Tuesday, June 14, 2011
After graduating high school in New Orleans, Joe Briand enrolled at Loyola and began working in restaurants. Eventually he found his way to Herbsaint where he climbed up the ranks to general manager and wine buyer for the Link Restaurant Group. Last fall he left the Link Restaurant Group to begin working as Manager/Wine Buyer for Hopper's Carte des Vins. The new wine shop, which should open shortly, is located on Magazine St. across the street from Whole Foods. 20 ish questions on the clock.
I was working at Vaquero's with a friend when we decided to go work at this new Susan Spicer restaurant called Herbsaint. While working at Vaquero's we would get really excited if we sold $400 of margaritas in a shift. When I got to Herbsaint all of a sudden I was selling $1200 of wine a night. So there was a financial draw first into wine. But the initial group of waiters and managers at Herbsaint was very strong wine wise and we would do blind tastings on Sunday afternoons.
The wines that changed everything for me were two bottles of Burgundy. Both came from vineyards less than 2 miles apart. One was a Chambolle-Musigny that had a perfume of what I then imagined the winemaker's sexy, French wife would have smelled like. The other had that dirty, in a good way, musty, barnyard funk, it was a '96 Nuits St. George. I was fascinated that two wines from same varietal and same area could be so different.
Leaving the Link Restaurant Group was the toughest decision I ever had to make. I have a wife and son, with another on the way, and I just needed to be able to spend more time with them. Donald tried to change my responsibilites and job to keep me on and we are still very close. In the end after 10 years of working in restaurant business, I knew the demands of the job and how you really have to throw your whole self into the job. It was like a divorce, but a friendly divorce (laughs).
The misconception is that Hopper's is a wine shop filled only with high end bottles. In fact, 40% of the bottles are under $20. At Carte des Vins, I want to offer people the most bang for the buck. The core of our offerings will come from the Old World, sort of like the wine list at Herbsaint. I really like the fact that I can sell a Rhone wine for $15. A wine that was made over there with care and dedication, bottled, and shipped, and it is great for only $15 bucks. That is amazing. I'll try to turn people on to wines they haven't tried previously.
It is important for the casual wine drinker to find a retailer they trust and develop a relationship. It is easy to do. Walk into a retailer, introduce yourself, and ask them to put together a mix case of wines for you at such and such price a bottle. I dont understand why people are afraid to ask questions when it comes to wine. In every other merchant transaction, the customer has no problems asking questions. Look, when I go to wine tastings, I am constantly asking questions. Customers should do the same.
I'll tell one story about the foolishness of wine tasting notes. I was at a tasting once of German wines. And the person leading the tasting had some initials behind their name. German wines are incredibly confusing. The names on the labels, the styles, the language. I love German wines but they still confuse me. A wine buyer from a restaurant asked a question and in the question he mentioned he "got an herbal note." So the person leading the tasting says, "Yes, I get a lot of blackberry leaf." I spit my wine out and started howling laughing. Seriously, who the fuck has ever eaten a blackberry leaf? Nor remembered it how it tasted to compare it to a wine.
I don't like that kind of talk. I tend to describe wines very basically. Is there red fruit? black fruit? What is the weight like in the mouth. Heavy tannins or light? I've never had a gooseberry and I don't know anyone who has, but there it is apparently inside of every bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I don't talk like that because the average wine drinker drinks the wine and gets discouraged because they don't taste "blackberry leaf."
After Katrina, my wife and I rebuilt a double. She got the bathroom and big walk-in closet and I got a wine cellar with a cork floor. In there, I'd say 60% is red and white Burgundy. I have a good chunk of Rhone wines, some Italian, some Germans, of course a few cases of Champagne. 2 cases of Sauterne, about the same of port. I hold some cases for some friends. All in all, I have about 400-500 bottles, but the capacity to keep around 1200.
One section of my cellar I like to call the "You don't have to ask me if you can open this wine." It is about 10 cases of everyday wines. And this is where the other wines from around the world are represented. Some great Spanish whites, these Greek white wines I really like, basic burgundies.
We eat out a lot, so I do pay attention to wine lists. Some that really impress me are Commander's Palace and Stella! The Windsor Court has really made some great strides. Sarah (Kavanaugh) has a very enviable wines by the glass program. And then of course Galatoire's.
When food is too spicy, it makes pairing wines incredibly difficult. And so being that much of New Orleans food is spicy, that can sometimes cause a problem. But in general, the food of New Orleans is based on the cuisines of the Old World where they have been drinking wine for thousands of years. I find that Rhone wines go very well with Cajun food. The wines of Southwest France also, which has similar use of one pot cooking and heavy use of sausages.
Seafood gumbo, I'd pair a pinot gris from Luxemburg because it has weight, fruit, and is not too sweet. With trout almondine, it has to be white burgundy. For grilllades and grits, a Vacqueryas or Gigondas, something from the Rhone valley, but lighter. Bread pudding is so sweet that I would want to pair it with something with a good bit of acid and lesser sweetness. So maybe a muscat based wine from the Languedoc or an Icewine.
Most people drink their whites too cold and their reds too warm. Stick that red in the fridge for 30 minutes before you open it and let it sit for 10 before you drink it. Take your whites out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to drink it. You will notice a much better wine drinking experience. Also, remember you don't have to spend a lot of money to drink aged wines. Buy a case of simple Bourgogne
Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc at $15 a bottle or so, and just sit on it for 2-3 years. Wines like that really benefit from just a few years of aging. If you can commit to leaving stuff alone for a few years, you will always have a ready supply of fantastic wine to drink. One last tip, buy white wines in winter and reds in summer. It will sort of force you not to touch them for a while, and you can get better deals because merchants are looking to last seasons whites or reds from their inventory.
We typically figure out what we are cooking first, than we pull the wine. The other day I got some fresh speckled trout from a friend. So came home, made a courtbouillon, and opened a Sancerre that had a good bit of richness.
I love rose. And sure it is cool and trendy to be into rose, but I love them. They are good with food, but they are also good without food. So in summer I drink a lot of roses. I also like mineral driven crisp whites, wines from the Jura region of France, and the perhaps the best summer wine, basic Chablis.
Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly. The Wine Atlas by Robinson and Johnson. Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch.
I'd like to see wineries stop reacting to market first rather than paying attention to their location second. 15 years ago Syrah was planted all over California, now you can't give it away. Look, France has had 1,000 years on us to figure out what grows best where. No reason California can't figure that out also. And I am completely over the "Super" thing. the other day someone tried to sell me a Super Sicilian. Look just because you add Cabernet, it doesn't make it super.
I'd like to see more blends from California or at least more transparency in the labeling as to what grapes are actually in that wine. I've drank far too many California Pinot Noirs that have Syrah in them. Italy had a huge scandal a few years ago with some unscrupulous vintners. Look, there are vintners in the Languedoc who choose to label as a vin de pays rather than AOC because the non-AOC wines just does better on their lands. There is nothing wrong with that. Grow, bottle, and sell what grows best where you are.
A restaurant is incredibly expensive to operate. If people knew how slim the margins are they wouldn't complain about the mark up on wine. And look, that cocktail you are drinking instead of wine? That is marked up much more than the wine. I tell people this all the time, when you go to a restaurant, order wines you like and know rather than taking a flyer. If you gamble and lose, that markup hurts a lot more.
After tasting wine all day, most of the time I just want a nice, cold beer.
One case of wine with money no object? Fine, but they all get to be magnums. First, I'd get one of those bottles of Veuve-Clicquot from the 1800's they just found at the bottom of the ocean. Then 1 each of the Grand Crus from Domaine de la Romanee Conti, let's say Romanee Conti, La Tache, and Romanee-St.-Vivant. A Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis from a really great year. One bottle of First Growth Bourdeaux pre-phylloxera. A German dessert wine selection from Crocker like a Trockenbeerenauslese. A '98 Beaucastel made from 100% Roussanne. An old bottle of Saumur-Champigny from Domaine Clos Rougeard. A bottle of '51 Y'Quem. My wife's favorite champagne is 96 Demiere Ansiot, so would need a bottle of that. Finally, a Musigny from Comte de Voguey from 1978, my birth year.