Jeff Taylor, of NYC’s Betony, on grower Champagne and Aussie syrah - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jeff Taylor, of NYC’s Betony, on grower Champagne and Aussie syrah

Jeff Taylor left an acting career to join Bistro du Vent, a French restaurant by Mario Batali that didn’t last long. In 2007, he moved on to Eleven Madison Park, first as a server, then two years later as a sommelier. This past March, he followed EMP alums Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey to Betony, where he is now wine director.

Grower bubbles rising
[Three Champagnes made Taylor’s top ten, including the Savart L’Ouverture and the Gimonnet Belles Années.] Savart is a relatively new grower in the market. He’s based in the Montagne de Reims—Robert Bohr and Grand Cru Selections bring in the wines. Freddie Savart was here in New York for Peter Liem’s Fête du Champagne; that’s where I met him and he’s a great guy. He doesn’t label his L’Ouverture as a blanc de noirs but it’s 100 percent pinot noir. Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Craft are the others selling it by the glass. Savart makes five different bottlings; L’Ouverture is his biggest and it’s 20,000 bottles total.

Gimonnet is there to balance the pinot noir-heavy Savart, and it’s a great wine for the price.

As somms, we have been pushing grower producers for last five years, telling our guests you can get a great wine at a great price. If you look at the Special Club wines, the top selection from certain growers, they are a fraction of the cost of a tête de cuvée from a grand marque. And then there are places like the Aube.

Who would have drunk wine from the Aube before Cédric Bouchard? Have you heard that he’s doing a project in Santa Barbara County with the Wenzlau family and Justin Willet? He calls Santa Barbara the Aube of California—a place where a lot of great wines are being made and it’s not Napa, not Sonoma. A lot of sommeliers are gravitating there to make their wines.

On selling syrah
Northern Rhône syrah for me is my happy place. Those are wines I’ve always gravitated towards. I did a New York Times tasting panel with Michael Madrigale, and Franck Balthazar’s Chaillot [Cornas] bottling was the number one wine we selected. I immediately bought four cases of it, and it sold out. I just got two cases of the 2012.  It’s a great meaty style of syrah for colder weather. And the pedigree is awesome: the fact that he’s using Verset’s 90-year-old plot in Chaillot. He had his own plot of 46-year-old vines, and then when Noël Verset retired, he bought the 90-year-old plot, so now he blends the two together. Balthazar is old school—everything plowed by horse, everything in demi muid. He makes the stuff I love.

The Chave Offerus [St-Joseph] is currently my Old World syrah by the glass. I’d love to pour a domaine Chave, but even though this is bought fruit, it’s from people he’s been working with for years. He selects the best from eight to ten growers in any one vintage.

As for the Jamsheed [Harem syrah from Victoria], that was a revelation. I went to Australia a year or two after Dustin [Wilson] and he said, if you see Gary Mills [of Jamsheed], if you see Timo Mayer, grab them. We had a tasting with Gary on the last day in Victoria and it blew me away. He was making a conscious effort to make it syrah first and not shiraz. The fact he labeled his wines syrah…for me it was almost as if he was giving an F-U to the rest of Australia. You see that a little more now, in wines from Luke Lambert or Ben Haines. They’re making a conscious effort to distance themselves from the unfortunate name shiraz has gotten in Australia.

Gary Mills was in town when I moved to Betony. He brought over the Harem line, which is more affordably priced, and I committed to 15 cases right off the bat. His wine made that trip for me.

On adding less expensive selections
I put on a bunch of bottles under $50 and two wines by the glass at $12 each. I was reading reviews in the New York Times, what Pete Wells was saying about the affordability of Upland’s list, and Eric Asimov’s $20 under $20 list. They are focused on affordable wines. I picked up the Happs Semillon out of Margaret River and put it on for $12 a glass—a price-conscious by-the-glass pour. Even though it’s not Hunter Valley, it’s a classic Aussie semillon.

On green lights and red lights
We’re pushing a lot more. I’m working with the somm team to educate the servers about pairings. We’ve got two foie gras dishes on the menu. With one it’s a glass of Macvin du Jura. With the other, a seared foie gras, it’s a Verdelho Madeira. If someone orders the seared foie gras, even if the table already has wine, on cue the captain says: “We have a lovely Madeira that goes with that.” It’s priced at $19, so it’s not offensive.

During truffle season, even if the table had already ordered a bottle of white and a bottle of red, the classic thing is to have a glass of Barolo, so we’d offer them the Barolo by the glass.

I learned from John Ragan and Dustin Wilson that you don’t stop until you get the red light. If you have four business people, that’s a four-bottle table. You don’t stop until they say ‘Mercy.’ It’s been an effort to educate our servers, to tell them, “You know what the food is, you know what the entrée is, say ahead of time, ‘I know you’ll be having the beef, would you like a glass of Brunello to go with it?’”

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