To begin this exciting project, I present the views and opinions of one of the foot soldiers on the frontlines, my friend Brad Kane, who lugs a bag here in New York City.
Find out Brad's take on what's hot, what's cold, what's showing promises and his top recommendations.
If you would like to be included in this interview series, please send me an email.
I’ve been involved in the wine business for 15 years. I started out working in retail and have now been working for a distributor for the past 10 years, first as their events coordinator and then as a sales rep for the past six years. My territory is primarily on and off-premise accounts in Manhattan, but I work a little in Brooklyn, too.
It was two wonderful ladies that got me interested in and into wine. One really piqued my interest in wine when we shared a bottle of 1991 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. That was my so-called epiphany wine, when something went off inside me and I realized I really liked the stuff and wanted to learn more about it. About a year or so later, another woman introduced me to the business end of the wine industry as she worked on the wholesale side of the business and we’d always talk about it and she’d occasionally give me some really nice samples to further my “education.”
What unique challenges do you think you encounter working here in NYC?
New York City is unique because it’s the largest market in the country and as a result, everyone that has wine to sell is here. There is tremendous competition on the street for shelf space and list placements and with an ocean of wine out there and limited spots, it’s a buyer’s market. Buyers are inundated by salespeople here and the challenge is to get face time.
How's the market doing since the new year and what, if any, changes have you seen over the previous two years?
That’s a tricky question because it’s really territory-dependent. Some people can be up because their accounts could be doing really well, or their territory has expanded, while others can be down due to the loss of several key accounts. Overall I’d say the market has been a bit soft the past two years. The greatest change I’ve seen is that sales of high end wines have taken a beating. Consumers have become much more price conscious and business expense accounts have been cut back, or eliminated altogether and that’s been reflected in the buying patterns of retailers and restaurateurs. California Cabernets north of say $60, for instance, have been a very tough sell whereas before the crash, they moved pretty easily. Average bottle prices on lists have come down, the size of wine lists have been pared and I know a lot of stores have a preference for wines that retail for $20 or less.
What product or categories are hot in your market? Why do you think these wines are starting to take off?
Malbec is certainly hot at the moment, as are wines from the Loire Valley. I think the common denominator there is perceived bang for the buck, though they cater to two separate parts of the market. Malbec is your every person’s wine, a real crowd pleaser that’s fruit forward, not too tannic and is a name that doesn’t give anyone too much trouble. Loire wines, especially in this market, have a certain geek appeal because there are a lot of little appellations to know about and the region is at the forefront of what’s being called the “natural wine” movement.
What product or categories are cold in your market and why?
Australia and Spain are pretty tough sells at the moment. I think the market got oversaturated with wines from both countries, predominantly Shiraz in Australia’s case. Some notable critics deserve some blame here as they were/are handing out huge scores like candy to wines both inexpensive and expensive and it seems as if the market concluded that the scores weren’t particularly accurate and that there really wasn’t much of a taste or quality difference between the price points. Additionally, and more specifically in Australia’s case, there have been arguments made that the success of Yellowtail adversely affected the sale of Australian wines as a whole as they may have convinced wine drinkers here that Australia is for value wines and that put them back to where they really were about fifteen years ago.
What do you think are some of the wines that are ready for the big time, maybe still geek wines but gaining in popularity?
Well, you know I’ve been gung ho about Chenin Blanc for as long as you’ve known me. Whether from the Loire Valley, South Africa or even California, they’re available in every style, from dry and off dry to dessert, but they have vivacious acidity and are largely unoaked and I see more and more people looking for white wines that don’t see oak. They also have the potential to age extremely well. It’s nice to see more discussions about them on wine boards these days and the mainstream wine press has picked up on it the past few years. As for a red, Malbec is the “it” grape/wine now,"but, while Spanish wines are a bit of a tough sell at the moment, I think Tempranillo/Rioja is ready for some glory.. They’re quite food-friendly, come in a variety of styles, have great aging potential. It’s also a grape that seems like it can do well in California and there is more of it becoming available from there.
When someone asks you to recommend wines for laying down, usually for a birth or anniversary, what are your top 3 choices?
Of course, it’s vintage dependent. If one happens to be born in a year that’s lousy for a region known for wines that age, I wouldn’t recommend wines from that area if there are better ones from somewhere else. That said, my go-to wines for long term aging are Vouvray, German Riesling and a tie between Bordeaux and Barolo. Honorable mention goes to Port.
What are your top 5 picks for best wines to buy today?
That’s a vague question. Is money no object? Are they for cellaring, or drinking right away? What’s for dinner? If money were no object I’d probably buy some Domaine de la Romanée-Conti just so I could be the big man on campus. For cellaring, for whites I’d stock up on Vouvray. There are a number of excellent vintages available on the market right now and the wines age beautifully and offer great value. For reds, I’d look to Piedmont as there’s been an exceptional run of high quality vintages since 1996. Same with the Rhone, actually. For drinking right now, I tend to like whites that have good acidity, no oak and a touch of residual sugar, so I’ll always lean towards Vouvray, German and Alsatian Riesling, Alasatian Pinot Gris and Cour-Cheverny. If I want a white that’s dry, I’ll look for an Austrian Riesling or Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp Italian white from a coastal region. For reds right now, again, I’m not a fan of a strong new oak presence, so my go to wines tend to be from the Rhone or Languedoc for everyday imbibing.
Thanks, Brad for your time! Don't forget to nominate your favorite merchants and we'll do our best to profile them here.