Tina Vaughn, of NYC’s The Simone, on pleasure and value in the unknown

With 34 seats in The Simone‘s Upper East Side dining room, Tina Vaughn can afford to spend time with each table crafting pairings that suit her guests’ tastes and chef Chip Smith’s food. The husband-and-wife team from North Carolina have captured the charm of old New York and turned it on its head with their Southern warmth, professionalism and delicious food and wine.

On Gigondas—the Gour de Chaule 2009 Cuvée Tradition—as the top-selling wine.

I’m recommending it a lot. I never really have the pleasure of holding onto a lot of wine. I tend to buy things in small lots and run through them quickly. When I bought this one, it was delicious, and then with time it fluttered into the right age. In four to five months it went from being very good to, all of a sudden, being outstanding. I had put it on my tasting flights, as a pairing, and at the end of the night there was a little left in the bottle. So I tasted it. That’s when I realized that it had become extraordinary.

There’s ease is finding stunning wines for $150; the challenge is to find a stunning wine for $60. On the Upper East Side, many of our guests have their own cellars; they don’t need to come to me to find a $300 bottle. It does not matter what their financial demographic might be, they all appreciate the value in the bottle. What tastes amazing for a fraction of the cost makes them as happy as you and me.

The Gour de Chaule—it’s the most perfect bottle with the food Chip is cooking this time of year. Every seems to be ordering comforting winter food. It could not be a better bottle for the rabbit, especially with the wild rice. Or with the lamb, served with chops as well as a champvallon, a casserole of the shank. If you were in the southwest of France, champvallon would be Sunday dinner.

On a Swiss white, the Cave des Tilleuls from Fabienne Cottagnoud, among the top-ten best sellers.

That amigne is round and sexy, a little herbaceous. They do it in different levels of ripeness—one, two or three bees. I buy the one with a single bee on the label, which is less demi-sec, more sec in ripeness. The flavors are long and lingering; it’s really outside the box. It’s kind of like a luscious Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc balanced by a pinot gris from Alsace and the tangy tangerine-ness of a furmint from Hungary. It’s a wine that goes with the terrine, the sweetbreads, the chicken, or even the oxtail with pappardelle. That’s a white wine that will go across the whole dinner. Just a groovy wine, an invitational glass: it beckons you back and you don’t get tired of going back.

I love that people let me recommend these things.

On getting people out of their boxes

It’s gotten to about seventy percent of people who will ask me for a recommendation. Thirty percent just go right to the list—they’ll go to Bordeaux, because I’ve put on some big Bordeaux on the list; I decided I needed them for the winter. Or they’ll order a wine like the Olga Raffault Chinon, a well-known name. But most people will ask me. They’ll say, “I don’t recognize anything on your list.” It’s easy for them to let me pick a wine when I tell them, if they don’t like it, I’ll take it back. I can always use it in my pairings. Usually, when they get it in their glass, they love it.

It’s fun that people are getting out of their box. I have a weekly guest that has drunk the same bottle of wine for fourteen months. I will open something beautiful and he tastes it and looks at me and says, “I want my wine back.” I have other guests who say, “What am I having tonight.” They started to trust me because I was not opening up things that were triple digits. They would ask for a recommendation, enjoy the bottle, then see their check and ask if I’d cut them a deal. Sometimes now I go up to $85, or hit $90 if I have something I’m blown away by.

Tags  2015 Restaurant Poll