After completing his degree at Fordham University, Wisconsin native Evan Clagnaz took a job at Vivolo, an old-school Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He eventually moved on to Babbo, where he worked as a sommelier at for three years before moving to Del Posto in April 2018. Today, he oversees the restaurant’s 3,200-label list—all Italian, save for an extensive Champagne selection.
You list Siro Pacenti’s 2014 Pelagrilli Brunello di Montalcino as your best new success. Why did that wine do so well? To be honest, it had everything to do with dollars and cents. I reached out to a number of importers, told them my strategy and found out who was willing to play ball. There were four or five importers who wanted to work with us. We tasted all the wines as a team—not with the importers—and it came down to two producers. We tasted those two wines twice, and at the end of the day, we went with the taste profile we were looking for, which was the Pacenti. I knew the vintage well because I had poured a lot of 2014 Chiantis at Babbo: The ‘14 wines have lift and gracefulness; they can give pleasure now, even if not the heft that you typically expect from Brunello. They’re more accessible than a 2015 Brunello, which would be just a hammer right now. Lots of fruit, but the wine hasn’t come together yet.
Two of your top ten bottles were Super Tuscans (the 2016 Tignanello at $335 and the 2006 Sassicaia at $525). What drives sales of wines in that category? We probably sold more Tignanello this year than we ever have, because we did a complete vertical with Piero Antinori and [winemaker] Renzo Cotarella. We’ve never done that before, but we had to do it to get all those wines in here. And it really takes no convincing at all to sell Tignanello and Sassicaia. The only reason you sell one over the other is when customers ask for guidance on what is drinking well now, or they want a vintage they don’t have in their own cellar.
In the context of those wines, it’s interesting to see that the 2015 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina Tancredi from Sicily (at $120) also made your top ten list. Was that a surprise? Well, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Giacomo Tachis was a longtime winemaker for Antinori and helped develop wines like Tignanello and Solaia. He also worked with Donnafugata to develop Mille e una Notte, and while Tancredi wasn’t really his wine, you can’t deny that his influence was felt at this estate. We try to find wines that can mimic an experience people could find in Tuscany, but at a price point that will make people super happy. Not everything can be $500; you have to find really good value wines. The team got really excited about it, but it’s more about the taste profile than about Sicily. If people are into Sicily these days, it’s really all about Etna.
Speaking of Etna, one of your most popular by-the-glass pours was Graci’s 2017 Etna Rosso. My team is really into Etna; they’re always asking for more Etna wines. We almost can’t get enough. I hate the comparisons, but it almost has a pinot noir feel, and that makes it easier to translate the character of these wines to customers. Also, Etna is really easy to pronounce, so anyone can say, “Hey, I’ll have a glass of Etna.” Customers don’t necessarily come in asking for it, but when people who like Barolo or Barbaresco want to experience something outside of Piemonte, they always enjoy it. I’ve seen people send back Barolos, Brunellos, other wines, but I can’t think of a single case where an Etna wine has been sent back.
This is a W&S web exclusive. Get access to all of our feature stories by signing up today.