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 sales.
When my longtime friend and chef extraordinaire Charleen Badman and I opened the restaurant FnB—which stands for “food and beverage”—in Scottsdale, Arizona, in late 2009, we knew we wanted to be known as a restaurant that showcased wines from Arizona. We’re blessed with a high elevation and dry heat, as well as some highly talented winemakers with an entrepreneurial spirit, and we wanted more people to know about the incredible wines they were making. But we were also, as Charleen says, in business to stay in business, so we knew we had to offer our guests variety too. Charleen suggested a “Plan B” for guests who didn’t want to drink Arizona wine—and that’s what we called our non-Arizona wine list.
The name stuck, and our Plan B list has become an important part of our wine program. Since we opened, Arizona wines have gotten better and better. I love introducing guests to this region’s unique offerings—we also host a popular Winemaker Luncheons series in the summer, during which we showcase local winemakers so guests can make a personal connection with them. And as Arizona winemakers continue to raise the bar, the region is getting some attention in the industry, which means that more guests are coming in and asking for the wines, especially out-of-towners.
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At the same time, I keep a close eye on what’s happening with regions all over the world, and I love helping guests discover new-to-them varieties. We focus mostly on Old World regions, but I like to include a nice mix of interesting New World selections too. At our on-site FnBar, I switch regions on the list monthly, and although our Plan B list stays a bit more static, we are constantly tweaking it. This keeps things fresh and allows our guests to travel without a passport, as I like to say. Here is a closer look at five bottles I sold last night. (The prices listed are what we charge at the restaurant.)
1. Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece 2016; $45
A regular guest almost always drinks expensive white Burgundy or Champagne. Last night, he said he was in the mood for something different but mentioned that he likes really dry, crisp Old World wines that are not too fruit forward. I recommended this, and he loved it. Though most wine geeks are starting to discover Greece as a place of distinctive wines, the general public is not there yet. Assyrtiko is a savory and, dare I say, crunchy—texturally, that is—wine. And did I mention it’s delicious?
2. Callaghan Vineyards Lisa’s Blend, Sonoita, Arizona 2015; $44
I was also taking care of a couple from out of town who were sitting on our patio. They told me that they loved Chardonnay but preferred Chards that were texturally bigger in style, and that they were open to trying an Arizona wine. I told them that in my opinion, Chardonnay doesn’t do great here—instead, Rhône varieties like Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are much better suited to the region. Then I segued into talking about Kent Callaghan, who I consider the pioneer of Arizona winemaking. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, and when you shake his hand, you can tell he’s a winemaker—it’s so callused. I consider this bottle the gateway into Arizona wines. It’s made of Viognier, with some Marsanne and Malvasia Bianca. It’s bone dry with beautiful acidity. It’s just a gorgeous, seductive wine. The couple was initially a bit taken aback by the tropical nature of the aromas, but they were soon won over.
3. Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron Aligoté, Burgundy, France 2015; $60
One of our guests is a gentleman who comes to the restaurant and regularly buys bottles of our Chablis. Last night I pushed him to try something different and recommended Aligoté. It has a propensity to be light and crisp like Chablis and is a great way to introduce a guest to a nonmainstream variety—it’s the other white Burgundy grape. And the Chablis fanatic loved it.
4. Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois Gamay, Vin de France 2015; $40
A bachelorette party of six women came in, looking for a light red wine to share. They knew they loved Pinot Noir but wanted to try something new. They weren’t at all familiar with the Gamay grape or Beaujolais wines, so I started explaining a little about the variety and the Beaujolais appellations. As I told them, if you like Pinot Noir and you want to try something new, this is a great choice. The wines from this region are so pleasurable, with soft, slightly gritty tannins—just enough to make themselves present. The guests loved this and ended up ordering several bottles.
5. Rune Grenache, Willcox, Arizona 2015; $54
Last night I had a couple from Napa Valley who prefaced the conversation by saying that they were wine snobs, being from Napa, but that they were open to Arizona wines. They liked Pinot Noirs and Zinfandel, and I told them that being such a fickle grape, Pinot doesn’t do well here. Then, as I usually do at such a point in the conversation, I dropped the name James Callahan, Rune’s winemaker. He worked harvests in Washington State and then New Zealand before returning to the States to become Kosta Browne’s cellar master. His Grenache is a shoo-in, in terms of style, when someone mentions Pinot Noir. His version is delicate and subtle, with aromas of cherry, cranberry, and restrained spicy notes. It’s just a sexy Grenache from this part of the world. Guests always love his wines, and this couple was no exception.
—As told to Blane Bachelor
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Pavle Milic is the co-owner and beverage director of FnB in Scottsdale, Arizona, which earned a nomination for a James Beard Outstanding Wine Program in 2017 and has been on numerous “Best of” lists. In 2013, Milic and FnB co-owner Charleen Badman were inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame as Best Restaurateurs. Milic also crafts his own boutique wine label, Los Milics, and writes a monthly wine column for Phoenix Magazine.