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At Michael’s, He’s Making a Wine List and Checking It Twice

Are New Yorkers more sophisticated wine buyers than Californians, or are they a little more price conscious, or are they merely more adventuresome and prepared to take chances in their wine buying decisions?

Phil Reich, the fellow who created the award-winning wine list for Michael’s, asked himself these questions as he created the new list for New York. (His Santa Monica list, with more than 350 items, is so extensive that duplicating it on the East Coast would have been impossible.)

“I expected that we were going to have the same kind of customers there that we had in California, so I expected to get something like what I get out here--30% of all sales are imported wines and 70% are California,” said Reich. “What I wasn’t prepared for, and what really surprised me, is that in the first month five out of six bottles we were selling (in New York) were from California.”

Moreover, said Reich, New York buyers appeared eager to buy wines that were clearly unknown to them. “I had 180 wines there, and there were only one or two that nobody bought,” he said. “They really are willing to take a chance.”

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Reich feels that one of the reasons some of the unusual wines are selling has to do with lower price; he thinks New York restaurant-goers are more price-conscious than those in California, who tend to be brand-conscious. “As you know, my list always has on it some unknown wines that are good values. And they are finding the hidden treasures on my list.”

“New Yorkers,” adds Reich, “don’t feel they have to impress their guests, so they are less swayed by name-recognition wines. Also, Californians focus on Cabernet and Chardonnay, but in New York, they had quite a head start on connoisseurship and they are accustomed to regional appellations and to trying different wines.”

He discovered another phenomenon: at lunch, New Yorkers don’t buy bottles of wine, but they have no objection to paying higher prices for top-quality wine served by the glass.

In New York, for instance, they eagerly pay $12 to $14 a glass for a Meursault-Perrieres or an Angelo Gaja Chardonnay, or even $15 a glass for Veuve Clicquot Rose Champagne.

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Reich’s pricing policy is to mark everything up 2.7 to 2.8 times the wholesale cost of the wine. This means that a wine that retails for $10 a bottle would be about $18.50 at Michael’s, and a wine retailing for $15 would be $28 on the list.

Prices on the Santa Monica wine list have been lowered by an average of 10% to 12% to coincide with the lowering of all prices on the Michael’s menu. Now, in both locations, Reich says a diner can find at least 30 wines under $25, “and I make a point of keeping some of those in every category.”

If the gems aren’t discovered, they get dropped. To my dismay I discovered that last year you could have bought the 1980 Borro Cepparello from Isole e Olena for $18; 1984 Honig Sauvignon Blanc for $17, and 1987 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay for $22. Today you can’t; the wines didn’t sell and were removed.

Still, a few “sleepers” remain. Reich calls them “my current esoterica,” and they include 1985 Les Ormes de Pez at $30; 1982 Ay Rouge from Bollinger at $45; and 1985 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe at $28.


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