Josiah Baldivino, a W&S Best New Sommelier in 2011, manages the list at Michael Mina’s flagship restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District. Luke Sykora spoke with him after a recent W&S panel tasting.
What’s been the hottest category this year for you?
It’s always pinot noir—always New World pinot noir. A close second would be California cabernet. A lot of this has to do with the Hometown Heroes features I’ve been doing. I featured producers like Littorai, Failla, Lioco, Eric Kent, and most of them either do cabernet, syrah or pinot. There’s a whole story about why I like them and why they’re so great, and then a list of wines they sell to me out of their personal cellar.
It’s a way to pay respect to local producers. A lot of people are looking at a way bigger picture than they should—we have really great wines right in our back yard, cool producers that are doing really cool things.
A lot of the cool, off-the-beaten-path stuff I’ll put on the tasting menu, to introduce it to people in a non-win-or-loose situation, because if they don’t like it, I can always replace it with something else.
Three of your top ten best-selling wines were Napa Valley cabernets. What’s driving the strong interest in Napa cabernet this year?
People are just coming in and asking for it—especially people from out of town. When I featured Corison—the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet by the glass—people loved it, so I kept it on. We sell so much of that wine, it’s crazy.
A lot of it is people who want to impress their clients or friends. Or they’re from out of town, and they’ve heard these stories about Napa cab and they want to see what the hype’s all about, so they order it.
You list an interesting mix of dessert wines—a tawny Port, a Sauternes-style bottling from Napa, a De Bartoli Marsala. Is that category gaining or loosing steam?
For the most part people don’t drink dessert wine—they order another bottle of red, or they don’t drink any more. I started doing a dessert wine flight for people, which triggered a bit more sales in that department. I do a lighter, cleaner style—Kracher’s Beerenauslese Welschriesling; then the González Byass Apostóles Sherry, a thirty-year-old Palo Cortado; and then the Taylor 10 Year Tawny. It’s a “choose your own adventure”—especially if they get the dessert flight, which is little bites of all the desserts.
I put the De Bartoli on the tasting menu. People are a bit skeptical at first. You see their faces question it, and you say: “This isn’t your grandmother’s Marsala.” I always tell them, “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it. I’ll bring you a Sauternes or something like that.” But then they taste it and they love it.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.