Wisconsin native Evan Clagnaz was drawn to the bright lights of New York City during childhood visits to Long Island. After completing his degree at Fordham University he took a job at Vivolo, the longstanding, old-school Upper East Side Italian restaurant that closed last summer, before moving to Babbo where he served as a sommelier for three years. In April of 2018, Clagnaz joined Del Posto, where he oversees the restaurant’s 3,200-bottle all-Italian (plus Champagne) list.
You have a list that’s almost exclusively Italian: Do guests ask for wines by variety or by name?
Italian wine has gained more recognition since Del Posto opened in 2005. Now, we actually have people coming in and asking for Barolo, which wouldn’t have happened back then. While some are asking for well-known producers or prestigious names, like Gaia or Sassicaia, we also have others saying, “I want to drink timorasso tonight.” Maybe that’s because they know Roagna as a great Barbaresco and Barolo producer and are seeing timorasso from Roagna on our list and want to know what that white is all about. I’m always blown away by guests and their knowledge, especially about the stuff they like.
Your top-selling wines include some really high-end ones, like a 2013 Ornellaia for $585 and a 2011 Gaia & Rey Chardonnay for $750. What do you offer guests looking for good values?
Probably very few wine destinations in the world have people ordering the [expensive] wines they do at Del Posto. It’s truly a unique animal. While I love selling those $1,000-plus bottles, we also enjoy it when someone challenges us to find something affordable and interesting. It’s not about only showcasing the greatest works of art, the classics: the goal is to find something for everybody. G.B. Burlotto is one of the greatest Barolo producers and you can drink their dolcetto or barbera for $50. Sicily’s Mt. Etna delivers a lot of value. Sardegna can be a ton of fun, and Basilicata has some affordable examples of aglianico. People tend to overlook us when it comes to Friuli, but we have old schioppetino and refosco that offer a lot of qualities that would make a Bordeaux drinker happy.
What was behind the success of the Cantina Terlano Alto Adige Winkl, your best-selling new wine?
We had the Terlano on our banquets and events lists, as well as by-the-glass. Sauvignon blanc is something people are comfortable with. This one comes from Alto Adige. It’s clean, precise, and delivers above its weight. It’s super enjoyable across all different palates, whether you know wine or not.
Is there a particular region or variety that guests are just starting to ask for by name?
Outside of Tuscany and Piedmont, people are willing to explore Sicily and especially Mt. Etna. While we sell more red than white in general, there’s interest in both from Etna.