Michael Dolinski started his career in wine at Trellis, Marcel Desaulnier’s restaurant in Williamsburg, VA. After working in a number of top NYC restaurants—and marrying an Austrian—he joined the team at Wallsé, chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s 20-year-old West Village restaurant. Dolinski hews strictly to the menu’s main cultural influence, stocking the list solely with Austrian bottles—an approach that encourages guests to explore all the country has to offer, from sparkling wines through to juicy, dark reds built for Gutenbrunner’s venison goulash.
Photo by Aliza Eliazarov
You list the Bründlmayer Brut as your most successful new addition to the list. What clicked with that wine?
My two somms are much more into sparkling wines than their predecessor, who believed Champagne was the only sparkling wine. Now the list has changed some—now we’re also selling [natural wines from] Tschida and Gut Oggau—and it’s because these two are young and they like the funky wines and they are going to sell them because they are into them. The amount of sparkling wine we sold in the last year was double the year before. That’s us making a big deal out of it. Now that the Austrians have introduced the Grosse Reserve Sekt regulations, too, there’s more attention to the category. It’s still hard to get the Grosse Reserve Sekt; I had to go to Fred Loimer personally to get bottles [of his Grosse Reserve]. And at $36 a glass, you have to ask, is anybody going to put that on a list against their Champagne? But we don’t have Champagne.
Still, you have to be careful of style. A wine like the Steininger single-vineyard grüner veltliner— it’s beautiful wine, but it’s not Champagne. If you’re used to leesy, process-driven Champagne you’re not going to react well to a fat, varietally driven wine that happens to have bubbles. But wines like Bründlmayer, Loimer, Gobelsburg—these appeal to a Champagne drinker.
Wachau riesling is arguably just as compelling, if not more so, than Wachau grüner veltliner, yet all the whites on your top ten are grüners from Wachau.
Grüner veltliner is always going to be dominant. Grüner veltliner has become the calling card for Austrian wine—at the expense of things that are equally Austrian. It used to be that grüner veltliner made up 30 percent of the vineyards; today it’s closer to 60 percent. We’ve lost a lot of the varieties that went into gemischter satz and field blends. Magazines and others gave good scores to grüner veltliner in the nineties and two-thousands, and pitched the idea of, “Hey you should discover this grape.” And the Wachau producers were the leaders of the movement; they were the aristocracy of the Austrian wine world. But I take some responsibility, too: My wife is from the Wachau, and it’s where I know the producers the best.
Despite the preponderance of whites on your Top Ten list, it’s a blaufränkisch—Moric Reserve—that takes the #1 spot.
It’s a running joke: We call it our house wine. When someone says, “I want to try a blaufränkisch; what would you suggest?” that’s the wine we show them. Nobody—I mean nobody—hates that wine. Overall, we are close to 50/50 when it comes to red-versus-white sales. It’s just that we have four pages each of grüner veltliner and riesling, but when it comes to blaufränkisch—well, I’m up to two pages, but many of them are from the same producer, just in several vintages.
If you were eating at Wallsé tonight, what would you have?
I’d have the venison goulash. It’s the food of the Austrian forest. That’s a dish for the Moric Reserve Blaufränkisch; or Leitner; or Prieler Marienthal. Or the Nittnaus—it’s juicy, berried, just the thing for it.