Michaël Engelmann grew up in Alsace, where he began his culinary career. He moved on through several legendary dining rooms, including Restaurant Georges Blanc, Gary Danko in San Francisco and Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney before landing six months ago in New York as wine director at The Modern, Union Square Hospitality Group’s informal bar and formal dining room overlooking the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art.
The value play
When I came on board, one of the first things I worked on was re-pricing the list. As part of the Union Square Group, we want to be in a position where we offer value. At Marta and Maialino, the pricing there, too, is pretty amazing. People are more and more aware of pricing; we want people to order a bottle and then order another.
We sell a lot of Brigandat, that’s a $68 bottle of Champagne. It’s rare to find $68 Champagne on any wine list. We are selling Egly-Ouriet Rosé for $165; before we re-priced the list, it would have been $190 or $195, a good $30 more. It’s an expensive bottle of wine.
Overall, I probably dropped a good 10 to 15 percent and added more cheapies, more wines at a lower prices, $40, $45, $50, $60, $70. I’ve got a país from Chile, Luyt’s Huasa Pilen Alto, at $48. Comando G from Vinos de Madrid at $65. Cavallotto Barbera for $60. Those are some new additions, and there are a lot more.
A surprise hit from Swartland
The Mullineux Chenin Blanc is all over the building, in the restaurant, the bar, private dining room. The staff has been behind it. Guests love it. It’s on by the glass, so it’s very easy to give a taste. It’s more selling it stylistically—what the wine feels like. There’s a round mouth feel, there’s fruit, there’s generosity, but then in the end it’s dry. And for the price [$68 a bottle], it’s quite easy to turn someone on to it. You can sell it to a pinot gris drinker.
I have a big crush on South Africa; I think it’s one of the most interesting countries at the moment. I’ve been really impressed with some wines coming out of Swartland. Eben Sadie, he started Columella ten or fifteen years ago. His chenin is stunning, and he makes a grenache that’s out of this world—from old gnarly grenache vines. It’s pale in color, but there is so much flavor intensity and perfume, and it is so drinkable.
I’ve been bugging Mullineux for the Straw Wine. When I was in Sydney, I bought everything there was, maybe 40 bottles, and poured it by the glass. I’m probably going to start pouring the Mullineux Syrah. I tasted a lot of South African wines when I was a sommelier in England ten years ago, and now I’ve been tasting them ten years later. I had goose bumps when I tasted the range from Mullineux—the mineral expression is unreal.
We had a few tables cold-ordering some Sadie Family Grenache and the Tinta Barroca. They said, “I can’t believe you have these wines, you don’t see them anywhere.” And to be honest, our sommeliers didn’t know them well, so they became curious.
This is a bit the direction I want to take with the list. I’m French and I drink a lot of French wine, but I can’t think of many restaurants that have a more diverse clientele. I can’t compete with the Burgundy list at Daniel. If I have one goal, it’s that if you’re from South Africa, or Switzerland, or Argentina, and you come in and look at the list, you say, “Oh, you have the best wine from South Africa and it’s priced well.”