Tuesday, January 10, 2012
John Slover helped set the terms of the conversation every sommelier will be having in the next five years, and for that reason, as well as his extraordinary palate, I will go ahead and say that he is a genius. Yep, that's what I said, genius.
John realized that the Next Big Thing for sommeliers would not so much be the new region or grape variety as it would be a pricing strategy. He figured out that in an era of vast price escalation and limited access for the consumer to mature wines, that the math had to somehow reward getting wine out of bottles and into patron's glasses. And so he invented the half a bottle program, by which customers can purchase half the wine in a full bottle, and leave the rest of the bottle for another customer to try. The majority of the wine list is offered in this fashion by John at both Ciano and Bar Henry, two restaurants where he oversees the respective wine programs. In effect, he doubled the glass pour size to make sharing the cost of a bottle easier for the guest and also tenable for the restaurants.
Sharing the cost of maintaining a publicly available wine cellar is largely what restaurant wine programs are all about, in a fundamental sense. By going back to the core precepts that define a restaurant and tinkering with the financial spread, John really broke new ground. It is something that other sommeliers have also found ways to do, for instance in offering large format wines to be shared by the glass, but few people have dealt with the subject of pricing as comprehensively as John has. The costs associated with running a restaurant seem likely to continue to rise, as do wine prices, making John's precedent all the more relevant, and I applaud him.
I recently sat down with John, whom I think of as the Bobby Fischer of New York sommeliers, and listened in as he explained the wine program at Ciano in his own words. If you want a sneak preview of what other people will also be saying in the next few years, you can go ahead and hear John now.