Josiah Baldivino, a W&S Best New Sommelier in 2011, has managed the list at Michael Mina’s flagship San Francisco restaurant for the last three years. Luke Sykora explores Baldivino’s infectious enthusiasm for wines coming out of the Golden State.
Your top-selling wine recently was the Arietta Quartet, a meritage blend from Napa. How did that end up being your best-selling wine toward the end of this last year?
We sell a ton of California wine in general. Pinot noir, cabernet, chardonnay—those are by far our top wines. The Arietta is at that perfect point money-wise. And it has that New World pop but there’s not too much oak or alcohol, so it can go with things other than beef. It’s one of those wines that people always want us to write it down—that’s always a good sign!
It seems like you did sell a lot of California wines recently—six of your top ten sellers in the last few months are from California. Is that a conscious decision on your part, or is it more reflective of demand from your guests?
The reason why is probably because of our Hometown Hero feature. When I put those wines on there, people get really excited about them and we usually sell a ton. Every month we feature a new producer. I’ll usually get some library wines from them, all their current releases, and put on one or two of their wines by the glass. Usually we’ll go on a field trip there so the staff gets excited about it and is able to talk about it. And I’ll write a little bio about the producer.
What were some of the more interesting older California wines to come out of that program?
Calera for sure, Calera and Corison. They were so generous in terms of offering wines from their cellar. Calera gave me ’98s, ’99s, cool older stuff. It’s coming straight from his cellar. Cathy Corison is the Hometown Hero this month. This time she went back to the 2001 Kronos. The last time I featured her it was ’98s and ’99s, stuff like that.
This year my whole theme is that I want to support California wine. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening—the kinds of people that are doing what they love. If they’re doing that and the wine is good, I totally support them. It feels good to support wine that’s made in your back yard.
California pinot noir was especially huge for you—producers like Littorai, Calera and Tyler. Why do you think guests are responding to those wines so much?
Everybody chooses to go with pinot because when they’re ordering fish and somebody else has beef, I always say pinot. Then my questions is: Should we go to Burgundy or we should we try something local? And 99 percent of the time they say local.
A few Burgundies made your top ten list, a Philippe Pacalet Nuits-St-George and a Pattes Loup Chablis. Those aren’t necessarily super rarified Burgundies. Why are people gravitating toward those wines?
People like the values. We do sell a lot of Burgundy, but the more affordable ones are easier to push, and people are prone to order multiple bottles of them. People are so scared of Burgundy because of price, but if you bring them something affordable and they like it, they get really excited.
The 2011 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay was your top-selling white wine. Why was that wine so successful?
Flowers is just one of those things—you don’t even have to talk about it. You just walk up to the table and they’re already interested in it. They know the name, they feel comfortable with that wine.
Some slightly older Napa Caps did well for you: a 2005 Dunn and a 2005 Corison, which you put on by the glass. Do you think that’s kind of a sweet spot for Napa cabernet, around 9 to 10 years old?
The wines are just showing really, really well. With the Corison, we’ve had it by the glass all year, and [Cathy] keeps sending us more. It’s really in that sweet spot. Fresh, opulent fruit but starting to turn the corner, getting some of those non-fruit elements.
You mention that the 2010 Shafer One Point Five was your biggest recent success. Why was that?
That’s one of those wines, again, like the Flowers. They see Shafer and they know it. They’ll take the Shafer no matter what, even if they’re eating fish.
You use your pairing menu to introduce some pretty off-the-beaten-path things; any California wines in particular that took off that way this year?
The Matthaisson Refosco—that did really well. The Folk Machine Valdiguie did really well. Those kinds of weird grape varietals do really well on the paring menu—if it works. If the pairing sucks, people aren’t going to like anything.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.