“Coming to work at Maialino was like coming to work at the mecca of all things Italian,” Jeff Kellogg told W&S associate editor Caitlin Griffith back when he was named one of the Best New Sommeliers of 2014 in this magazine. Prior to Maialino, he’d put in time with William Sherer, MS, at Redd in Yountville, Greg Harrington, MS, at Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla and Raj Par and Chad Zeigler at RN47 in San Francisco. Since he started at Maialino in June 2013, he’s taken the wine list from 300 selections to over 1,000, with a particular depth in old Barolo and Champagne.
We sell a lot of Barolo. [Right now,] the 2009 Giacomo Fenocchio is really good and hits the list for under $100, which is not easy to do with Barolo. And the ‘09 vintage is approachable, whereas you wouldn’t want to put some 2008’s on the list because they’re not pleasurable yet. We also have a lot of Burlotto—the wines are fantastic. I work really hard to find older wines, and Burlottos from the 50s and 60s are all whole-cluster. They hold up so well. Even with all the great Barolo producers, Burlotto’s are the only wines that I have to keep off-list, because I can get so little, and my regulars will ask specifically for them.
Champagne over Italian whites:
Champagne sales are almost equal to sales of white wine bottles. Our Champagne list is really good and well-priced, while Italian white wine doesn’t have the reputation of being as good as French white, so often people go from Champagne to light red to bigger red, skipping white altogether. Italian whites tend to be less expensive, and sometimes it actually works against us; when you recommend a pigato at $55 and your customer is used to spending $100-plus on white Burgundy, it’s almost offending the guest in the opposite way than you’d think. There are exceptions [among Italian whites], like Valentini, but our Champagne list has no shortage of great options, including a number of bottles under $100 from Agrapart and Chartogne-Taillet.
People are looking for full-bodied, firmly tannic wines. Unless you go to super Tuscans, Italy doesn’t offer a wealth of options. Sagrantino is big and spicy, and well priced. Here we utilize it because it’s such a crowd pleaser. I find them to be softer and more pleasant than even a few years ago. It seems like they’ve figured out how to tame the tannins.