Gianpaolo Paterlini has been managing the wine list at Acquerello in San Francisco for ten years. He’s built the list from 750 wines to 1,875 today, adding vertical selections, more Champagne as well as more US wines, including bottles from Oregon and Washington. In September 2013, Paterlini opened 1760, a more casual restaurant two blocks away. Though the industry comes for Champagne, it’s California wine that sells at 1760, specifically California pinot noir.
Five of your best-selling wines at 1760 are pinot noir from the States.
We sell pretty much all California wine at 1760—pinot and cab. California pinot from $50 to $100 just flies. It’s only industry people ordering European wines. My European trophy wines are cheaper than retail and still I can’t sell them to anyone other than industry people. I have Clos Rougeard for $120 on the list and sold two bottles last year.
And at Acquerello, Italy accounts for more than 80 percent of the list, but we are selling more domestic wine—as a percentage, domestic wines are higher than they’ve ever been.
What was it about the Vocal Santa Cruz Mountains pinot that made it your best new success?
People are interested in Santa Cruz—Rhys, Mt. Eden and that Vocal wine have been good movers. The quality in Santa Cruz is super high and people are beginning to recognize that. As people are getting to know Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley, Santa Cruz is the next thing in terms of discovery.
In general, in San Francisco, at both restaurants, the dining culture and clientele has changed dramatically, largely because of the tech culture. We used to have a lot of seasoned diners who didn’t necessarily spend a lot of money but they knew wine. Now we see more young people with a lot of money; they don’t know a lot about wine and are not very interested in learning. It translates into people being more comfortable with what’s local—“Oh, I’ve been there, to the Sonoma Coast or the Russian River Valley, I know those wines.” In the long run, that could be a good thing. Understanding where wine comes from is a key to appreciating and understanding it. If we’re ever going to have an understanding of terroir, people need to have been to the place where the wine is grown. We can begin to achieve that—and, in a general sense, we have achieved that already. Like Napa Valley cabernet: It can’t come from anywhere else; you won’t mistake it for Washington cabernet or Bordeaux. That might be more style over terroir, but the wines are distinct.
You list three sparkling wines in Acquerello’s top-ten, and they could not be more different: Gemin Prosecco Cartizze ($68), Krug Grande Cuvée ($435) and Bérêche NV Reserve at ($95).
The prosecco is a party wine, stays on the list for private parties, a no brainer. Krug people call it; they know the wine. Bérêche is a delicious value; we get a lot of it. We have 200 Champagnes on the list. That doesn’t get the attention of our Barolo or Barbaresco section, but I’m trying to make sure we have the biggest Champagne list in the world. Del Posto has a pretty amazing Champagne list; they’re my target. If they know I’m trying to catch them, they’ll throw some money at it and screw me. I want Acquerello to have the best Champagne list in the world.
On White Wine with Truffles
At Acquerello, if I could get more Miani [from Friuli], I could sell it every night. People want rich, opulent white wines with acid—our menu is more white-wine friendly. We usually have two non-seafood main courses; one pasta is meat focused, the rest seafood or vegetables. We’ve had truffles for the last three months. Truffles don’t go with red wine.
Not even Barolo?
Well, if you’re drinking a 50-year-old Barolo with no texture and ethereal flavors, sure. But most truffle dishes are eggy, creamy and rich. They need wines with acidity. If the wines have enough minerality, the whites bring out the truffle. My favorite match is white Burgundy. We do a Parmigiano risotto with truffles; a poached egg with a bed of creamy leeks; and tagliarini with butter and truffles on top—super simple, white friendly, whether it’s white Burgundy or Champagne.
At Acquerello, we only have Italian and domestic wines—and Champagne—so if someone wants white Burgundy, the Borgo del Tiglio [Collio Friulano Ronco della Chiesa] is our go-to for Côte de Beaune drinkers. And we have a fresh, reductive, minerally trebbiano [Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Fonte Canale] that we sell to Chablis drinkers. Our biggest challenge is finding expensive Italian whites that are good. If someone’s used to drinking white Burgundy, there isn’t much like it from Italy.