Jason Jacobeit of NYC’s Bâtard on Navigating a Tight Burgundy Market - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jason Jacobeit of NYC’s Bâtard on Navigating a Tight Burgundy Market

With more than 1,000 selections filling the Burgundy-centric list at Bâtard in NYC’s Tribeca, Jason Jacobeit’s storeroom is overflowing. Come by in the afternoon, he says, and you’ll see him and his team hauling milk crates of Coche Dury and Lafon from their off-site storage at Tribeca Grill, several blocks away, making sure they have at least one bottle in the restaurant cellar by the time service begins. But even with Wall Street suits taking advantage of his growing collection of first-growth Bordeaux, his best selling wine is a $44 Rully.

The first six wines on your best-sellers list are all Burgundy.

That’s typical. As a percentage of bottles, Burgundy is close to 70 percent. As a percentage of revenue, it’s probably a little lower, closer to 60 percent. This year, I added one hundred Bordeaux to the list. I’ve observed this willingness to spend on the category of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux selection mimics the pricing structure of the rest of the list, but I’ve been surprised by the amount of attention that’s been paid to the first growths with bottle age. The finance titans in Tribeca are like moths to flames for first growths. Being right in the middle of winter, we have dishes on the menu that are appropriate with Bordeaux, and I can imagine a Nuits-St-Georges or a Gevrey-Chambertin that would be just as appropriate. I think it’s the category of Bordeaux and the familiarity some consumers have with those wines. It is interesting, given how dizzyingly complex Burgundy can be, and, in comparison, how incredibly sane to look at the Bordeaux list, to see one wine from one château—and you might know 50 percent of the names on those pages. You feel like you have a life raft. I spend my life sussing out all the little crevasses of Burgundy. For someone who focuses on a different kind of detail in their career, I can’t imagine how complex it is to sit down at seven o’clock at night and look at a list that could be in Mandarin.

So how is it that a $44 Rully pinot from Jaeger-Defaix is the top selling wine at Bâtard?

I have an unhealthy fascination with that wine. I hear every night some variation of the comment that there is no value in Burgundy. And I understand that. If you need to see premier cru or grand cru on the label, it’s a challenge. But this Rully is a quintessentially elegant, silky pinot—a gorgeous, complex pinot that people can afford. I am more proud to have that wine on the list than anything else.

I always feel like I’m overselling the wine, but since guests are buying three or four courses, it’s not only delicious, but insanely versatile. It has the kind of acidity that cuts though pork or chicken, and you’re in great shape with a delicate cut of beef. It’s just a great food wine.

The second best-selling wine, the Michel Gay Savigny-Les-Beaune Vergelesses, was somewhat more expensive, at $105. Why did that do so well?

The $100 price point is the sweet spot—the cradle at Bâtard. A dozen times a night, guests say, “We want to be right around $100.” I have a selection of wines from the Côte d’Or that are just off the beaten track—maybe four Marsannays, four Savignys. That Michel Gay, at $105, is our most successful new wine in part because Sebastian Gay is making gorgeous pinot, and then you’re not only getting a premier cru, but the finest premier in Savigny. It’s a great young grower. I take five case drops of that wine and I have to do so pretty routinely.

It looks like you sell more red Burgundy than white. Why is that?

Red Burgundy is the more vibrant category. For people who are just going to have one bottle of wine with dinner, it’s easy to find a red Burgundy with enough freshness and lightness of spirit to work with fish courses and also with the mains. It’s harder to find a chardonnay that works at the beginning of the meal and can transition to the mains. Unless you have two vegetarians, I almost always find myself threading the needle with red Burgundy.

How are you dealing with supply issues surrounding Burgundy? Are you having to change your strategies to keep certain price points on the list?

I’ve come to learn that when something in Burgundy works well for me, to go all in on it. What that means is when a new vintage of that Rully arrives, I taste it within 48 hours and, if I like it, I buy ten cases. Before, I might have bought a few cases. But then, when I would try to reorder, it would be gone until the next vintage. With the Michel Gay, I take massive drops of that wine at a time, to make sure it’s here. With the more allocated items in Burgundy, wines like the Raveneau Montée de Tonnerre, I don’t know what to do with a one-bottle allocation. Sommeliers in New York are dealing with a shorter amount of wine being divided into more accounts.

The wines, when you taste them and find that they haunt your dreams, the lesson I’ve learned is to go all-in on them. There was this 2008 Lavaux St-Jacques from Harmand-Geoffroy. It was $56 wholesale, and tasted like it should be $80. I thought about it a while and I bought 10 cases of it and Drew [Nieporent, owner of the Myriad Restaurant Group] was furious at me. So I told him: I’m going to sell 120 bottle of this wine. He was skeptical, but here I am a year and a half later and I don’t have that wine on the list any more. That’s emblematic of what the mindset has to be. You can find yourself starting over again all the time if you don’t have a deep supply of those core items.

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