarone in your top-ten.
That’s for someone who wants something big. It’s very ripe, very extracted. And I don’t have any Australian wines on my list. At the price point, it delivers a really rich wine for $65. So I think that if they want a certain style and they don’t want to drink malbec, it’s a lot of wine for the money and it’s not California cabernet. They go there on their own; there’s still a certain percentage of people who think that power is equal to quality.
Tell me how a Quarts de Chaume turned into the most successful new addition to your list.
We had the Baumard Quarts de Chaume with the cheese course of a tasting menu and people loved it. We were very successful with that. But really, they only order it if we suggest it. It’s not a wine that people are familiar with or will order on their own. That’s the great thing about a tasting [portion]—it’s not a huge commitment like it would be for a bottle. I can put things on there that aren’t the typical things that they drink. Then, it becomes a new favorite.
You’re pairing a viognier with your blue crab & truffle gnocchi – how did you stumble on that match?
This particular viognier from Suhr Luchtel is all stainless steel. Being from Napa, that’s different. When they’re aged in wood, they can be difficult to pair. But this one has a little pepper on the finish. We’ve poured it by the glass for a long time now and have seen it through a couple of vintages. Viognier can be a little tricky. Some people really like it and some have a negative response. This one’s really nice.
Are people shopping price?
Some people are on a quest—they peruse the list to find the one little gem that I made a mistake on, that I priced too low. There are also people that just want to find something that they’ve had and that they love. But across the board, people love it when you tell them that you’ve found a great deal and have passed that value along. They’re happy to get more for their money.
What’s the most memorable bottle you’ve opened recently?
Two nights ago, I opened up a Terry Theise selection, an L. Aubry Champagne I had ordered—Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites. It’s a Champagne that has all seven legal varieties in the blend. I’ve never had Champagne that wasn’t just the classic three. I ordered it because I had to try it. I was fascinated by it. And it was just stunning. Fresh and clean and mineral, with round fruit. So much going on and so alive—I can’t wait to open another. A couple ordered it, and I traded a half glass for some dessert wine after their meal.
I notice there’s no Bordeaux among your top-selling wines.
I’ve had a couple of people say, “That’s what I drink.” But I don’t really recommend it. I have three or four on the list, priced between $75 and $100. I tasted them and liked them. I have a Pauillac, a Margaux… If something’s delicious, I’m going to order it. But I found that all of the classified growths were so expensive, and the vintages that I could afford to put on the list were not really approachable. It’s important that they’re drinking well – that they’re not just for window dressing. People do order them. Not as much as Burgundy, but that’s a function of our list. They can see where our heart lies.
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