Jin Ahn and Gerald San Jose had worked together at NYC’s Per Se before partnering with Chung Chow, a chef raised in Hawaii, to open Noreetuh in the East Village. Chow’s menu focused on the layered influences that make up Hawaiian cuisine, from Filipino to Japanese and Korean, while Ahn’s list started out with an emphasis on French wines. Three years later, Ahn has expanded in a range of directions, with 190 selections that go deep into German riesling, while investing in some older bottlings, including finds from Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace and Chateau Musar in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.
The Mosel Riesling trocken from Clemens Busch was your biggest new success and your top selling wine. What is it about the wine that drove sales?
I created this page on the wine list called “Staff Picks,” getting the staff involved, having their say. So, I wrote a blurb for that wine on the page: “You won’t believe this is riesling, it will take out the poke.” Poke is the number one menu item [Chef Chow offers a big-eye tuna poke with macadamia nuts, pickled jalapeño and seaweed]. At $55 a bottle, it may not matter that people are unfamiliar with that wine, but they are looking for that price point and saying, ‘Hey, we’re getting the poke anyway…”
People are opening up more toward riesling. Three years ago, people were very hesitant. But now if they know it is dry, they go for it. I give Paul Grieco credit for that [specifically, Grieco’s Summer of Riesling promotions at Terroir in NYC’s Tribeca.]
People’s interest in riesling is something of a pleasant surprise. I made the German riesling selection into three pages—one page of off-dry and sweet, one page of dry and one page dedicated to a Donnhoff vertical, with eight vintages of Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle.
You’re also selling a lot of Krug Grande Cuvée. How has that risen so high up on the list?
It’s because it’s $75 for a half bottle. People really get it where there’s a value, a bargain. It’s one item I always have and people know it. There are certain guests who come in and always get that. I started that three years ago as a statement. It’s not my money maker.
Even though you sell more whites than reds at Noreetuh, your top-selling by-the-glass wine is a Rioja — Rioja Alta 2010 Viña Alberdi. Why is that red selling so well?
We always ask guests for their preference and for reds, malbec is the most requested grape variety out there. But if we have a carte blanche tasting opportunity, we lean heavily on the Rioja. It satisfies many palates. Everything else rotates, with a space for lighter body and heavier body; the Rioja is right in the middle and everyone on staff loves it. Our bass with black bean sauce [mochi-crusted bass, pole bean, Chinese bacon, fermented black bean], our pork belly [pineapple braised, with spätzle and pickled mustard greens] even with the beef [imperial wagyu, Chinese broccoli, fried rice, Sichuan chili oil] it’s not going to die down. That’s the wine I would sell the most overall, because I use that for pairing as well.
Curious that an older vintage of a Portuguese white wine made your top-selling list this year (Caves São João 1995 Poco do Lobo Arinto).
Anytime someone’s looking for something different, it’s delicious. I put it on the list then saw you gave it 94 points—the wine is fantastic and for the value, you can’t do any better. My clientele is not “show me the best,” but what drinks the best, and older wine is fine. I might tell them I have something that’s really good and the price is amazing, they end up saying, “Okay.” A lot of it’s a hand sell; and it’s also for special events—̛we did a Portuguese and Spanish wine dinner in August, and we recently did vintage wines with truffles. I served the Caves São João with celery root agnolotti with white truffles.
And the other unusual wine on your top-selling list is an older vintage of Lebanon’s Château Musar, the 1998.
I have one full page dedicated to Musar. It’s often for the people who say, “Hey, surprise me with something different.” Musar 1998 and 1999 are my go tos. I have a few regular guests who look for Musar from time to time. And I have a lot of BYOB events. After they run out of their bottles, they say, “Hey, can you surprise us?” They are willing to spend.