Dana Farner has been the sommelier at CUT since it opened in 2007. Patrick J. Comiskey saw her at a recent In Pursuit of Balance tasting and she described how the taste preferences of her steakhouse guests generally fall into “an Old World camp and a New World camp.”
I have some guests who are excited to drink good Bordeaux because they know it has less alcohol; they can drink more and not feel bad the next day. I try to only put Bordeaux on the list that are ready to drink, which makes them expensive. But I have found a few good ’05s and ’06s, Right Bank stuff that’s pretty yummy right now. We did see a decline among clientele who’ll drop for an ’82 first growth without batting an eye. Since 2007, we’ve seen a continued tightening of the budget for expense accounts. If people want a more expensive bottle of wine, often they have to put it on a separate check. They can go crazy on food, but not on wine as much.
Even so, California cabernets still account for eight of your ten best-selling wines.
I feel a bit of redemption at having watched cabernet make a comeback after so many years taking a backseat. I still think there are great wines from here. And having said that, the overall change in view in Napa, about how ripe grapes should be, is pretty thrilling.
For us it’s always going to be Napa cabernet, and usually it’s in the $100 to $150 range to be a top seller. Part of the reason is that guests are looking on the lower end to buy multiple bottles. Napa cab is where they turn to on their own, without being directed there, and I’ve always got a nice big lovely list of cabs for them to try. But of course we always have Harlan, Bryant Family, Opus—you know, I have nothing but good things to say about Opus One. They take care of their vines, they’re consistent, they age well and they’ve kept with the times.
There are some new ones we love, like the wines of Bond, which are really popular here now, and Scarecrow. I really love that wine but we get just a tiny allocation, and I love what it shows you about old vines in California—it doesn’t even go onto the list, I just reserve it for guests who I know will appreciate it.
As far as LA is concerned, I think we [in the trade] have to realize that as much as we want people to get where we are, you can’t skip those steps that lead to that place. We all went through them ourselves. I know I did. In that sense I think In Pursuit of Balance is ten years ahead of its time.