Balthazar’s Rebecca Banks on Geeky Champagne and Enduring Trends

Why some wines continue to reign at New York's premiere French bistro.

Balthazar is the grand dame of French bistros in NYC, a vast, bustling space that has defined Soho-cool since it opened in 1997. The crowds never wane, and neither does their demand for Sancerre says Rebecca Banks, who’s been at Balthazar since 2005 and now oversees the beverage program for Keith McNally’s entire restaurant portfolio.

Any sign of Sancerre’s grip loosening? Fournier is the best-seller on your bottle list and Sylvain Bailly rules by the glass.
At some of the other [McNally] restaurants I’ve done Touraine, Menetou, Pouilly-Fumé, and gotten no backlash, but not at Balthazar—Sancerre has been number-one here for ten years. And it’s not that there aren’t options here—I have a good Pouilly-Fumé on the list and it sells well, too, but it doesn’t hurt the Sancerre. Sancerre sells far and above anything else.

Still, in the Loire, there’s so much going on. Some people are taking the spotlight off Sancerre and shining it in other places. Like Muscadet—people are realizing it’s a real wine, even recognizing crus.

The Provence rosé fad: any sense it’s waning?
Not at all—not for us. If anything, I see it expanding into other appellations—maybe into Corsica or the Loire. I always have Marsannay rosé by the bottle and at around $100, it’s not cheap; that one moved a lot faster than in previous years. I also have Bandol—I’m listing a half-bottle of Terrebrune and flying through it. Even a grolleau gris—it’s not really a rosé, but it’s super pale and it’s delicious and so cheap at $40—is selling really well. Here, people will usually start with a rosé and then switch to a bottle of red.

You move a lot of bubbly.
I was actually surprised to see Bollinger at No. 10: I knew it was moving but didn’t know it was moving that fast. We do well with bigger houses, all around $140—in that price point, Champagne does really well. But, I always pepper in geekier wines and now those are moving more, too: Agrapart and bottles once considered geeky have moved into the mainstream.

By the glass, Crémant crushes it for $15. Also, Vouvray sparkling does well; even a Vin de France sparkling and a red sparkling from the Loire—Château de Miniere. People are ordering that at the beginning and drinking it with the meal.

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