Carlin Karr attended the California Culinary Academy and teamed up with some fellow alums to open Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. After a couple of years as the general manager and wine buyer there, she moved to Boulder, CO, for a sommelier job at Bobby Stuckey’s Frasca. She took over as Wine Director in 2016, and oversees the wine programs at all of the group’s restaurants, which now include Pizzeria Locale in Boulder, and Tavernetta and Sunday Vinyl in Denver.
Three of the top-ten best-selling bottles at Frasca were nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo is always a focus of our restaurant, and Frasca has always invested heavily in nebbiolo wines. They’re always at least 30 to 40 percent of our inventory, and we always put some away offsite for aging. Our hearts lie with nebbiolo, sangiovese and Burgundy, but Burgundy is getting so expensive that Barolo has become even more important. Even Barolos from producers like Vietti still offer a great quality-price ratio; the wines are becoming more approachable, and they’re more available than grand cru Burgundy from comparable top line producers. You can get Barolo from producers like G.D. Vajra or Castello di Verduno with a little bit of age and price them at sub-$250, and they offer really exceptional value for the guest.
Castello di Verduno’s Monvigliero was your biggest new success. What sold that wine?
That sold based on price [$232] and age , but also because of the Monvigliero name. I think Monvigliero [a cru in the Verduno commune] and Ravera [in the Novello commune] are the two most exciting crus right now. We’ve also gone crazy with the wines from Fratelli Alessandria and Burlotto [two other producers in Verduno], but we can’t get much Burlotto here in Colorado. There are so many producers trying to get a little piece of Monvigliero, and the same is true of Ravera, maybe partly because of climate change. I think it’s the cool aspect of these sites, the high-toned crispness of the wines; they’re exciting in youth and just delicious. There’s also a discovery factor for the somms with Castello di Verduno; we also poured their pelaverga by the glass, alternating it with Fratelli Alessandria’s—whichever we could keep in stock—and that kept excitement up about Verduno. It was on the periphery for so many years, not thought of as super important, but it’s on the radar of more people now.
Was the success of Nervi’s Gattinara attributable to price, popularity of nebbiolo from Alto Piemonte, or the fact that Barolo’s Roberto Conterno recently bought the winery?
It’s funny: We poured Nervi for years at around $20 per glass, before Conterno took over, and now it’s more expensive, but it’s just delicious wine, not as rustic as it was in the past. It’s a great example of northern nebbiolo, with a pedigree that outweighs the category, and people dig it. I wasn’t really confident that we would sell through that much, but it was a huge success and a pleasant surprise. Some guests see Conterno on the label now and are into that, but some of our somms have been here since we opened sixteen years ago. I can’t tell them to get behind a wine; it’s really up to them. My job is just to arm them with wines they’re excited about, and that happened with this wine.
You had two friulanos that sold well last year.
Borgo del Tiglio is one of Friuli’s greatest producers, and the wine is rich and powerful, almost like white Burgundy in style, a good winter-weight wine. This is first year Mitja Sirk’s wine has been imported into the US. [The son of Josko and Loredana Sirk, owners of La Subida, a legendary restaurant in Friuli] Mitja is part of the Frasca story; he grew up with us, has spent time here, and his family’s restaurant La Subida was a big inspiration for our restaurant, so when he started making wine we were super excited. Mitja is a great sommelier, and when he decided to make friulano he planted on cooler sites than most in Friuli, so It’s a really refreshing version of friulano, and our whole team went nuts for it. And it’s super versatile with our menu, which is so Friulano. It’s great for things like salumi or chicory.
One wine that seemed like an outlier was your #4 bottle, the A. Rafanelli 2017 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($106). Why was that wine popular?
We love old-school zin like Rafanelli and Joseph Swan, and we’re not ashamed to admit it. We all had our moment of being in love with California zin, and we can find pleasure in great examples of any wine. Zinfandel is also a need that we always have to fill, because guests come in and ask for it. Rafanelli was something that wasn’t available in the state for a while, but we revisited it recently and said “Oh, yeah, this is it.” It’s been our go-to zin all year.