Sam Ehrlich is the Wine Director of the Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group, and one of the most passionate wine professionals I know.
Five questions plus a bonus below. Enjoy.
Five Questions with Sam Ehrlich
Which producer or area do you believe in that most people in the industry disagree with you on?
It would be too extreme to say that we disagree about this particular producer but I think that Porter Creek gets short shrift in the pantheon of REALLY CLASSIC California wineries. The Davis family has been there since 1981, growing incredibly honest, compelling Pinot and Chardonnay. The quality of vineyard work and their commitment to growing only what they can reasonably expect to care for at such a high standard results in a spectacular set of wines year after year. Alex Davis has run the estate since 1997 and the time he spent in the mid-1990s at Roumier and Guigal is reflected only in the best light. In the “less and less is more” era of California wine, these feel simultaneously, pure and un-fucked with.
If you could only ask one question of another beverage director, what would it be?
To my fellow wine directors, I would ask at what point does enough distributors become ENOUGH? With several restaurants and counting, I find myself going out of my way to work with fewer reps. In some ways this pains me because there has never been more great wine available from more sources and places. But I just don’t have the hours in the day.
There is a fair amount of industry love for Riesling as a category, and yet it seems to slowly move off of lists in NYC (with rare exception). Is there a secret to selling Riesling?
Selling Riesling… Sigh. I imagine that like most of my peers, I’m not alone in wishing to see a bottle great Kabinett or Smaragd on every table every night. I despair at those wines just sitting on shelves collecting dust because they’re “too sweet!” But begging a table to try a wine they are petrified of can suck time out of my night. Albariño is such an easy alternate solution. That being said, it’s essential we consider our audience. Riesling by the glass should be priced attractively. A good dry wine that presents itself as good value next to a $22 glass of Sancerre immediately raises its stock. Also, don’t ignore the classics. This is an era of great young forward-thinking estates coming out of Germany, Austria, FLX, etc. But there is a reason that Von Schubert enjoys the reputation among sommeliers that it does: the wines are inimitably great and chances are that if you get one in front of a guest you will change his mind.
In your opinion, what is the most misunderstood aspect of Burgundy?
Burgundy, misunderstood?! I think people often discount or minimize the importance of the winemaker’s hand when considering the idea of terroir. Ultimately terroir in wine is about purity and divining a parcel’s essential character. But growers and winemakers get there in different routes and over a period of years styles change and adjustments are made to the work both in the vines and the cellar. Every adjustment reflects a decision made. Any grower who says that they don’t do anything and that the wine is only a reflection of the vineyard is stretching the truth. Stems or no stems, batonnage or no batonnage, what kind of barrels to use: Whether the decision is to DO or NOT DO, it is still part of the wine.
“ To my fellow wine directors, I would ask at what point does enough distributors become ENOUGH?
Which trend or trends do you wish would go away?
A trend I wish would go away? I’m tired of reading about blind taste tests that pit cheap wines against their more expensive counterparts, that inevitably result in the tasters choosing the cheap wine. This is a cheap ploy on the part of magazines and click-bait sites that poke fun at wine as a profession at every level. It reduces the hard work of the people who do the farming and wine-making to an exercise in frivolity and gives credence to the idea that wines can be judged objectively. Don’t get me wrong I will happily take a wine apart if I don’t like it, but I’ll never tell someone that they are wrong for liking a wine. After all, one is supposed to derive pleasure from wine. I realize that as a trend this may be a soft target but I find it infuriating.
Before you ventured into the world of wine and hospitality, what did you aspire to be and how did it lead you here?
As for my aspirations before I entered wine and restaurants, there was a time when I yearned to study archaeology. I settled on this when I realized I’d never play second base for the Yankees. I always found the physical exploration and dissection of history riveting, even going as far as to work on a dig in deep Brooklyn one summer on the grounds of an old Dutch farmhouse. I’d like to think that there is an element of that exploration in wine, especially when tasting an old wine. When the person who made the wine is no longer alive or the estate has been sold or broken up, we can still feel their imprint on the world through the bottle.
Note: all answers above are posted without any cuts or edits.