When Frankie Mace arrived at Amali from The Red Cat back in 2013, the list stood out mainly for the hard-core compilation of Greek wines assembled by James Mallios, the restaurant’s managing partner. Mace dove in head-first, and has since become one of the country’s authorities on Greek wines. She’s also expanded the list to reflect the reach of the restaurant’s chic, pan-Mediterranean cuisine, adding more selections from Italy—especially the south, where she has family—as well as from France. Locals from Amali’s neighborhood, in the east 60’s, call for Sancerre, Bordeaux and Burgundy, and she answers with just-off-the-beaten-path values.
Wine sales are way up; what happened?
We’ve become much more efficient in purchasing: I’ve been really looking at what works and what doesn’t, trying to correct the balance between weird wines that we want to have on the list and wines that people actually call. You know, for a long time, people would call cabernet by the glass, and I just didn’t want to go there. But now, I put on a blend of cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc that’s really good; it’s not just there because people want it.
Also, there are four of us [sommeliers] now. It used to be me, and Mike [Mendel] two days a week. And we have two somms on the floor, instead of one, so we sell more—and more different wines. We each have wines that we really like, and you’re going to get a different experience from Mike than if I roll up to your table.
Glinavos Vlachiko, one of Greece’s rarest red wines, made your Top 10?
Zitsa is one of the towns I visited two summers ago, and I completely fell in love with the place and the wine. It’s weird wine, and no one knows it, but I got my colleague Mike into it and now even he pushes it. It’s at the right price. A lot of people come in here and say, “I want to try Greek wine, and something I never tried before; what would you suggest?” That’s what I love to give them. We have a really nice fabada—grilled shrimp with braised, crisped pancetta and gigante beans—a cool-weather, hearty, stick-to-the-bones type of dish; it’s perfect for that.
And then there’s Santorini.
People expect it; we always have one on the list. Once I accidentally ran out of xinomavro and people were like, ‘What!? No Greek red?!’ I don’t even want to know what might happen if I ran out of Santorini. A lot of people order Santorini because they’ve been there. They don’t realize that the island offers so many different styles of assyrtiko. They’ll call something like Sigalas. But if I have a table and one wants pinot grigio, the other Savennières, I have to find something in the middle, and I might go for the Koutsoyiannopoulos.
Last year, you were bulking up the French list.
We added quite a bit of Burgundy to the bottle list. I like to have one on the by-the-glass list and happened to find an exceptionally yummy one [Domaine Julien Côte de Nuits-Villages]. Usually we do a Burgundy and a US pinot noir at the exact same price; the Burgundy is doing better than the American. The Danjean-Berthoux Givry Premier Cru—we did that by the glass, and it’s on the bottle list now. A lot of people want Burgundy but don’t want to spend $200, so they’ll go for Givry. It sort of sells itself; some people call it; others, I think, follow the idea of getting something that’s next to the place you want to drink from, or a couple appellations away.
How do you sell so much white Port?
I accidently bought a bunch of it…it’s a long story, but we decided to keep it, and give it away to repeat clients as nice preprandial nip before dinner. And then people came back and ordered it! We thought it would be a nice, sort of cool, interesting pour—more so than prosecco at end of meal. It’s like the chocolate-chip cookie of the wine world.