How standard wine lists work, doesn't always work. And maybe it hasn't worked for a long time. So we wanted to find a different way to approach it. – Edgar Garcia, F+F Concepts Beverage Director
A few months ago, we sat down with our beverage director Edgar Garcia and our spirits consultant Matt Hutchens to talk about their backgrounds and how they built the Rockefeller cocktail program.
We touched a bit on the wine list. But it's a topic that really warrants a deeper dive and its own blog post.
So let's get into it.
First off, how often do you change the wine list?
We're always changing wines for some reason or another.
Either something didn't work, some things hit harder than others, I had an idea that didn't work out perfectly, or we simply can't get more of something because of supply chain issues.
It's always evolving. Even if it's not a mass overhaul, we're always tweaking it.
The descriptions on the list aren't your typical restaurant wine list descriptions. What made you decide to take a different route with these?
It's a couple things.
First, it's to bring people back down to earth. [The wine descriptions] are sort of a:
"Hey man, this is still just fermented grape juice and it tastes delicious.
So let's start with that. Let's think about wine that way. And let me let me propose to you in a very nuanced way to get to try something that you're maybe uncomfortable with."
That's literally the most simple way that I can explain that. Because wine is a serious thing and intimidates everybody.
So that's why even in the sections, they're broken down like they are.
Here's an overview of them:
Ballin' on a Budget
Oh, You Fancy
While They're Hot
And of course, you have older folks that don't really get that. And that's completely okay.
But at least it breathes an air of playfulness that we thought was really missing.
That's what we wanted. That's what I wanted.
You're still gonna get your normal stuff. You're still gonna get your Napa Cab, your California wine experience. But it might be a different varietal that you're not used to.
For example, the Lioco. It's a Red Blend from Mendocino County that has Carignan and Valdiguie grapes in it.
But I mean, how many people have heard of those varietals?
Almost none. But it's a f*cking crazy delicious, and super standard wine for somebody like that. It's just a different grape, right?
People like fruit-forward from California. That's why they do it. They don't want Old World, super earthy, complex notes.
They want something that's an American palate, and we [Americans] like fruit.
So, again, it's breeding an air of, "I want you to understand this, and I want it not to intimidate you or put you off, I don't want you to look at it in a weird way. Because it's just a description."
How standard wine lists work, doesn't always work. And maybe it hasn't worked for a long time.
So we wanted to find a different way to approach it so people do choose something different. So people do try new wines that they're really going to like.
Then secondly, but still related to all that, it's a conversation starter.
Yes, people get a laugh [from the wine descriptions]. But then it opens up a conversation with the server where the server can then educate the guest on why they think they really might like a certain wine.
We want people to try wines that aren't on their radar but that we know they'll love. And if they don't, we'll of course happily get them a different glass of something.
Because if we're really thinking about humans work, and how humans who drink wine work, they generally come from a place of preconceived notions of things:
"I drink this and I don't drink that."
People will rarely turn to a bartender or server and ask to try something new. Especially the older crowd.
That's not a dig, they've just usually been drinking the same thing for years.
People who drink wine, are generally like, "oh, I'm a Chard drinker. And that's all I drink."
And with wine, people don't ever want to not know what they're talking about. Which is valid.
But if we can get you out of that without you having to ask a server, then we just got you to choose an awesome wine without you having to look not cool in front of your friends.
What are some wines that you're really excited about or were unexpected hits?
The first one that stands out is Not Another Lovely Malbec by Matías Riccitelli.
I listed it as Not Another Lovely but the full name is Not Another Lovely Malbec. But that name doesn't really doesn't really exude confidence to people. (Laughs.)
This wine is everything that I like about his wine. It's not a standard Malbec. It's not just bell pepper, you know, not just uber complex. It's not juicebox Malbec.
It's the most natural expression [of a Malbec] to me. It has a little fermentation in the bottle. Like it's just...silk sheets. It's silky. It's fruity. It's good.
And it's an everyday drinker. It's from a big region Via de Uco Mendoza, which is known for their Malbecs, but it's not a big name.
So it's just a different expression from an area people already know.
That was a hit, a homerun, that I didn't foresee because it was just one of those things where I threw it in there and I'm like, "I really liked this. I hope that somebody else really likes it."
And they did. But only because we put it in a way that was digestible to them.
Harper Voit is another one. It's a Pinot Blanc.
I started the menu when we first opened going, "I just want to have a wine that's one you don't have to think about. Right? High acid, crisp, done."
But it turns out that I never sold that. So I wanted something that maybe saying it out loud sounded and felt like a Pinot Grigio.
And [Harper Voit] actually has all these beautiful white flower notes and a little salinity. So it's a little salty. So it goes great with oysters.
I didn't expect Pinot Blanc to be to be a mover, truly. I don't see it on most menus, especially in this area.
Domitia too, the Picpoul.
Picpoul being what it is and where's it from, I went, "this is just a f*cking great oyster wine. And I want this on there. And hopefully one person gets that and I can continue to at least move a few bottles."
But it's probably my best mover in that section.
But there's been some horrible fails that you go, "maybe I bought too much."
What are some wines that people should know about on Oh, You Fancy and While They're Hot?
It's a super mini varietal and that nobody would ever care about but when I had it, I went, "oh, shit. This tastes like a bigger body Pinot."
And the Terrunyo Carmenere from Chile is interesting. I really like that one.
It's a French grape that you find in pretty high-end wines. And Chile, as of the last twenty years has started to really get down what they do.
For a French wine to be in South America and for it to be so good for that price point. It's always great when it comes to Chile.
I mean, that's for if you're looking for good price point, if you're looking for taste, if you're looking for a notable grape, [the Carmenere] hits all those. So I really like that.
Barolo is always a f*cking favorite of mine because Italian wines will always have a special place in my heart because of how we started.
(As the beverage director for all of F+F Concepts' restaurants, Edgar also designs Pubblico Italian Eatery's wine list which features mostly Italian wines.)
Nothing beats an amazing Barolo. Like a medium-bodied wine that you go, "holy shit – why is there so much flavor in this?"
And it looks pretty in the in a glass, you know. And it's floral sometimes and it's crazy delicate. Barolos are amazing.
Are there any wines that you can only find at Rockefeller and no other restaurant?
So, that's a tough question. We're the only ones who will have something, until we're not.
For example, I didn't see Tyler anywhere. And then another restaurant in this complex reopened and then they have Tyler.
There's a lot of little things like that. Like just little thoughts, especially with cocktails too, that somebody went, "oh, I didn't think about maybe I'll do that but using this."
It's just all part of the creative process. I do it too. I go out and I go, "wow, this is a really good wine. Who was who sells this?"
So you're the only one that has it up until you're not the only one who has it.
But my biggest pusher [when choosing wines] is the fact that I really don't want to see it retail. If you can buy it retail, I don't want it. So that's a big, big thing.
There's a few on our list you can get retail. Which is fine because they're great wines that we'll stand behind. Just because a wine is expensive, doesn't always mean it's good.
We want what we think are the best, most interesting wines on our list. And some of what we think are the best aren't necessarily super pricey.
But for the most part, if you can go to Total Wine and get it, f*ck no.
But if you have to go out of your way to find it, then great. That's key.
Are there any wines that you're dying to have on the Rockefeller wine list?
Seven Apart. Seven Apart is f*cking crazy famous. Andy Erickson is a Canadian winemaker, another irreverent person that kind of approaches wine the way we do.
When somebody calls you and they go, "hey, do you want to try Seven Apart?", you don't say no.
[Andy Erickson] is just one of those people that's just, "I like to I like to make cool shit," and so you can kind of taste that in his wine. It's very good.
It's a Cab and I'm such an anti-Cab person. Because everybody's like, "oh, that's all I drink."
I hate that. So I try not to be a champion for Cab.
But [Seven Apart] is magic. It's f*cking magic.
It was literally the greatest thing I've had in like, the last year and a half. And it's very hard to get.
They didn't sell it Arizona for a while. It just came into our market a couple of months ago.
Finally, the While They're Hot section. Tell us more about this last part of the wine list.
(Laughs.) Honestly, that section is really for me.
This section is for me for when I taste something and I go, "f*ck that's cool. Oh shit, it's a bit pricier or it's just kind of a weird wine," I want to put it here.
In anything you do [creatively], you need to have a little bit of it a little of you in it. You know, you can't just sacrifice entire soul.
So yeah, this section is really just so I could have a place to put cool shit in its own little area.