Posted on | February 1, 2013
Written by | W.R. Tish
UpStairs on the Square strikes a curious balance. It is both a community fixture (serving Harvard Square since 1980s) and a destination. The décor is whimsical (hot pink!), but the menu is haute enough to sate intellectual foodies. The wine program, overseen for the past seven years by Matt Reiser (who started as a server and is now a WSET diploma candidate), straddles the well-known and the ready-to-be-discovered. Thanks to his hands-on yet open-minded approach, the wine experience at UpStairs offers plenty of high notes without a whiff of stuffiness.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Do you have a go-to region or type of wine?
MATT REISER: An oldie but goodie—Riesling from the Mosel. It’s a classic, has so much complex mineral aspects and just works with more food than most wine.
TBN: What is a favorite current pairing from your menu and list?
MR: Long Island Duck with quince, meyer lemon, braised endive and fried rosemary; paired with Meyer-Näkel “S” Pinot Noir from Ahr, Germany. Pinots from the Ahr often have a smoky quality, with high acid cherry fruit and firm tannins, all of which play well together.
TBN: What software system do you use to manage your list/inventory?
MR: We roll old school with Excel— and with a wonderful financial manager who helps me every month to input and analyze the data. We also use MICROS, which maintains counts on all the non-by-the-glass wines. I very much feel inventory is tactile. Virtual numbers don’t work for me. I need to see it every month.
TBN: How many distributors do you do business with?
MR: Currently, just over a dozen. A few years back, I dealt with over 20. Managing and developing relations just took up too much time. Also we scaled back and offer a more focused list.
TBN: Do you have a system for managing your wine orders?
MR: Yes, very careful ordering, which only comes after years of buying. We are a unique restaurant in that we consistently have large-scale celebrations and many different selections, so being on top of the amount of supplies is foremost.
TBN: What recent trends have you noticed lately?
MR: Many more young people are opting for wine, and with that comes a wonderful perspective. They are much more likely to drink what I recommend than are those who have been beaten over the head with Bordeaux and Burgundy. So a grape like Frappato actually has a fighting chance on a wine list. Also, people are eating differently. I find many guests wanting multiple items at a table rather than just a first course followed by a main course.
TBN: How do you measure the success of the wine program?
MR: We monitor wine sales on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. My philosophy is to make most of your money on lower-end wines that customers will be happy to drink. The higher the wine, the less the markup—or else you will have a trophy wine room.
TBN: What do you find yourself frequently telling your staff?
MR: Once at the table with Richard Betts, he said, “Wine is a grocery.” It kind of stuck, and I couldn’t agree more. If the company you are with is enjoying one another, the wine will always taste better and vice versa.
TBN: What are some other wine programs that you admire?
MR: Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate [NYC] for shining a light on tiny natural wines. Shelley Lindgren of A16 [San Francisco] for putting Southern Italian wines on the map. And Paul Grieco of Terroir [NYC] for wearing T-shirts and evangelizing arguably the world’s best grape—Riesling.
UPSTAIRS ON THE SQUARE
Cuisine: New American
Selections on wine list: 150
Bottles in inventory: 2,600
Price range of list: $36-$1,175
Average bottle price: $85
Sweet spot on list: $65
Wine list strengths: Small production, family-oriented
Wines by the glass: 18
Price range by the glass: $7-$15
Preservation system: Le Verre de Vin