Raj Vaidya of NYC’s Daniel on Chablis and the Sancerre Effect - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Raj Vaidya of NYC’s Daniel on Chablis and the Sancerre Effect

How does a 2002 Bordeaux from a little-known château rise to the top-selling wine at Daniel?

I bought the Larrivet Haut-Brion for a song and I priced it really well [$110 on the list]. In the past, we’ve sold a lot of wine from California in that price range. The sommeliers refer to it as the French Jordan. Guests will say, “I think we’ll have a bottle of Jordan, unless you have something French.” People like to drink French here. Obviously, the wines are quite different, but they play a similar role for our guests.

One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed this year is that high-end Bordeaux has gone off the radar for big-time wine drinkers. We’re selling a lot more Burgundy and Rhône. We have a lot of guests who come in from Brazil and Asia — they’re buying the Rhône wines and the high-end Burgundies. Other than DRC, they’re wines they can’t get in those places.

In years past, Krug sometimes made your list of top-selling wines by the bottle. Now it’s on your list of popular wines by the glass. What’s driving that?

We’ve noticed people moving away from ordering bottles of Champagne. They see Krug by the glass and they’re just as likely to start with that, then move on to a bottle of something else. We offer five Champagnes by the glass; Krug would be the most expensive.

We also have the Pierre Paillard Cuvée Daniel [the second most popular wine by the bottle and third most popular by the glass pour]. He’s a RM [récoltant-manipulant] producer in Bouzy — Bruno Paillard’s cousin. He sells probably fifty percent of his grapes to Bruno. He had representation in England; Charles Curtis [of Christie’s] introduced us. He’s been making our Champagne for three years now, 100 percent Bouzy Grand Cru.

What’s behind the two Chablis on your top-ten best selling wines?
That’s the sommelier effect. I’m addicted to Chablis. My sommeliers have come in line with that. We drink Chablis and talk about Chablis. I have ten pages of white Burgundy and three are Chablis.

Not to mention sixteen pages of red Burgundy… Is there something happening with whites at the moment?
Burgundy aside, we’ve seen a lot of interest in the Loire. You could call it the Sancerre effect, which has always been popular. There’s been a lot of attention in the press, and these are great food wines, with a great sense of place—Vouvrays and Savennières have been selling a lot more this past year. People have been coming in and asking for chenin blanc.

We’ve also seen a lot of interest in high-end riesling from our American guests. People are opening up to the fact that Germany makes great dry wines, and even the off-dry styles are great with food. Sommeliers have been beating the drum, and it’s usually three years before guests catch on. Sommeliers have been pushing riesling for fifteen years…

You list Chacra from Argentina’s Patagonia as the biggest new success on your list. How did you get turned onto that?

Piero Incisa [della Rochetta] makes the wine, and I’ve seen him two years running on the annual trip I take to Burgundy. I think his wine is spectacular—those pinot noir vineyards are very old and that’s a huge part of it. The Cinquenta y Cinco, as you might guess, was planted in 1955, Trenta y Dos is from 1932.

What is the Proprietà Sperino nebbiolo that’s among your most popular wines?
We’ve increased our offerings of mature wines from Piedmont. The Sperino Lessona comes from northern Piedmont, near Boca and Gattinara, with the mountains directly above. It was underwater—that area was once a sea. The wines have incredible focus and minerality. The tannic structure is completely different from Barolo and Barbaresco. Sperino is a property owned by the De Marchi family. Their first vintage was 2004 and I’m very excited to be getting some magnums of that wine. I serve the ’06 by the glass; it’s not an inexpensive wine but people respond to it. Last year, Paolo [De Marchi] brought a vertical to New York, 2004 through 2008. It’s an old family property — the last vintage before 2004 was 1904 and he brought the 1904 and 1861 to the tasting. The 1904 was super fresh and mineral. The 1861 was virtually a white wine, it had lost all of its color; it had also lost all of its maderization; it’s as if the pigment had been holding on to any maderized flavors in the 1904.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.