Jan Novak of Il Capriccio in Waltham, MA on Expanding Lists and Super Tuscans - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jan Novak of Il Capriccio in Waltham, MA on Expanding Lists and Super Tuscans

Il Capriccio in Waltham, Massachusetts shuttered in April 2020 after a forty-year run. But just as staff began to resign themselves to futures unknown, a new owner swooped in to salvage the Italian institution, armed with research and data that helped to inform a strategy for updating the beverage program. In May of 2021, the restaurant reopened in a new, larger space blocks from the original location with the same chef, an expanded wine list featuring high-end Italian and American bottles and a revamped cocktail list. Devoted regulars swarmed the restaurant, and in spite of the unpredictability that the pandemic has wrought over the last year, wine director and sommelier Jan Novak is hopeful that the pendulum is swinging back. Patrons who’ve spent the last two years in lockdown are eager to spend on big-ticket bottles like the lauded 2015 and 2016 vintages in Brunello and the booming Super Tuscan category.

Your new list has 650 wines; in 2019, you had 534 wines. Where did you expand? 

We added twenty wines to Spain; we didn’t have any [previously]. We expanded in Piemonte—my passion—Barbaresco, Barolo. And in Chianti Classico and Brunello. With the 2015 and 2016 vintages, people are more interested in Brunello. People who aren’t in the service industry worked at home for a year and a half; now they have money and want to spend it. 

People have been interested in tasting and buying wines from Sardinia, and they are asking for them. I don’t know whether they’ve traveled there or read about it. Antonella Corda, a granddaughter of [Antonio] Argiolas, is making Cannonau, and it’s fantastic. It was my new discovery. Sicily is hot, too, right now; I’m selling a lot of Planeta’s Santa Sicilia Nero d’Avola, a lot of Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri, Terre Nere Nerello Mascalese from Etna. People are branching out. But when I look at the numbers, it’s Super Tuscan and Brunello. 

Why did the Super Tuscan category surprise you this year? 

Americans have woken up to blends. Maybe they are bored by the monotony of one variety. With the press pounding the 2015 and 2016 vintages, people read that it’s the best of all time followed by the best of all time, and they try it, and they remember. The CEO of Panera Bread was in last night with twenty big-wigs from the company. They went through eight to ten wines through the night, all in that category. They loved the Petrolo Merlot, and the Orma 2009 was the favorite of the crowd.

Who are the customers asking for Prosecco Rosé?

By the glass, rosé sparkling is always a good category. The French ones are so expensive, I like to focus on Italian producers if I can. The Zardetto is affordable, a requirement for Prosecco.

I was pouring a Nebbiolo rosé brut before—that wine is fantastic, drier, but a lot more money. That was a great seller for us, too. I had never had a Prosecco rosé on the list. It’s a very recent category. 

How are you feeling about the future of the industry and of Il Capriccio in particular? 

A lot of the old standbys in Boston rolled up the carpet and said that’s it. That’s what I thought we would do. But our reopening has been comforting for people. People are really despairing; our customers want some hope. The very busy past summer and fall have illustrated the point that customers have a strong need to get back into their favorite restaurants and feel comfortably “normal” after a year(s) of fear and isolation. This past January was the worst month we’ve had. It was just brutal, but I feel like business will spike right up again, like it was in October through December [2021]. Those were great months.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.

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