Martin Sheehan-Stross was one of five W&S Best New Sommeliers last year—we profiled him in our October 2015 issue, when he was directing the wine program at Wayfare Tavern. He’s since moved over to Michael Mina’s flagship restaurant just two blocks away, where he’s charged with sustaining that restaurant’s significant wine legacy and also adding some of his own innovations.
Taking over at Mina
One thing we’ve been really trying to do is push Champagne. When I walked in I thought: that’s how to start off the evening in this kind of space. We have a Champagne cart now—a few different styles, some growers on there, half bottles to keep it a little fresher.
We’re playing around with the Coravin more, starting to do some Coravin wine pairings. It doesn’t look so good in the dining room—it flashes and hisses too much—so we prepare everything at the somm table and then show guests the Coravin if they’re curious. We’ve been pouring things like Roulot and Conterno, so that opens up lot of options as far as the pairings go.
Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs vs. Chartogne-Taillet
The Schramsberg is ordered more by guests coming in from out of town, because they want to enjoy something local and the price point makes them feel like it’s comparable to Champagne—and it is. So they go that route.
Chartogne-Taillet is a really reasonably priced grower producer, and it is our own cuvée that [company wine director] Raj [Parr] does with Alexandre [Chartogne]. A lot of guests have dined at other Mina restaurants and it makes them feel like they’re getting something unique. To me, his wines always have good fruit and a nice smokiness, so I think guests like the balance there.
It’s a big feature of the list: Going back fifteen years when Raj was at Aqua with Michael [Mina], the list has been Burgundy-focused. Besides Burgundy, Raj also loves California and Oregon producers that adhere to that style and ripeness level, so we’re always going to have a lot of pinot noir and chardonnay on the list, and it will always be relatively high in acidity and moderately oaked.
Many guests order a three-course prix fixe, or the tasting menu, and with both of those you approach the table and it’s: “I’m having the fish trio, they’re having the lobster, he’s having the game birds.” But they don’t want to mess around with glasses or a few different half bottles, so pinot noir goes with all those menu items.
Grenache in the top ten: 2012 Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape
We’ve had the trio menu since August: The trio of sucking pig and the trio of game birds are really popular, and Châteauneuf is great with either one. The natural structure of grenache makes it a crowd pleaser, and it works for a large table that wants something bigger, like a cabernet, but softer, like a pinot noir—that wants New World fruit but also some Old World complexity.
We’ve got beautiful grenache coming out from some of these new producers in Australia, and things like A Tribute to Grace in California—it’s underutilized, I think.
Cabernet at the bar
Most of our glasses are actually in the bar, and the bar doesn’t close—we have people drinking glasses in the bar from 11:30 a.m. on. We do see a few people who just want one glass of pinot or one glass of cabernet with their meals, but mostly it’s business people sitting at the bar. That’s how it works in the Financial District. We sell a ton of Lewis cabernet by the glass.
Most memorable wine of 2015
I’m gonna go with the ’66 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet. It was holding up so well. You could tell it was New World; it didn’t just taste like Bordeaux. The color was great. It was delicious. This really dense core of fruit was still there.
photo by Kevin McCullough