Having returned to restaurant life after working for importers like Wine Wise and Skurnik Wines & Spirits, Marianna Caldwell just celebrated her one-year anniversary at Cassia, the first restaurant outside of New York to be reviewed by The New York Times. The Vietnamese-French cuisine inspired her to skew the list toward white wines—especially riesling—as well as reds that can handle the heat.
Your list focuses on white wines, but more than half of your top-selling wines were red. Why?
Pairings get a little more interesting with reds, because there is spice in almost all of the food. I don’t have any cabernet on the list, because the tannin structure is too much. That’s probably the number one question I hear from guests: Where is the cabernet? Which is great, because that then opens the conversation to other wines.
I’ve been selling a lot of Languedoc, actually: There are a lot of young vignerons investing in the region, making organic and biodynamic wine, and high-quality but affordable wine. In syrah-grenache blends, the tannins are softer and the fruit more luscious. It gives that fullness of mouthfeel without exacerbating the heat in our dishes.
One of your top-selling reds is the Marc Delienne St-Amour à la Folie Arpaye. Do you see the Beaujolais trend continuing?
If I had my preference, I would probably have only Beaujolais and pinot noir as reds on our list. When the financial crisis happened in 2008, Burgundy lovers went to Beaujolais, and I still consider that on my list. Delienne is part of the up-and-coming generation of Cru Beaujolais. People who drink California pinot noir are going to love this, because it has that bright red and black fruit. It has acid, but it’s really friendly—St-Amour tends to be friendlier, too.
What do you wish people paid more attention to on your list?
Riesling. It is such a fight to get people to be open to it. I’m actually in the process of completely restructuring the list and adding an intro where I explain what I usually say tableside—why riesling goes so well with our food, why I have an entire page of it, and not all rieslings are sweet, but here’s also why you might want one that is. Sugar can be your friend when you’re eating.
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