Jonathan Waters at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse on Burgundy and the Loire
You list a number of Burgundies among your top-ten best sellers.
The high-end wines have started to move again, particularly Burgundy, which had slowed down. The middle range, from $70 to $120, doesn’t move as quickly. And there’s a keen appreciation of any wine that’s not expensive. There was a time before 2008 when I would have to mark a wine up more than I should have, because people wouldn’t buy it. They thought it was too cheap. That’s not the case now.
Chez Panisse had a nice collection of cellared wine, those wines are going, they’re selling quickly. I’m selling more Burgundy from the cellar, in the $60 to $90 range for white and $100 to $150 for red, that’s 90 percent of what I’m offering people. There are some bottles at $200 to $400, and they sell as well. But when I taste some of the really expensive bottles, I don’t think wines should cost that much. Maybe that’s just some weird British frugality left over from World War II, I don’t know…
This year, we’ve heard a lot about wine pairings at high-end restaurants.
There’s been an increase in customer’s desires to have pairings downstairs. That’s increased by 20 percent. We probably undersell the pairing by fifty percent. We’re opening expensive bottles and underselling. We don’t have any set fee; we offer them, “Would you like a pairing,” and we offer half glasses and come up with some low ball price. People like it; they like trying new wines, wines they might be loath to order as a bottle for themselves. Wines like the ploussard from Puffeney, or the Jurançon Sec Reserve from Clos Lapeyre—they enjoy those in the context of the food pairing. The same wine, if you were just serving it as a glass, you could tell the story, but it wouldn’t be the same. There’s a lot of glamour around food pairings—perhaps too much—but people like it.
What was the most memorable wine you opened recently?
A magnum of Clos Rougeard 2006 Saumur Champigny Les Poyeaux. That wine takes my heart away; I stop in my tracks. A piece of music does that; there are opera arias that make me pause and I don’t move. You almost need nothing else for a moment. We were serving it…and some people loved it. Still, I want them all to pause and have a divine moment. I want them to understand how amazing this wine is. It’s like when you show your favorite film to your girlfriend, and she says, ‘Yeah, it’s okay.’ If one likes things beyond a certain point, you have expect that not everyone will agree with you.