Posted on | July 2, 2013
Written by | W.R. Tish
Centered on a large wood-fired grill and energized by a focused yet daring wine list, The Red Hen in is one of the nation’s capital’s hottest new restaurants. Adventurous diners have plenty of options on their plates (smoked ricotta… grilled beef tongue… gnocchi with hazelnut pesto) and wines to match, thanks to co-owner Sebastian Zutant. The Red Hen’s list is effectively brief, at 100 wines, and appropriately stocked with Italian wines, but at the same time it pushes even well-versed vino-philes into new territory.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What is a favorite current pairing from your menu and list?
SEBASTIAN ZUTANT: My current favorite pairing is Nino Barraco Grillo from Sicily paired with Dayboat Scallops with Farro and Spring Peas. It’s a rich wine but it has great acid, and is kind of lactic in texture so it plays well with scallops; there is a briny component that helps as well.
TBN: Do you do special wine promotions on a regular basis?
SZ: I do a rosé grab bag—$25 for whatever rosé I have in house. I always have some stuff just lying around that I like.
TBN: Do you have a go-to wine region to complement The Red Hen’s menu?
SZ: Piedmont is a good place only because the wines tend to be higher acid and lighter. But for me I haven’t stopped pushing Frank Cornelissen’s Contadino #9. It’s a Nerello-Mascalese blend from Mt. Etna that’s completely natural, unfined and unfiltered. It’s like berry jam with loads of acid due to volcanic soils and the stuff cries for food. Super versatile, and so much fun to give to people just entering the wine world.
|Cuisine: Italian-inspired American cuisine
using Mid-Atlantic ingredients
Selections on the wine list: 100
Bottles in inventory: 300
Price range of list: $30-$130
Average bottle price: $50
Sweet spot on list: $45-$55
Wine list strengths: Natural wines,
Sicilian, orange wine
Wines by the glass: 12, changing
Price range by the glass: $7-$10
Stemware: Riedel Restaurant Series
Preservation system: No preservation
system; “We blow through a ton of wine
and the BTG program is small enough that
we don’t hit much spoilage.”
TBN: What has done especially well for you by the glass?
SZ: Pechenino Dolcetto. Those guys treat Dolcetto like Scavino treats Nebbiolo, so its not your typical boring Dolcetto. It’s meaty and spicy and one of the most truly “medium” bodied wines I’ve ever had. For white, I’ve started pouring orange wines by the glass and the Denavolo Malvasia-Marsanne blend flies here. Real weird stuff—it drinks like a Basque cider, but I love it! And so do 75% of the people who try it. The other 25, well….
TBN: What software system do you use to manage your list/inventory?
SZ: Word/Excel. I keep it simple.
TBN: How many distributors do you do business with?
SZ: I work with about 10 now. I had at least 20 when I was at Proof and I couldn’t keep up. Simplicity is the key to happiness.
TBN: Do you have a system/routine for managing your wine orders?
SZ: I’m not a systems person. My brain doesn’t work that way. I wish it did. I place most orders on Sunday nights for Tuesday delivery, then Thursday for Friday. I do it via text or email.
TBN: What are some recent trends you have noticed, both in wine in general and at The Red Hen?
SZ: Last year when I was at Proof people couldn’t get enough Malbec… sad state of affairs. In my restaurant the trend is to try something new. A lot of people are just asking for a style and I try and get as close to that as possible. That and orange wine.
TBN: What are some other wine programs that you admire?