The biggest challenge in the current economic climate remains moving expensive wines. Operators have responded to the challenge with a variety of innovative approaches. Fifty percent-off nights are a popular way to sell wines at all prices points, says Emily Wines, San Francisco-based master sommelier and director of wines at Kimpton Hotels—including those off the reserve list at the hotel’s contemporary American Fifth Floor restaurant.
Using the same tactic, Rick Colomitz, proprietor and beverage director of seasonal American restaurant Liken Kelly in Vail, Co., has been selling $1,200 magnums of cult wine 2002 Shafer Hillside Select Estate Cabernet for $600 and $800 Magnum bottles of 2005 Domaine Serene “Grace Vineyard” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for $400. He has also been selling one-once pours of ultra-premium wines at $85 a glass, “and they just fly off the shelves,” he says.
Most operators also, as a result of all the current pressures, are doing less cellaring of wines. “People—ourselves and others—have gotten away from building these enormous $1 million dollar, clunky collections,” says Kimpton’s Wines. “We’re passing up on wines—both domestic and imported—that take five years or longer to be ready,” she concludes. Colomitz adds that, “We are cellaring less. I basically turned it upside down, looking at it like a bank, liquidating high-end inventory and slowing down on my buying a lot.”
Matthew Boettcher, director of restaurants at the 657-room Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., says that he is offering some allocated wines—but fewer. “Luxury tier wines such as [California’s] Kosta Browne Pinot Noir and Failla Pinot Noir from Hirsch Vineyard, are more available, so we are able to purchase them for immediate use, not necessarily for the long term future,” he explains.