The SOMM Journal

October/November 2014

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{ }  77 open to anybody, not just Aria's employees. CS: We bring in members of the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council) to host a one-day course and we also offer Cicerone Certification for beer as well. We constantly welcome new educational programs and the opportunity to provide more beverage alcohol knowledge to our staff because, ultimately, we believe that the more you know the more you sell. It is important for the staff to be comfortable and knowledgeable in front of the guest. What are the key traits that dis - tinguish your beverage program? KW: We have a very diversified portfolio offering at each venue. Let's take Sage restaurant by Chef Shawn McClain for example: Here the offering is based on more "structural" wines, while the list at Serrano, by Spanish Chef Julian Serrano, offers one of the most eclectic Spanish wine portfolios outside Spain, in my opinion. We average 600 to 700 wine labels per restaurant with a diversified portfolio across venues. We promote white Burgundy to pair with the spicy high-end Asian cuisine at Blossom. At Jean-Georges Steakhouse, we focus pri - marily on Bordeaux and California labels. But we also have great sake offerings at Masa—with some bottles going for $3,000. CS: I am very proud to say that each venue has a unique spirits identity as well. Sage restaurant is probably the most progressive spirits and cocktail menu. Our mixologists use flavored ice and syrups made in-house and barrel aged cocktails. Our backbar is filled with the most amaz - ing super-premium spirits available on the market, and Sage features Las Vegas's largest Absinthe list, too. At Jean-Georges the offering is more classic gin and vodka cocktails while you can find the exclusive boutique-style Samaroli rums collec - tion at one of the casino lounges. At the Lobby bar, we feature 45 types of gin and 45 vodkas along with 12 vermouths. The menu provides each brand's flavor profile, allowing the guest to choose based upon their preferred description How do you manage such an exten - sive inventory? How do you man- age price increases that would affect the pour cost? CS: We work closely with the distributors to get the most advantageous deals and quantity discounts as well as offering a unique selling proposition. Our average bar has a remarkable 600 SKUs. How would you describe the wine business at Aria? KW: California Cabernet is what sells the most overall as far as New World wine. From the Old World—due to the Julian Serrano restaurant focusing on tapas— volume-wise Spanish wines are huge, followed by Tuscan Brunellos and French Burgundies. Champagne sales are very strong as well. Our wine offerings start at $40 and range all the way up to $15,000 a bottle. Since we average about 600 to 700 labels at each restaurant, our wine team does a great job maintaining stock, rotating inventory and curating vintages. Any upcoming unique wine tast - ing experiences at Aria? KW: At Sirio restaurant this fall we will host a vertical tasting of Tenuta di Capezzana starting with a 1924 vintage. Another great experience was a vertical tasting requested by a high-roller of the entire DRC '90s vintages. The oldest bottle opened at Aria was a Bual Madeira 1898 vintage. Which trends do you anticipate among your wine and spirits offerings? KW: Definitively Pinot Noir is here to stay, but I would like to see Grenache from South Africa to garner more attention. CS: Vodka is still going strong, but American whiskies and single malts are in high demand as well—particularly highly- allocated bourbons. We also have some great labels like The Macallan 1946 Lalique decanter, The Glenlivet 1940 and a very rare Sazerac et Fils 1811 Cognac along with Hennessy Richard, Louis XIII and other grand marques of Cognac. Craig, how does your team imple - ment new cocktail recipes at each venue? CS: When the drink menu is about to change, it will take about three weeks. I do not like to go in and change all drinks at once, but gradually, two to three at a time, until the bar staff and servers become acquainted with the new recipes and par - tial changes. Traditionally, I share certain ingredients and recipes with the bartend- ers then they develop their own recipes and we compare. Ultimately, everybody has to agree on the flavor profiles, appear- ance, mouthfeel and the ability to sell and execute the drinks with confidence. Craig, since you arrived in Las Vegas a year ago you received a number of national renown accolades. Can you mention the latest? CS: My latest recognition came from Eater: Young Guns Class of 2014—a group of 16 of the most distinguished young chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers and hospitality industry professionals across North America. What is your favorite beverage to drink or to pair with? KW: I truly enjoy my Brut-style champagne with popcorn (no butter though). CS: Demerara Rum with a cigar for me, and I love hand-shaken Daiquiris, too. Any career path advice for a young wine enthusiast? KW: Taste everything! Do not discredit any wine based on price or packaging. Expand your tasting to any wine you can get your hands on, and reach out to all wine and beverage courses and certifica - tions because they are very accessible and do not require a college degree. PHOTO: SARAH TIMMONS Francesco Lafranconi is Executive Director of Mixology & Spirits Education across Southern Wine & Spirits' 35 markets. With 13 certified mixologists serving the company, the mixology and spirits program is centered on promoting brands through a mix of employee training, educational programs for custom- ers and events such as beverage tastings, wine and food festivals, and bartender competitions. PHOTO: MONA SHIELD PAYNE Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q:

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