Aria Dorsey of Nashville’s Rolf & Daughters on Natural Wines and Austrian Reds

Aria Dorsey has been slowly working her way down the East Coast, starting in her hometown of NYC at Frankly Wines and DBGB, then moving south to open a DBGB in Washington, DC. She moved to Nashville in 2017, to manage Philip Krajeck’s highly acclaimed Rolf & Daughters, where the all-natural wine list dovetailed with her interests; she also manages Folk, a sister restaurant dedicated to naturally leavened pizzas that opened in April 2018.

You report a strong increase in wine sales in both restaurants: What do you attribute this to?
A lot of it is due to a shift in the dining culture in Nashville over the past three years—how much people are willing to both drink wine and try new wines. It’s also due to staff education: We open bottles every day pre-shift and at staff meetings, and talk about what flavors people know and drink. How do we translate what they are familiar with and move them into what is similar in the natural wine world?

Since Rolf opened, the list has been fully natural. We have an Alice Feiring philosophy about it—Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for instance, isn’t certified biodynamic but it’s technically a natural wine; it’s been in the same family for generations, and they have never put chemicals or pesticides on their vines. We want to show that natural wine isn’t always crazy, funky, weird; it shouldn’t be flawed, it should taste the same as good wine. Though sometimes people do come in and ask for the dirtiest, weirdest, craziest wine, and I have some of those, too—you gotta please everyone.

Sicilian wines seem to do particularly well for you—Cornelissen’s Susucaru Rosé and Cottanera Etna Rosso are both listed among your most popular wines.
When it comes to Italy, we have three types of guests: First, those that basically want the most expensive, classic sangiovese and Barolos, no matter the producer. And then there are guests who just want the cheapest montepulciano we have. Then you have the others, and in here Sicily is growing drastically—people know nerello mascalese and they gravitate toward anything Sicilian, even grillo and cataratto. And it still hasn’t become so popular that the price has gone up.

It’s interesting to see so many Austrian wines, like the Gut Oggau and Sepp Muster, among your most popular pours.
People love Austrian wine. We found a bigger push in what was available in Austrian wine in Nashville in the last year; I’m doing a class on Saturday with Pichler and Tschida and Gut Oggau, actually. Austrian rosés are very approachable, with that high-acid drive; in reds you have wines like Sankt Laurent, which have that lighter red character that pleases the pinot noir lover, as well as fuller bodied reds like zweigelt that have all the dry fruit and bold, big structures that work for a California cabernet drinker, so people are willing to go into Austria. Even the cabernet francs: I’m finding I like many of them better than Chinons, because they’re not overly floral and herbaceous. People now are almost more geared to Austrian reds than whites; no one is fighting for grüner, but the reds are getting hard to get.

How is it that a Greek wine—the Alexakis Kotsifali from Crete—was one of your most popular pours at Rolf & Daughters?
I love Greek wine and it’s been very hard to get down here; I spent last year trying to get them in. This [Alexakis] is the perfect wine by the glass: It’s big and bold, with no tannins, so it’s easy drinking, very subtle fruit, not jammy, with a dark berry touch. People are put off by Greece initially, and then they taste it and find it works really well. We’re doing more, too. I just got all of the Ligas wines in; we have them on as our featured produced now. It’s great to be able to show people that there’s more to Greece than assyrtiko.

Tags  2020 Restaurant Poll  31st Annual Restaurant Poll  Aria Dorsey  Rolf & Daughters  Folk  Nashville