Daniel Johnnes may be the closest thing the American wine world has to Burgundy royalty. Yesterday he announced that he has joined Grand Cru Selections, an importer and wholesaler based in New York City, as a partner. It’s a big move, if somewhat “inside baseball.”
“This is an opportunity to be a partner in a young and dynamic company that I didn’t want to pass up,” he said by phone.
Johnnes, 60, helped pique America’s interest in Burgundy wines When he was a sommelier at the erstwhile restaurant Montrachet in the early 1990s, he hosted winemaker dinners with the likes of Christophe Roumier and Dominique Lafon that encouraged American collectors to add Burgundy to their cellars. In 2000, he tapped his connections in Burgundy to hold the first “La Paulée de New York.” This bacchanal now alternates annually between NYC and SF and is marked in red on the calendar of collectors. It also functions as a sort of “Burgundy university” for the sommeliers who work the event. Johnnes brokers a number of wines including Roumier and Lafon that he will be bringing to Grand Cru. He was #4 on our NYC wine power list a few years back. He currently is spending a year in Lyons.
Grand Cru Selections was started in 2010. Ned Benedict, a founding partner, said of their strategy: “we’re trying to build a really well-conceived portfolio of wines. Burgundy is obviously really close to all of our hearts.” But, he underscored, “we’re not trying to become a house of Burgundy–other regions are very important to us too.” Their portfolio includes the wines of J.L. Chave, Marquis d’Angerville, and nine wines from Piedmont, among others.
Many sommeliers find a niche of wines they love and make their restaurant a standout location for those wines. Pascaline Lepeltier has done this with chenin blanc at Rouge Tomate, Thomas Pastuszak with New York Riesling at NoMad, and Patrick Cappiello with grower champagne at Pearl & Ash.
There’s a new entrant into the niche game: Tali Dalbaha is showing Bordeaux some love. The wine director at City Winery in Manhattan has assembled all 61 classified growths on her list. Wait, Bordeaux? Yes. Studying for the theory portion of the Master Sommelier exam last year, she was struck by the challenge of assembling the current wines (all the wines are from the heralded 2010 vintage) from the famed classification now celebrating its 160th anniversary. She approached City Winery owner Michael Dorf who joked that his first reaction to her proposal was: “How much?”
After convincing Dorf, Dalbaha set about finding all the wines, which was not only pricey, but tricky. Now, she says, they are the only restaurant in the world to offer the complete lineup of Bordeaux 1855 classified growths.
“This is a great way to introduce people to Bordeaux,” she said. “People love to say that they had a Bordeaux.”
Defying a current trend in sommeliers that have given Bordeaux less space on wine lists, Dalbaha told me, “I love merlot. I think it is a great grape.” (Perhaps a spotlight on Pomerol will be next?) She continued that “some young sommeliers feel ashamed to say they like Bordeaux. But they shouldn’t.”
What is the average tip at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group? It is 21%.
This figure comes from John Ragan, who is the group’s Wine Director. It’s also the same amount that wine prices will be rising under the group’s “hospitality included” initiative, which eliminates tipping at the group’s 12 restaurants starting next month with The Modern. The impetus in moving to a “revenue sharing” model is that kitchen staff, in particular, will see a pay increase since they are often legally forbidden to share in tips.
Ragan says that a diner today who buys a $60 bottle of wine actually pays $72, assuming an average tip. “It’s like paying in two installments,” he says. Under the “hospitality included” pricing, the bottle will simply be $72, service included.
“It’s so much cleaner and easier,” he says. “It’s like a European model for restaurant pricing.” He also compares it to Uber, which has service included, as opposed to a cab.
With total pre-tip bills expected go up about 23%, wine will have a slightly lower increase.
“We realized early on, that it would be easy Read more…
But there is a wine class! Yes, a real, live, in-person, wine class! My next NYU wine course starts October 14 and runs for six consecutive Wednesday evenings. It is open to all and you don’t have to worry about failing, because there are no grades! And the only homework is to taste wine, which we will do in class too for good measure.
Now in its tenth year (but always oh-so-fresh!), the course provides an overview of how to taste wine, the basics of wine in France and America, as well as touching on the hot-button issues of our day. The two hours will fly by each evening and by the end you will have so much wine knowledge that you could fill up one of the huge botte in Barolo! Hope to see you there!
The Albany Times Union has a detailed account of the wrangling that has led to the suspension (indeed, on the NYT wine club site, New York is not even an option for sign-ups–the wine club continues in other states). The NYT wine club is run by a group called Global Wine Company and does not, as the Club’s web site states, make selections with the NYT wine critic or members of the newsroom. The Club offers six-bottle shipments for $90 or $180 on various monthly schedules. Global Wine Co also fulfills the club shipments for the Williams-Sonoma, the Washington Post and Food & Wine.
The Times Wine Club told its New York subscribers last week that it would have to suspend shipments until July because of uncertainty over New York’s rules and regs about shipping. However, the State Liquor Authority spokesperson told the Times Union that the Club’s local retailer had stopped doing business with them since Global Wine Co, based in California, had received cease-and-desist letters.
I’m not a huge fan of wine clubs in general–I’d opt for spending a monthly budget at a local store where the wine discussion is free and you have more choices to get exactly what you want. But there’s no reason that New York consumers should not be allowed to subscribe.
While this particular incident revolves around the Gray Lady, what consumers and businesses need is to get out of a gray area: hopefully the new head of the NY SLA will clear the air and issue understandable guidelines for businesses to ship into and out of the state.
This fall, all you grown ups can go back to school thanks to my NYU wine class.
Now in its ninth year, the course provides a lively forum to discuss hot-button issues of the wine world, explore key countries and regions, as well as taste at least six wines each session.
It runs for six weekly sessions from October 15 through November 19. It’s always fun to see site readers in the class–hope to meet you there!
New York City has the most top wine lists in the world according to a new ranking from the World of Fine Wine. London is second, San Francisco third, and Chicago fourth according to the British publication, which rolled out the annual awards for best wine lists for the first time this year.
Instead of taking the measure of a wine list’s length, the panel of experts looked at quality. Here’s how Neil Beckett, the magazine’s editor put it in a press release, “As we were judging, we had in mind the wise words of our fellow judge Francis Percival about the difference between ‘a great wine list and a mere list with great wines on it’.” More about the wine list judging methods can be found on the WFW site. It is not immediately clear if the restaurants had to pay a fee in the nomination process. And it’s not clear if value/markups played a role in the deliberations.
In all, 224 restaurants achieved the top grade, a three-star rating. The list of New York’s 36 restaurants follows after the jump. Read more…
A few weeks ago, Wylie Dufresne announced that he had been forced to close his pioneering restaurant WD-50 on the Lower East Side as of 11/30. The reason is that the building will be razed and a new apartment building will go on the site; and said he hoped to reopen elsewhere soon. Then Rouge Tomate announced they will be leaving their spacious locale next to Barney’s as of August 9, citing rent. They will be relocating to an unspecified location “downtown” later this year.
Now, the monstrous Rentmageddon sweeping the NYC restaurants has claimed another scalp: Union Square Cafe. The iconic restaurant that opened 30 years ago on East 16th street and contributed to revitalizing the Union Square has fallen victim to rising rents and will close at the end of next year. USQ also hopes to move to a new location, though one has not been announced. Julia Moskin has a good, if sad, story on the trend in the NYT that is today’s must-read. She says that USQ paid $8/sf or $48,000/yr back when it opened; now the rent may be as high as $650,000 as international retailers, banks, and pharmacies have driven up rents. She also mentions that Marco Canora and partners at Hearth restaurant have been hit with a 65% increase in rent–this year.
Moskin asks Danny Meyer, whose other restaurants include Gramercy Tavern and The Modern as well as Shake Shack, why he doesn’t just pay for a renovation and the increased rent out of his own pocket? Because it doesn’t make financial sense, he says, making the analogy that it would be like doing a million-dollar renovation on a studio apartment.
In twisting the knife for fine dining, the landlord is quoted as saying that he thinks a Shake Shack would do well in the space.