After graduating from hotel school in Zurich, Switzerland, Fred Gerber headed to San Francisco to work at the St. Francis. After stints in Hawaii and Portland, he landed at Cuistot in 1997, where he directs a list of 650 wines.
On the new normal We’re in an exclusive area. You have to be wealthy to live here—not just a millionaire but a multi-millionaire. Money is no object. But our clientele is more mature, less flexible with trends, maybe a little more conservative with their money.
The trend at Cuistot is toward the lower end. We’re not really lowering prices, but my higher priced items are selling out and I’m not replacing them or I’m replacing them with wines at a lower price. That’s what people are asking for. Five or six years ago people would mention $200 [as their upper limit] but that’s very rare now; now it’s $100, or even $50 to $70. The sweet spot depends on the wine; for chardonnay it’s $40 to $60; for cabernet it’s a little higher, but still under $100. I am selling more wine at every table, though, and we’re serving more customers.
We’ve also seen a shift to by-the-glass ordering, away from the bottle. Not necessarily because of the price of a bottle of wine but because we have more of a selection. I got some Coravins recently; that’s a major trend that people are starting to take advantage of. It’s allowed me to offer more high-end wines by the glass; so the Trebuchet Puligny Montrachet [in my top 10] was a Coravin wine, also Plumpjack Cab, Kosta Browne Pinot, Leoville Barton in older vintages, all by the glass. It used to be I had to top out at about $20 a glass and now I can go higher. The 2005 Leoville Barton is $75 a glass.
On Serge Hochar and the 2004 Chateau Musar
I’ve known Musar’s wines for decades, when I lived in Europe and came of age in the wine world; they’re a relatively recent thing over here, so it was nice to get reacquainted with them.
When I heard that Serge was going to be in L.A. a couple of years ago I made sure to get invited. I had to work to get the wine on my list, but have been serving it by the glass ever since. I love suggesting it. I loved his enthusiasm and his insight; and because his story is so incredible, I really admired him. I can’t imagine living there [in the hills of Lebanon] much less operating a business on that scale and not caving. Plus anyone who loves Bordeaux or older Bordeaux will get this wine. They understand it.
I’ve been going with drier styles of Madeira and pairing them with savory dishes like wild mushroom soup. It took a while for the servers to get comfortable but now they’re really happy with the pairing. We use the Rare Wine Company’s Charleston Sercial; it’s not as sweet as the others. Now that we have foie gras back, we’ll probably see an uptick in Sauternes, too.
Patrick J. Comiskey covers US wines for Wine & Spirits magazine, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, California’s Central Coast and New York’s Finger Lakes.