Jack Mason, MS, of NYC’s Marta on Champagne and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Jack Mason, MS, started his career in Houston, Texas, at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, later moving to New York to work at Ai Fiori and Marea. That’s when John Ragan hired the 26-year-old to launch the wine list at the new wood-oven pizza restaurant Union Square Hospitality Group was planning: Working with managing partners Terry Coughlin and chef Nick Anderer, Mason, a newly minted Master Sommelier, took his first wine director role with the opening of Marta, in the Martha Washington Hotel.

On Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs Chianti

We sell a lot of Chianti, but the Masciarelli Montepulciano, [the restaurant’s top-selling wine], has more oak and a little more fruit, and it’s more in that New World style that most people drink. We train the staff on the style of the wine—a fuller bodied wine, not a super Tuscan but in that style. A lot of people come in looking for a cabernet or a malbec, that’s our New World style from the Old World.

What made the I Custodi Etna Rosso your most successful new wine—especially when you have a number of great Barolos on the list that are well priced.

That’s the somm team and myself. I like having a fun, fresh style of red wine with pizza, something from Alto Piemonte or Etna Rosso. Something less serious than Barolo, with lower alcohol and less oak influence, more accessible. But then again, when you have a truffle pizza and Barolo, it’s pretty insanely epic.

On Sparkling Wine and Pizza

We have a lot of younger people come here—there’s a movement toward millennials enjoying sparkling wine. People associate Lambrusco with pizza, and at a lower price point than Champagne. Honestly, most restaurants, they have one Champagne by the glass, and it’s still over $20, so a lot of people aren’t used to trading into that. We list Vilmart at $19, and below that, it’s Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta at $16; a glass of Prosecco is $12.

It’s surprised me that we are getting a lot of non-industry people that are interested in trying Champagne and pizza. It was really cool to see an older couple come in—a couple you think would order pinot grigio—and they said, ‘We read about Champagne and pizza in the [New York] Times and we want to try it.’ It’s been really interesting to watch this become real. People’s experience with Champagne so often is Veuve Clicquot or Moët Chandon, which tend to be more expensive and not like a wine. When they have something that’s less expensive with more interesting flavors, they get it. When people say, ‘I don’t like Champagne,’ I wonder how many they’ve really tried.

Tags  2016 Restaurant Poll