Sommelier John Slover, Wine Director Robert Bohr, and
Sommelier Alex Miranda
24 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Sommelier Roundtable: Robert
Bohr, Alex Miranda, and John Slover of Cru
What is the structure of your team? What is the breakdown
Robert Bohr: In title
I’m the wine director, so basically I get all the
credit and they do all the work. I do most of the overseas
auction buying and collectibles buying; the three of us
share domestic buying. There are 18,000-20,000 bottles in
our cellar here. The majority of our wines – almost
60,000 bottles – are stored in our warehouse in New
Jersey. We also have a warehouse in France for about 1,000
cases of our younger wines. Alex does the physical cellar
management, organizes the bin system, and really maintains
the cellar. John handles the wine list administration.
MT: How does your
team collaborate with Chef Shea Gallante?
RB: Mostly around
new tasting menus. Communicating with Shea requires a light
touch, particularly because he likes to think on his feet.
You have to be agile in your wine decisions. If someone
has already ordered wine, we might say to Shea, “Can
you think more Burgundy?” for example. He’s
gotten better at crafting menus from that perspective.
John Slover: He’s
pretty smart about pairing. You can describe the wine to
him and he will have some ideas…
Alex Miranda: More
than just some. But he has an excellent palate.
MT: Is it a challenge
to maintain knowledge of your inventory in your head?
AM: Not really. Especially
if it’s something I selected or personally inventoried.
RB: The wine list
is so deep that we each have things that are more salient
than others. It becomes rather organic.
AM: And luckily, we
have just about everything at our disposal, whereas at a
smaller restaurant you’d have a much scaled-down wine
list to draw from.
JS: And then there’s
a structural approach where someone can say, “I want
a wine that’s high in acid, but soft, etc.”
and then we just generate from that.
RB: And then we consider
price points, where does this customer want to be? Hw many
French wines have they done already? There are a lot of
factors, and seldom is there just one wine that would satisfy
all those factors.
MT: So you can
really customize the selection to the individual?
JS: Definitely. And
everything that we just discussed, looking at all those
elements and assessing those factors, takes place in 2 ½
RB: A lot of selling
wine comes down to the confidence with which you speak to
guests coupled with extensive tasting experience. But you
have to have both. You can’t have one: if you have
great tasting experience without confidence, you’re
JS: No one’s
going to trust your opinions.
RB: And if you have
a lot of confidence without extensive wine knowledge, it’s
a thin veil that sooner or later is going to fall away.
AM: The minute you
pour the guest a taste, they’ll know…
JS: Yeah, “This
is nothing like what you said it would be!”
RB: In New York especially,
you are dealing with a very sophisticated customer who might
eat out more than five times a week. You just can’t
be making it up. So anyway, after developing this niche
in Italian wines, I went on to work at Daniel to expand
my knowledge of French wines. All this time, I was meeting
with private clients and that is where I got to taste really
great wine. That is the difference we are fortunate to enjoy.
To have an opinion on how the wines of Burgundy have changed
from the 1930’s to the 1940’s vintages is not
something most sommeliers will be exposed to. It’s
something that none of us could afford on our own, but when
you meet enthusiasts, they love to share wine, especially
with those who they know will really appreciate it. And
we’re ideal candidates for that – we’re
eager… One of those clients I met was Roy Welland,
now the owner at Cru.
MT: Where do the
wines come from? What % would you say each of those sources
represent on your list?
RB: 100% is Roy Welland’s
inventory. Even the stuff purchased at inventory is for
him personally. Which reduces the burden of the restaurant,
since the wine program requires so much capital. It’s
AM: And we just sell
it for him.
MT: What wine regions
are you most excited about now?
AM: Well, we are classicists.
Because of what we have at our disposal and, as Robert was
saying, being able to taste older stuff most people just
read about, I’m more excited than ever about classic
JS: I totally agree.
AM: I know that there’s
always a vogue, “up-and-coming” region, but
I think in our heart of hearts, we all still love Burgundy,
Rhone, and Piedmont.
RB: Look at our wine
list. Our personalities are rather transparent.
JS: Just to give you
specifics: Burgundy, red and white. Barolo and Barbaresco
in Piedmont. Rhone reds. German and Austrian whites.
RB: Right. There is
80% of our wine list.
JS: And Bordeaux,
I like Bordeaux. I think Alex does too.
AM: I do, actually.
JS: Robert doesn’t.
AM: A lot of young
sommeliers like New World wines because they’re easy
to understand and you can find the latest hotshot in Chile
and go with it. It’s the same thing with the press.
There’s nothing new to write about Burgundy, so when
I pick up Wine Spectator or Decanter, it’s “South
Africa!” or “Chile!” which I understand.
We are old school. I think 30% of our clientele is interested
in modern wine and we do have some. It’s almost like
we are trying to sell them on the Old World.
interesting because in wine education courses, a common
exercise asks students to suggest New World substitutions
for Old World classics, but you essentially find yourselves
doing the opposite.
AM: Somebody will
say, “I love Chilean wine” and I’ll say,
“Why don’t you try this regional French wine?”
almost like I’m trying to get them to go back to the
JS: Definitely. It’s
understandable. That’s what gets press.
AM: Exactly. And it’s
affordable. Who can afford to drink Grand Cru Burgundies
every night? But I think that’s the exciting thing
about our list. We have affordable older selections. For
example, in the Rhone section, we have 85 different Cote-Roties
for under $100 and I dare any restaurant in New York to
offer something like that.
RB: Really? “Dare?”
JS: Absolutely, I
dare them, too!
MT: Alex, do you
still like California wines?
AM: I do, actually.
My palate has evolved. Now I like softer, prettier wines.
But having said that, I can appreciate those big wines.
I really love California Cabs from the ‘80s. I think
JS: Yes, like older
AM: But sometimes,
you try to sell them to people…
JS: And they want
something young, that’s being written up in the press.
It’s like, “The 2001 Peter Michael Pavots was
just written up, I have to drink it.” That’s
a shame because that wine is going to be great and it’s
not ready to drink.
AM: We all feel passionate
about giving the wine a chance to become something. That’s
the biggest challenge to get customers to try something
with a little maturity.
MT: But you have
that luxury, right? Because ultimately you decide when to
put a wine from your cellar into rotation on your list?
RB: We won’t
put young wines on the list, so in essence we force them
out of what currently is in the press.
JS: And also our first
reflex is to push people toward drinking older wines.
RB: And it would be
to our advantage to sell them younger wines! We have more
opportunity to buy them.
MT: So it’s
JS: Yeah, that’s
what it is. It’s a philosophical aspect of how we
work. Given that we don’t put young wines on the list
that much, we do get the chance to expose people who would
not normally choose an older wine to some really excellent
MT: Do you see
your portfolio changing over time? If so, how?
RB: There are a few
areas we’re feeling out. We’re tasting more
Southern Hemisphere wines.
AM: We’re trying
to be open-minded.
RB: Yes, we’re
learning more. I haven’t personally visited those
regions, so I don’t have the connection yet that I
have to some Old World wines, but I’m tasting.
AM: It’s also
a reflection of what customers are requesting. I think what
Robert is saying is that we want to give those countries
JS: But Burgundy is
always going to dominate our list.
JS: Number one: it’s
our preference. Number two: it goes best with our food.
Three: we have endless amounts of future stock to drink.
MT: Do any of
you have a favorite “value” wine, say under
AM: I generally like
Loire Valley whites for my everyday wines. One specific
producer I enjoy is Domaine de Bellivière. It’s
spicy, very light. Even on wine lists, it’s pretty
RB: I drink a lot
of Bourgogne Rouge as my house wine. That and Barbera.
JS: Yeah, I was going
to say Barbera.
RB: Those are my two
main ones. I mean, I like to drink Grand Cru Burgundy all
the time, but it’s not something I usually drink at
AM: Me too.
RB: I’m not
at all opposed to drinking simple wines.
JS: For me, it’s
also Barbera for red and Riesling for white.
AM: For whites, the
same for me.
MT: Tell me about
a perfect match that you discovered.
JS: Just last week,
I had roast-suckling pig with Cornas. It was a 1999 Allemand
Reynard – amazing.
AM: When I was at
Clinton 71, the chef used to make this uni dish with poached
egg and maple syrup and I couldn’t find a wine that
could stand up to such strong flavors. I ended up choosing
a Savagnin from the Jura. Jacques Puffeney is the producer.
RB: That would agree
with the egg, I’d imagine.
AM: Yes, it worked
really well. The savagnin grape has a lot of texture and
is almost sherry-like, but fresh.
RB: We just did this
great pairing last night, actually. One of my favorite menu
items is Pike Quenelles with a watercress garlic puree and
it’s awesome with this Grüner Veltliner from
Knoll. It was fantastic.
JS: Now I’m
MT: Do you have
any professional pet peeves?
JS: Besides anything
that Alex does?
RB: My real pet peeve
on the floor is a lack of dialogue. As in, “We’d
like a red wine.” And you say, “We have 2,500…”
and they add, “Something, you know, reasonable.”
The more vague someone is, the more difficult the job is,
and it’s less likely you’ll be able to meet
MT: Do a lot of
guests ask for Parker or Wine Spectator scores as a guide?
RB: They do, but we
don’t read any press, so we have no idea.
AM: It’s true.
We read books and have studied regions from that perspective,
RB: We had a bunch
of cases of that Peter Michael’s wine we mentioned
earlier and every night we would sell at least 3 bottles,
and we couldn’t figure out why it was selling so well.
Once someone told me it had just been named a top new release
in Wine Spectator, which had come out that week, it all
AM: I’ve made
suggestions to people about wine I know is fabulous because
we’ve tasted it, and they’ll say, “Well,
that didn’t get a very good score from Parker.”
RB: Luckily, it’s
less of a factor in restaurants than in retail. In retail,
it’s the dominant factor in wine buying.
More and More Wine
MT: Do customers
ever feel overwhelmed by the size of your inventory? How
do you manage to put them at ease? (Note: There are two
wine lists--books really—one for red and one for white,
which also includes sparkling wine and beer.)
AM: Definitely they
JS: A joke, an encouraging
we try to help by the way we wrote the wine list. If I told
you how long it took to organize this list, you truly would
not believe us, but we tried to mitigate the sense of dread
someone feels when looking at a wine list this big by setting
it up by region. We put tabs in for each section, so you
can flip directly to a region or country you’re interested
in. There’s a Table of Contents at the front and also
the first couple of pages that you go to are just our recommendations.
AM: Which are really
RB: It’s a shortcut:
there’s a little description of each recommended wine,
they’re all under $100, so if someone doesn’t
feel like flipping through 250 pages, they can look at these
JS: It’s really
like a mini-wine list.
got the maps here as well.
RB: That came from
Roy. He likes to learn about wine and he is not a wine person
by trade, so when he goes somewhere and he learns something
about wine, he feels like he’s gotten something from
MT: What is your
corkage policy for customers bringing in selections from
their private cellars?
AM: Zero tolerance.
RB: No exceptions.
And we mean that in the nicest possible way.
AM: I mean, 3,500
bottles on the list…
MT: Beyond the
impressive portfolio you manage, what do you think makes
your wine team unique in this business?
RB: There are a lot
of great sommeliers in New York and there are a lot of people
I respect immensely, and if they were in this position,
they would do great also. But why I like the wine team that
we have is that there are 3 distinct personalities…
RB: One journalist
had suggested to me that that’s a negative, and I
respectfully disagreed. I think it’s actually a plus
that on any day you could get different advice from Alex
or John than you might get from me. Maybe it would be good
if there were a company policy on wine and every recommendation
were the same, but that’s not reality.
AM: And I would not
want to work in a restaurant like that.
RB: So we all have
our own opinions and we establish a rapport based on our
individual personalities, but there’s no qualitative
difference. Effectively, you’re going to get good
service and knowledgeable opinions, regardless of who comes
to your table.
AM: And also we’re
all really smart! (laughing)
RB: And incredibly
JB: Strikingly handsome…
AM: And we respect
that about each other…
RB: But seriously,
there’s a lot of mutual respect. When you have a restaurant
where wine comprises so much of the investment… I
mean, we all have keys. Any one of us could come in and
lift a $10,000 bottle of wine. So it all comes down to trust.
To me and my partner, it’s an invaluable part of the
relationship. There are dozens of sommeliers in this city
who could do as well or better than any one of us, but I
think together, as a team, the 3 of us are greater than
the sum of our parts.