What’s the atmosphere like in Vegas these days? Are people starting to open their wallets again?
Last year was great. We were starting to see people spend more money again. This year began with the Consumer Electronics Show, and it was fantastic, people were back to spending money. More expensive bottles were going out. Before it was $75, now it’s $150, $200 and even higher. Chinese New Year was really good as well. And we don’t see a lot of the high rollers—a little bit, but I have friends who work at other restaurants that see more of the high rollers. The general public is actually spending more money.
What are people buying?
I always look for the bistro wines: Côtes du Rhône, cru Beaujolais like the Foillard Fleurie; and we bought a fair amount of the Lapierre 2009 Morgon. It drinks amazing. Instead of Chambolle-Musigny, look to Beaune, or Chassagne-Montrachet rouge. I seek them out because they provide value, and I find a great purity of fruit.
I find that people will spend more on Bordeaux than they will on Burgundy. Maybe it’s because of the complications that come with learning Burgundy? They’ll buy the First Growths, whereas Grand Cru Burgundies, we don’t sell quite as much.
With Bordeaux, the thing is to find the values. We’re stating to see a little bit more of those value wines that we can keep on list for under $100: Deyrem Valentin in Margaux, or Rollan de By in Médoc—that does great for us. It’s more of a modern style, but it allows me as a somm to take someone from California and put them in Bordeaux and it’s not too drastic. In St-Emilion we’ve got Jean-Luc Thunevin, again a modern style that people really enjoy. One I always look to is Clos du Marquis from Léoville Las Cases, but then you start getting into the $150 range—still, beautiful Bordeaux at good price point.
How is your by-the-glass program doing?
Not a whole lot of change there—Sancerre is still our number one by-the-glass wine. They may not even know the grape, but they know the name: Sancerre. Sancerre! Like in Paris, you go to an oyster bar and they have Sancerre or Muscadet, and that’s all you get. It’s amazing the amount of Sancerre we sell by the glass; that and pinot noir. And we’ve not seen a huge swing over the years. It’s stayed fairly consistent. For pinot, we’ll do a Russian River Valley, or a Sonoma Coast or a Santa Rita Hills, and sometimes an additional Burgundy, in which case we basically split the sales between the two pinots.
The 2009 Arietta Meritage was your biggest new success this year. What about that wine made it a standout?
Basically, it’s Napa: lush fruit, soft tannins, big mouthfeel, and that’s everything that people are looking for in California, and it’s a good price point at $110—that’s a really good sweet spot for us.
What are some of the more significant bottles you’re been selling this year?
In the last few days we’ve opened 1982 Margaux, 2002 La Tâche. Right at the beginning of the Consumer Electronics Show we opened a 2007 Rousseau Chambertin. The 1997 Salon is always memorable for me, I love that wine. A 1998 Lafite. And this is just in the last month. It’s been a lot stronger in the past year, a lot stronger in 2011 than 2010. We’re selling the $1,000, $2,000, even $3,000 bottles—we’re seeing a lot more of those.
What wines are you excited about hand-selling right now?
A good hand-sell would be something like Henri Gouges Bourgogne Pinot Blanc; that for me is a very unusual wine. You don’t see a whole lot of it. The wine’s got great acidity. I’ll do it as a starter wine, for somebody who is into Burgundy and is looking for something unique. It works great with shellfish, more toward the lobster and crab end of the spectrum, or simple salads. Also, the Ponsot Aligoté, although there I get into a little more expensive territory, in the $150 range.
It’s not exactly a pure value, but under $100, one thing I like is Alsace riesling, like Boxler. Most people, when they think of riesling, they think of sweet. I can do Grand Cru riesling for under $100. The Trimbach’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile, I love to turn people on to a wine like that, and show the dry, mineral side of riesling. We don’t sell a whole lot, though. Distributors have shied away from it, so the way we can get it in is through pre-sales. They’re special orders that were doing, because it’s something I really want to have on the list. It’s an area that’s a little misunderstood, but if you can get people to commit to a bottle, they’re very pleased with the wine.
And the biggest would be Beaujolais. Again, it’s an area that’s misunderstood. People think of Thanksgiving, they think you need to drink it within six months. If you have a 2007 on the list, they wonder, is it dead? We don’t work a whole lot with Beaujolais Nouveau. My first experience in a bistro in Paris, I asked to see the wine list, and the guy laughed at me. He said: Do you want white or red? I said red. He said: Okay, do you want Brouilly or Bordeaux? Brouilly sticks out as something we do well with, and Morgon as well—it gets a bit more press and people are starting to recognize the name.
You talked about Salon earlier. How are you balancing the larger Champagne houses and the grower-producers?
For me, it’s not one or the other. Turning guests onto a smaller house like Salon is always fun for me. And we have two grower-producers by the glass. I love to sell those wines. But I had a bottle of 1993 Dom Pérignon Oenotheque last week and it was unbelievable. The bubbles were so fine, it was so creamy. Have I had that in a bottle of grower Champagne? Not necessarily.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.
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