5 Bottles

How an Advanced Somm in Boulder Finds Top Value Bottles

Michael Elmore shares his tactics for researching and hand-selling selections at Arcana

Michael Elmore
Michael Elmore. Photo by Peter McEwen.

In our series 5 Bottles I Sold Last Night, sommeliers and wine directors talk about the bottles that they’re selling, giving tips and context for making the sale.

Given that the concept of our restaurant is American heritage cuisine through a Colorado lens, guests might assume that the wine list for Arcana in downtown Boulder would be an all-domestic one. Well, we gave ourselves a hall pass there. With so much diversity in the wine world, we want to showcase the depth and quality, with wines from all sorts of countries and producers. There are no strict parameters, one way or another.

Since Arcana opened in February 2016, I have been tasting everything I can along with our manager and sommelier, Louisa Clarke. Our list features 250 wines, and our goal is to never be dogmatic about the types of wines or producers that we include. What is important for us is to know the intention of the producer, as we seek those with integrity. That’s why, although we have a lot of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable producers on our list, I’m not going to tell a producer in Chablis not to spray when they’ve been flooded with rain and hail. We understand those realities of farming.

Our restaurant is just off the beaten path in terms of foot traffic, so it’s important that we gain trust with locals and regulars. The space itself—high ceilings, group seating, and wooden, linenless tabletops—also welcomes many large parties, so I need to have wines that appeal to all of our guests, even if they have a different palate from mine. It’s relatively easy to buy excellent expensive wine. But our job is to sift through everything else and find the values that overdeliver for our guests. For example, we love high-end Burgundy wines here, but I buy a ton of Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge on my own to find wines that are delicious, with enough stuffing to satisfy our guests and consider for Arcana’s list. It will probably be our top-selling Burgundy, so it’s important to find something great. These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.

With the depth and relative eccentricity of our list, it can be overwhelming for some guests to pinpoint what they’re looking for, so it’s important to both Louisa and me to get to tables in an approachable way. In the end, we just want to help them find what they need, whether that means pointing them to the right page or bringing over a taste of something.

Wine glasses
Photo by Peter McEwen.

While every night is a bit different at Arcana, these are five bottles I sold last night—along with the bottle price as it appears on our wine list.

1. Michel Bouzereau Aligoté 2014, Burgundy, France; $45

It’s no secret that we love Burgundy at Arcana. The only problem with it is that the prices continue to skyrocket due to increasing demand and diminishing supply because of catastrophic weather events. The Michel Bouzereau is an absolute gem, which is why I got a Burgundy-loving regular into it—he’s probably gone through a full case at this point! Although this is someone who isn’t afraid to spend money on white Burgundy, he loves to crush the Bouzereau because he gets how good it is. From the village of Meursault, this Aligoté drinks with the richness and weight that extended lees aging, a kiss of new oak, and a focused vintage bring. Sadly, we only have a few bottles left!

2. Sylvain Pataille Fleur de Pinot Marsannay Rosé 2014, Burgundy, France; $85

Pataille’s Fleur de Pinot Rosé is a singular wine. It sees two years of aging in barrel—a third of that in new barrels—and while the idea of new oak on rosé seems a bit repulsive to me, this wine just tastes good. It’s hard to put into words because I’m not familiar with any rosés treated in the same way, but it has more extraction, a darker color, and pronounced Pinot Noir fruit in addition to those new oak tones. One of our regulars was hosting an all-Burgundy birthday fete, so we threw this in as a pairing with mushrooms on toast. He was skeptical of adding rosé to the mix but ended up loving it. Honestly, this would be a really fun wine to blind in a black glass—90 percent of people would think it was red Burgundy.

3. Domaine Karydas Naoussa Xinomavro 2013, Macedonia, Greece; $60

I had a table that loves Barolo but wanted to stay in the $50 to $70 range, and while I could have recommended a Nebbiolo from Langhe or Alto Piemonte, most Nebbiolos simply won’t have enough power. Xinomavro from a traditional producer was just the thing. This Domaine Karydas Naoussa has all those hallmark Barolo notes—aromatic, with dried red and black fruit, dried roses, and truffles—with warmth, elevated tannin, and bright acidity. It’s an experience that in Piedmont you really can’t imitate at this price point. This wine punches way above its class.

4. Caves São João Poço do Lobo Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Bairrada, Portugal; $90

In Colorado it’s a challenge to get good back-vintage representation on the list because it’s illegal to purchase wines from auction. That’s what makes this wine so special—and why we sell it a lot. Caves São João is the López de Heredia of Portugal, with extensive cellars of vintages going back to the 1970s. In this case, a guest was looking for old Napa Cabernet for under $200, but really, this bottle would satisfy someone looking for either New World Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux. This is spectacular, with fruit that is alive and well alongside savory notes of olive tapenade, gravel, and tobacco leaf.

5. Pax Sonoma-Hillsides Syrah 2015, Sonoma County, California; $106

A group of guests was open to a recommendation for a pairing with our grilled chicken and lamb chop entrées, so I went with something that, to me, seemed obvious: Syrah. Why try to force something when this wine strikes the perfect balance? Pax Mahle is one of the godfathers of cool-climate Syrah in the U.S., and the 2015 vintage of Sonoma-Hillsides has that fantastic mix of bright berry fruit, fresh violets, and smoky black pepper. The acid-driven structure of the wine matches so well with the fatty, savory braised lamb belly, and that classic smoky note brought out by the sear on both the lamb chop and the chicken.

—As told to Courtney Schiessl

Michael Elmore is the general manager and a partner of Arcana in Boulder, Colorado, where he also runs the wine program. He has been a wine buyer for eight years, working with The Kitchen Group in both Colorado and Chicago before joining the team to open Arcana. After traveling to numerous wine regions throughout Europe and the Americas to supplement his wine study, Elmore passed his Advanced Sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers in October 2018.

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