Nikki Ledbetter started at Upland in May 2017, leaving behind a heavily Italian list at Casa Apicci, where she was GM and sommelier. Now she oversees a list of more than 500 labels that span the world, with a combo of cult bottles and up-and-coming names to satisfy the mix of New Yorkers and tourists who come in for Justin Simile’s California-leaning cuisine.
Chenin surprised this year?
We always only have five whites by the glass and then a draft pour of the sauvignon blanc from Wither Hill. For winter, I asked the somms: “if I added one other white, what would you want it to be, or what do you hear your guests asking for?” They all said chenin blanc, and I was like, “are you kidding me?” And they were like, “Yeah, we want a chenin blanc!” It is something they said their guests were asking for it. We put on a really beautiful Saumur blanc and it has done really well; it’s a beautiful wine to pair with food in general. I love it.
What are people seeking out in pinot?
Where there’s value in US pinot noir, people gravitate to it—places like Mendocino, or more southern appellations—where you find more value with quality. If they are buying by the bottle and looking at Oregon, they will often spend more money; I don’t know why, but the soft spot for Oregon pinot is around $120 instead of $60, $70 in California.
What’s happening with your red program?
We haven’t added too much in way of reds, but I have carved out a section of Corsican reds. I’d tasted a cool older Porto Vecchio wine from Domaine de Torraccia, which I really loved; then I added the Antica from Domaine U Stiliccionu—a stark, different red—just to have a 180-degree view there. I just think they pair beautifully with Justin’s [chef Justin Simile] food.
I find myself taking people to the Southern Rhône as well—I just find that with the red sauces and pizza, wines that have that richer, brighter fruit do really well. A lot of people immediately know Côtes du Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and we have classic Chave and Beaurenard—which also drink very classically. They understand that the north is syrah-based and the south is grenache-based and they get the general style differences, but they don’t always think about the wines until you mention them; then it’s like, “Oh yeah! I always forget about the Rhône.”
One area I’m looking to grow this year is esoteric grape varietals coming from California and America in general.
is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.