Jin Ahn worked in restaurants while studying economics at Northwestern University in Chicago. After graduating, he made the jump to New York City and into some of the top restaurants, including Jean-Georges and Asiate at the Mandarin Hotel. After four years as a captain at Per Se, Ahn joined Jungsik as general manager, where he helped secure a Michelin Star for the restaurant. He is now based in the East Village as a partner and general manager at Noreetuh, where the Hawaiian-influenced cuisine gives a nod to the Philippines, Korea and Japan.
I divide up the wines by the glass: I ask [a guest] for a few descriptors, like dry or sweet, richer or lighter, pretty much working off a quadrant. So there are four categories: sweet and light or dry and light or rich, full and dry, then the fourth can be more interesting wines, like the Musar Jeune [the 2014 white blend was number seven on his list of top-selling wines].
The grüner [Birgit Eichinger 2014 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner Wechselberg] is my best seller. It’s on the lighter side, an easy-drinking grüner that can be a go-to with all of our appetizers. And it goes great with the tuna poke, which is our number one seller. As I move through it, I needed to add another by-the-glass pour that will take its place in the light, dry [category]. I don’t want competing wines for by the glass, but I’ve added a sauvignon blanc lately [the Tement 2014 Sudsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc].
What I really sold out of the fastest last year was a rosé—between June and September. This was the most wine I’ve sold in any given period of time. It was the Jolie Folle Rosé from Provence, and I poured it out of a big bottle. People are just…you know, it is crazy, they saw something pink! It’ll most likely make a return next year.
Cava & Crémant
For the most part, I go through a fair amount of Cava [Naveran 2013 Cava Reserve Blanc de Blanc made his list of the ten best-selling wines] and Crémant de Loire, especially the rosé during rosé season. Another reason I like using those is for the wine-pairing program. I move lots of sparkling wine by the glass, but hardly anyone buys bottles of Champagne here; I sell fewer than five bottles a week. At a fine dining restaurant, guests start with a glass of Champagne, but over here its not about that. If people feel like sparkling wine, they usually only buy a bottle for a special occasion. So I move a lot through by the glass and through pairing.
On chardonnay from New Zealand
There are so many factors that come into play when I choose wines : I have to like the wine, and with chardonnay, my ideal is Sandhi from Santa Barbara. Most people love that immediately, as a non-oaked chardonnay, but it is still quite expensive . The Kumeu River [2014 Chardonnay] drinks more like a Chablis, a great alternative to the California chardonnay; and costs a lot less. For me it is a great product that goes well with our food, and sells itself.
The Vistalba 2013 Malbec Corte B is very popular—a crowd pleaser for everyone. It’s slightly more expensive than other [popular] wines on my list, but it pleases both seekers of malbec and cabernet sauvignon.
I always get excited when I get a group of people in who want to talk about wine, or when a guest shares an enthusiasm that I share, like the Musar wines, or when young clientele is coming in looking for Burgundy. It doesn’t mean they will spend more money, but we’ll talk. I have these regulars that order a bottle from the Jura every time they come in. So they came in with a friend who was talking smack and I sold them a bottle of Alsatian riesling: the 2009 François Baur Grand Cru, for below $60. They started with that and got curious about older wines so then ordered a 1997 Roche Aux Moines. The group started ordering older red wines after and had lots of fun with [exploring the wine list]. It makes me feel good about having weird wines since you always have to think about whether wines will sell, or if I can just be crazy enough to put wines that I love on the list and hand-sell to people.
I had never tried pairing our brûléed pineapple and an Auslese riesling until I had an open bottle of Dr. Lippold 1994—it was amazing! It would be so worthwhile to put on the list when we’ve got the pineapple back on the menu and I can find a reasonably priced Auslese with some age.