A native of Alsace, Master Sommelier Michael Engelmann had worked at Gary Danko in San Francisco and Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney, Australia, before landing at The Modern in NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, where he’s been wine director since July 2014. In two and a half years, he’s built an all-star team of sommeliers and tripled the size of the wine list, now at 3,000 selections.
What sections of the list have grown the most?
The growth was really everywhere. Burgundy increased a lot, as well as California cabernet. And in Australia, we went from five wines to 100.
We sell quite a bit of Australian chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet. Shiraz is probably number four, but we have been selling $300 and $400 shiraz—Henschke Mount Edelstone, old Clarendon Hills… In terms of chardonnay, it’s anything between $80 to $200, wines like Bindi, Vasse Felix and By Farr. And the pinots have been doing well too. We get a clientele that wants to try something new and they’re drinking Timo Mayer and Bindi.
Partying with Champagne and Chardonnay
In the fourth quarter, every day—every lunch and every dinner—we are booked for functions. In December, that probably accounted for 20 percent of our wine sales. In terms of three chardonnays among the best-selling wines—Hanzell, Sandhi and Domaine Ferret—that’s because of functions. And Billecart and Bollinger Champagne as well. When there’s a big event, it’s usually a chardonnay. The Hanzell Sebella is under $100 with service included; the Ferret is more. They are always pretty popular.
And the Storybook Mountain Cabernet in fourth place?
That’s due equally to functions and to wine-list sales. I like the wine and bought it because I could list it for under $200. I think the fact that it’s under $200, that it’s 2010—it’s not old but not 2013 either.
In fact, we started to pour it by the glass last week. And we’ve been rocking the Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello by the glass as well. It’s 2008, it’s a more restrained style of Brunello, delivers a lot for the money. For wine by the glass, it’s about the second glass you sell. If you go to a bar or restaurant, you’re going to have a glass of wine, fine. But if you really like it—you’re having a wine that’s delicious, fun and a value—you’re going to have a second glass. The reorders are really important. We sell a fair bit of second glasses of the Brunello.
Even so, it’s Sancerre that tops your by-the-glass list.
We always sell two to three times more Sancerre by the glass than the next most popular wine. Domaine de la Chézatte has been the number-one selling wine by the glass for the last two years.
Sancerre also does well by the bottle. I bought five cases of Cotat Caillottes. We have their other single vineyards on the list; all of them are over $100. People know Cotat and the fact that the Caillottes is under $100, they’ll go with that. It’s been the most successful new wine on the list.
Wine sales up, prices down.
Initially all the prices increased when we went to service included. Wine sales (as a percentage of our total sales) went up, too—part of it is the price increase. And part of it is that we sell more wine. This past summer, I went through the wine list and adjusted some bottles down. Mainly wines over $1,000—we have La Tâche 2011 under $2,000, and Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne around $1,900. A guest ordered it a few days ago and he told me they were not planning to order a $2,000 bottle, but the price and the value proposition was so good that they went for it.