Jim Mullen managed Montrachet and Morrell’s Wine Bar in Manhattan before heading over the Hudson to take on the program at The Frog and the Peach. Opened in 1983 by a couple of Rutgers grads, it’s long been one of New Jersey’s favorite restaurants, an unpretentious dining room that belies the seriousness of the chic, locally-sourced food and vast wine list. In the ten years that Mullen has worked there, he has built a destination-worthy wine list, deep in the classics and well priced, liberally embellished with notes, maps and photos.
You know, I realized when malbec was selling so well that I ought to take advantage and put some serious ones on the list. I didn’t have to—they just sell—but I’d rather. I have the De Angeles ‘Viña 1924’—both the regular and the reserve. It’s from an old vineyard at over 3,000 feet in altitude—it’s really good. The more serious one [the reserve, at $75] lingers a bit [in sales], but that’s okay.
On what’s taking California’s share
People are gravitating toward California less and less. I think there’s a growing awareness of what else is out there, and there’s also price—prices have gotten crazy in California. But, also, it’s economics. People used to buy Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon without thinking. They don’t do that anymore.
Italy is coming on strongly. One of the wines that did really well for us this year was the Roagna Langhe Rosso Nebbiolo. Roagna holds the wine back and releases it with a few years of age on it; the current vintage in the 2008. It’s really hard to find a wine in that price range [$62 on the list] with that sort of development. It’s beautiful wine. The staff went crazy over it. People don’t know the wine, or even Langhe, but it’s the sort of wine where a server can say, ‘trust me on this,’ and inevitably they love it. It’s a real crowd pleaser. That’s what’s rare about it—it’s a crowd-pleasing nebbiolo, softer.
You do a lot with Sherry—by the glass, in a tasting flight, by the bottle.
I’ve fallen in love with it over the last five years. It was a W&S tasting that did it. I may have been getting interested before that, but it was at one of those morning tastings that inspired the complete flip out. It’s something the staff and I need to push, but it sells well. The last few years we’ve done a special tasting menu matched entirely to Sherries—it’s really fun and gets a lot of attention.