With the launch of Bellus Wines, I thought it would be relevant to interview sommelier Jordan Salcito. She created Bellus because there was a need for a quality, affordable wine that was not intimidating to buy or enjoy. Jordan is the sommelier at the recently opened Crown restaurant. She has a genuine passion about wine and has the ability to get people excited about it. Bellus wines are a perfect and meaningful addition to your Thanksgiving table. Part of the proceeds from Bellus goes to benefit The Tory Burch Foundation, which helps women entrepreneurs.
JZ: How did you start Bellus?
JS: It came about when I was working at Eleven Madison Park. I was first working there on the wine team then as a manager. I knew that I wanted my next move to be in wine. Ideally, I would be involved in making wine. Also, a lot of girlfriends were always asking me about what kind of wine they should buy. Eventually, dots started to connect. I wound up sitting next to Tory Burch at a dinner. I have always been inspired by her and her foundation. After dinner I asked her to go for coffee. She met with me and that's really when Bellus started to take shape. She has been very supportive.
JZ: How much is the wine?
JS: A bottle is $19.99 online. The whole point was to make this a value wine that over delivers
JZ: Does Bellus go well with Thanksgiving dinner?
JS: Yes. It's a good medium bodied wine with great brightness so it can cut through the richness of the dinner. It's a great balance.
JZ: What's it like being a woman sommelier?
JS: There is a lot of support in the industry right now and it's a really cool time to be part of the wine world. New York is an especially friendly environment; the challenge is to show that in addition to being a woman you know what you are talking about. Man or woman, if you are a sommelier you should know every wine on your list and why you put it there. The other thing I have noticed is that there are more female wine drinkers than ever. Sometimes women will be less intimidated to ask another woman about wine.
JZ: Do you love your job?
JS: Yes and I love many things about it. I love getting to share wine information with the staff and seeing how excited they get. It's great because they pass on the excitement to their tables and other people. I love that I created the wine list at Crown. It's the first list I have created by myself. When you create a wine list you have an opportunity to convey information in whatever way you want. My goal with the Crown list was to make it approachable for people who know and are already excited about wine and for people who don't know about wine but know what they like.
JZ: The economy isn't doing so great. How has this impacted the wine business?
JS: I think some of it is neighborhood specific. In this neighborhood on the Upper East Side there are people immune to the economy in certain ways. You can also track it on the stock market. If the market is up people will order bigger bottles that night. From 2006 -2007 the average bottle price would be $200 - $250. People were willing to spend a lot of money without thinking about it. In the autumn of 2008 that dropped dramatically. It's picked up but still not the same. I would say the average bottle price is $150.
JZ: How do you approach making a wine list?
JS: There is a practical side and a more artistic side. I have a small cellar so you can only fit as many wines on your list as you can fit your cellar. Then I spoke with the owners of Crown and they wanted an old world wine list. So that means wines from France, Italy and Spain. So within those confines I got to play around. The next step is to get a copy of the menu. You want wines that will represent the foods well. You want wines that people are familiar with but also wines that people can get really excited about. It's also important to try wines blind before you add them to the list. If you want to put a Chenin Blanc try 3 of them blind. You will know which one you like the best and won't be adding it based on a name.
JZ: How long does it take to put together a wine list?
JS: It depends on the list. Some wine lists are curated by taking private collections and working off a spreadsheet. That's very different from this list. When I knew I would be part of the project I immediately set up tasting appointments. As of May I was tasting with every producer and distributor that I knew I was going to work with.
JZ: Did you taste every wine on the list?
JS: Yes. I did not put a wine on the list that I didn't taste.
JZ: Is that the case with all wine lists?
JS: You would think it would be the case but it's not.
JZ: What's your routine everyday?
JS: Everyday is different. My ideal day would be after I wake up to take 10 minutes and write in a journal. It's just for 10 minutes and sometimes it looks like a to do list or something interesting I heard the night before. It's a good way to gather and center yourself for the day. If I have time I will take a spin class. Then the day begins and I start emailing with wine distributors. Lots of people want to show me new wines. I follow up to see if we have enough of our wines that we sell by the glass. When I'm walking from one place to another I will always try to call my parents or my husband. Then when I get to work I have deliveries to unpack and I need to be sure the cellar is organized. Then I decide what wines we are going to taste at the staff pre-shift lineup. The pre-shift meeting is key because it really sets the tone for the night.
JZ: What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a sommelier?
JS: First and foremost you have to have restaurant experience. You should work in a restaurant and really understand how a restaurant works. There are so many aspects of the wine world but if you are a sommelier, being a good server comes first. You have to understand hospitality and that you are there for the guest. All sommeliers have wines that they are more excited about than others. Your job is to really be thoughtful in choosing the best wine for a table.