Nicole Hakli of Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC on Bordeaux and White Port - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Nicole Hakli of Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC on Bordeaux and White Port

A musician by training, Nicole Hakli got her start in restaurants at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in NYC before heading across town to take over the wine program at Acme, where her colleagues voted her one of W&S Best New Sommeliers of 2016. Last September, she moved over to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, David Chang’s signature restaurant, where she’s turned her attentions to German riesling and gamay—though she still manages to sell a surprising amount of Italian wine.

Red Bordeaux tops your Top 10 Most Popular Bottles list

While people don’t usually associate Asian food with Bordeaux, let alone wine, there are a lot of richer dishes [here] that go with red, and Bordeaux specifically. Also, I feel Bordeaux is making a comeback. The 2011 Haut-Medoc Les Allées de Cantemerle is a great restaurant wine—it’s food friendly, ready to drink, at a friendly price point at $68 a bottle—and it’s terrific with the duck or pork shoulder ssam, or the wagyu beef.

And Cavalotto Langhe Nebbiolo at #2 Most Popular

We have only three Italian wines on our list, yet people are drawn to them. I attribute it to people feeling comfortable ordering Italian wine. But also, our food is rich, the richest in the [Momofuku] group—lots of duck and pork—so nebbiolo isn’t really a stretch.

Though you highlight gamay and riesling on your list, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc still lead in sales.

It just shows that we have a little more work to do in encouraging our guests to be more adventurous and try gamay, the little brother to pinot noir. As for sauvignon blanc, I would never want to deny anyone their sauvignon, and I find that grüner is the next best baby step. Many people still find riesling a risky order because it has so much diversity. This is why we have divided up the wines into dryness categories. And I anticipate a lot of guidance, tasting and probably a few bottles being sent back before finding the “right” riesling for a table. But I believe it’s worth it. I never like to pass up a good teaching moment.

Best unexpected pairing?

Coconut pandan pie with Quinta do Infantado White Port: It’s a coconut-milk custard flavored with pandan and Malaysian coconut sugar, which is made from the sap from the coconut flower and reduced into a dark, smoky caramel. The inspiration was chef Max Ng’s childhood breakfast, which involved kaya, a coconut-egg jam on bread. The Infantado pairs well with it because it’s a drier style of dessert wine with marmalade and nutty components, just like you’d want on your kaya toast. It also has a brightness and freshness that makes you want to eat more.

photo by Mike Rush

Sarah Sutel Looper has spent more time than most people obsessing over what makes a good all-purpose wineglass, whether it’s been when she worked in restaurants (Blue Ribbon, the Metropolitan Opera House and Mas (farmhouse)) and was W&S' Tasting Director. She is currently working harvest at Brooklyn Winery.