You’re recommending a 2003 Julienas with a monkfish and oxtail dish. Is that a hand sell or are people ordering aged Beaujolais on their own?
It’s a really cool wine from Pascal Grange. I’m pouring it by the glass. As a 2003, it’s a richer style of Julienas, but it’s aged gracefully and the combination with the dish is really nice. It’s two years in barrel then two years in bottle before release. Earthy tones on the nose but then really bright acidity. The acidity cuts in: the monkfish is a rich dish and the oxtail is fatty. The earthy tones really match the oxtail. At first, it took some cajoling, but everyone on the staff likes it.
How does a roter veltliner become a top-selling wine?
I put the Leth Roter Veltliner by the glass starting in October. Sort of a hand sell at first, but there are guests always asking for grüner veltliner. I point them this way. They’re distinctly different, but the roter still has a great herbaceousness and that medium-bodied oily texture. We have a poached salmon dish that works really well with it.
It looks like you’re seeing an increasing appreciation for German riesling. What accounts for that?
German riesling fulfills two things for me. There will always be the guest that says, “I like a sweet wine.” In the south, there are a lot of people that drink that way. It’s also a great first course wine. We have a celery root panna cotta…with that and with oysters…all across the board for the first course. Also, the Summer of Riesling [program] was an eye opening thing for us. People were really open to trying riesling from all over the world.
The majority of your best-selling wines are French. Is that what your guests are asking for?
I find that they’re good wines to have by the glass because they’re versatile. More guests are looking for wines that go well with the food that they’re eating rather than the wines that they always like. There’s momentum away from “I want this wine no matter what” to “I want this wine because it will go well with my food.” It could be my imagination, but I can’t tell you how many people come into the restaurant now and just say, “We’re in your hands; we want the whole experience.”
The Littorai Pinot Noir has been the biggest success as a new addition. Why’s that?
2010 is a great vintage for pinot noir from Sonoma. It has great fruit but at the same time it’s really complex and provides good tertiary notes. That meets an agreeable point for a lot of different people. I think a lot of people recognize the Littorai name, and it’s one of my favorite producers. I recommend it a lot, and the staff recommends it.
You have a North Carolina wine listed. Is that more of a novelty item or do people go for it?
The big thing here is that we’re surrounded by farms and agriculture. People are really big into eating local. That’s the driving force of the food culture here. For people who want to drink local as well, I try to keep stock of North Carolina wines and Virginia wines. There are over 100 wineries in North Carolina. Raffaldini makes a great Vermentino. If you were to try one wine from North Carolina, it should be that.
Tell me about this albariño from Uruguay by the glass.
It has turned out to be one of my favorite Albariños – Bouza in Montevideo. They have about 1.5 hectares of albariño. It has that bubble gummy fruity quality on the nose, then it’s a little fuller than Rías Baixas on the palate but with good acidity. It’s really versatile. We recommend it, but I also provide descriptions for the wines by the glass. Guests read those and get excited about it. They get intrigued, so they order it.
What are you doing with Port and Madeira right now?
Instead of just offering the dessert wines inside the wine list, which is pretty daunting—it’s 30 pages—we’ve also created a small after dinner drink list. I’m organizing flights of dessert wine, and our Port and Madeira sales have gone up. Also, as far as pairings go, I utilize a lot of dry Madeiras—I’ve done Rare Wine Company’s Charleston Sercial with sweetbreads, which is fantastic.
What’s the most exciting bottle you’ve sold recently?
Recently, the Emilio Rojo from Spain—from Ribeiro. It’s a blend of louriero, albariño, and other traditional Galician white varieties. It’s not the most expensive wine on the list, but it’s really beautiful with intense aromatics. It’s on the verge of being indescribable. Selling wines like that, I get excited.