Jeff Hagley of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene on Merlot and Syrah - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jeff Hagley of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene on Merlot and Syrah

Why is it that most of your top-selling wines are from the US?

A lot of people who don’t want consultation feel more comfortable ordering New World wines. Also, it’s about taking out the middleman. We can get the US wines at a better price for their relative value. It could be a stylistic preference, but honestly, I’ve seen more of a change in Old World producers and the styles of wine they’re making now. A lot of people are making wines for earlier drinking rather than the old-school austere styles.

You reported an increase in wine sales this year. Are more people ordering wine, or are people spending more?

It’s been a few things. We’ve had more people coming into the restaurant than last year. Also, we’re getting guests who want high-quality wines and know they might have to spend more to get there. But they’re comfortable with that. We can put great producers on the list that might be at a higher price point, and we don’t have to feel like Occupy Wall Street.

Your lowest-priced wine is an Alsace Pinot Blanc—do you sell a lot of it?

I was running it by the glass at first and I’ve used it on our pairing menu as well—when we did mixed greens with buttermilk dressing and peanuts. Or even a trout tartare. It worked nicely with those. Some people are familiar with Alsace as a wine region, but mostly, the people ordering it are shopping price. We’d get people ordering a bottle to share with the table as an aperitif.

You have merlot showing strength by the glass.

We’ve seen a great increase in merlot sales both by the glass and by the bottle. It’s just that we found some great wines. We’re doing a beef pot au feu—I’m serving the Hall Merlot with that and it turns guests on to the wine.

The people who have continued to make merlot are making it in more of an Old World style. The people making it now honor it and respect it and recognize its capabilities as a grape. The Hall does well by the glass. I also have a great Stagecoach Vineyard wine from Miner that fits that profile. Lambert Bridge has done well with us. I also really like the wines from Blackbird. I’m selling more New World producers but ones that represent an Old World style. It’s kind of ironic.

I did add two new Bordeaux to the list: a Château Grand Puy Lacoste and Boyd Cantenac, but nobody’s biting. We see some older clientele bringing their own Bordeaux in, but nobody has mentioned the lack of Bordeaux on our list, I guess it doesn’t bother anybody.

What are people drinking after dinner?

We try to show guests things they might not have as much experience with—Madeira, especially The Rare Wine Company’s Historic Series. Or the Toro Albala Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva 1985 with cheese is fantastic. The production process for these wines is unique. I like having that conversation with the guests. We’re also doing dessert cocktail pairings with our tasting menus.

What’s the most interesting bottle you’ve sold recently?

A magnum of 2008 Robert Sinskey Abraxas. I was so excited when somebody ordered that. I thought I was going to have that one in the cellar for years. It’s all Alsace varieties, kind of an oddball wine. This guy was doing a private party. He said, “I definitely want two bottles,” so I suggested the magnum—it was signed by Robert Sinskey himself. The funny thing is, he picked a lot of heavy hitters and commonly known wines, but the buzz at his party was around the Sinskey magnum.

Best sellers aside, what are your favorite wines to serve?

I’m most excited about domestic syrah. I think in a few years, people are going to be collecting those the way they’re paying so much attention to cult pinot noirs. Syrah makes itself more appropriate for food than any of the Bordeaux varieties. It’s not as square shouldered. You don’t have to stare at it for quite as long for it to be enjoyable. For grilled meats and braised meats, it’s absolutely delicious. We have a small section of select producers that’s growing as sales are increasing. Right now, it’s a lot of hand selling, but as my staff is becoming more aware of it, it’s on the rise. There’s Red Car’s Cuvee 22 from Sonoma. I also have a wine from Chad Melville called Samsara. For more robust entrée options, I always mention that as something to think about.