After Dean Fuerth’s first beverage director position vanished suddenly with the closure of Betony at the end of 2016, he took his time before returning into the fold. An offer from an owner of Sushi Nakazawa piqued his interest not only for the chance to work with sake, but also because of a long-standing enthusiasm for the food: While putting together a booklet of his childhood drawings and writings, Fuerth’s mother uncovered a crayon drawing he’d made at his neighborhood sushi counter, rating his favorite pieces.Today, Fuerth is running two restaurants—the original in NYC, and Nakazawa has also opened a location in DC. At both, he’s seen plenty of Champagne hit the tables.
You report that 30 percent of guests order wine with dinner—an increase since last year. What’s changed?
We’ve noticed a different crowd since getting our Michelin star last year, definitely more European-oriented. We’ve had a noticeable increase in people looking for classic old-world staples. We’ve increased the high-end Burgundy we’re selling. We’ve always moved blue-chip bottles in a lofty price range, but we’ve started really selling off a section of the list: Champagne, Burgundy, as well as some more off-kilter regions like Portugal, Hungary and Spain. Growing those sections as well as a little Québec section now, I think that really captures the spectrum of our guests in a nutshell. We do have people looking for something geeky around a hundred, a hundred and fifty bucks, and then you have your classic whales that come in and swing for the fences.
You did well with both the François Villard Condrieu as well as Ridge Grenache Blanc. Why do you think white Rhône varieties are working here?
Coming from a French fine-dining background, when I was just trying to wrap my head around saké to begin with, Condrieu was the first thing that was an anchor for me mentally, because it emulates junmai daiginjo in some elements: you have a lot of viscosity, texture and roundness, and it’s a very floral, tropical, aromatic variety. It was kind of my first benchmark with equating textures in wines [with saké], although you don’t have that intensity and acidity and sugar to saké most of the time.
I pair [the Condrieu] with the shellfish flight. The challenge here is that I have to find one thing that works with four very different pieces of sushi. Nailing it on the head is much more of a challenge than finding something that rides the lines. With that flight, it’s fun how you have just one glass with four pieces of food that shoot off in different directions with the pairing.
How have your guests have come to appreciate the Viuva Gomes Colares Tinto?
I give it a pretty prominent pedestal. It’s consistently one of my heartthrob wines. It’s featured in the wine pairing with tuna, which I stand by as a great pairing. It falls into that steakhouse mentality: You have a fatty piece of meat, and you have starch, and there’s sugar and acidity to that starch. It goes to what I love about our food in general compared with other sushi restaurants across the city: It’s that high-fat, high-acid, flavor-blaster style of food. The rice is acidic and sour and gives this really nice ping that elevates what would otherwise be a really mild piece of fish. Despite it being a pretty heavy-handed red, the Colares plays with [tuna’s] very sanguine, bloody quality.