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Somm Sez: A Classic Starts Fresh

Posted on  | January 24, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Scott Sulma, Partner/GM at Vallone’s, Houston, TX

Restaurateur Tony Vallone, whose namesake Tony’s is a Houston culinary icon, has added a new target for the city’s wine and food cognescenti: Vallone’s, serving up steak, fish, chops and homemade pasta in the Memorial City neighborhood. We caught up with Scott Sulma, partner and general manager, a veteran of the restaurant group who is overseeing the wine program at the new outpost, to get his take on being able to start a fresh spin-off of a well-established operation.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What is a favorite current pairing from your menu and list?

SCOTT SULMA: 55-day dry aged beef and a Tuscan Red such as 2008 San Fiorenzo Brunello di Montalcino, an accessible and affordable Brunello, approachable right out of the bottle, with that classic Tuscan nose. Or 2010 Petrolo “Torrione,” a Tuscan blend from one of the great houses of Italy, but at a very accessible price point.

TBN: What has done especially well for you by the glass?

SS: In whites: 2012 Ramey Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast and 2012 La Fiera Pinot Grigio. In reds: 2012 Sandrone Dolcetto and 2006 Pietro Beconcini “Reciso.” Sparkling: Taittinger Brut Française.

TBN: In opening a new restaurant, what was your aim for the wine program?

SS: We wanted a very approachable list with attractive price points, but we also want to introduce our guests to more boutique producers as we build relationships with them.

TBN: Do you have a strategy for displaying wines at the restaurant?

SS: Wine is art, and at Vallone’s it is prominently displayed in a 33-foot tall, all-glass wine cellar.

TBN: Were there any adjustments you made in terms of format for the list?

SS: All of our lists, in all three of our restaurants [Tony’s, Ciao Bello and Vallone’s], are living and breathing lists, updated daily. This is paramount for us.

TBN: People have become familiar with the concept of steak wines. How about pasta—do you think there are ‘pasta wines’?

SS: We don’t like to dictate what a guest drinks. We certainly feel there are ideal bottles for all dishes, but if you’re in the mood for something else you’re going to get it.

TBN: How many distributors do you do business with?

SS: 20 plus.

TBN: What software system do you use to manage your list/inventory?

SS: We do all inventory by hand. We like to feel the bottles. When you do it by hand, you’re also maintaining the inventory, by handling and turning the bottles.

TBN: Do you have a system/routine for managing your wine orders?

SS: It’s all about personal relationship with our purveyors. If we have a party that drinks us out of Vietti, we call and get Vietti in the next day. We don’t standardize or automate because then the guest would suffer.

TBN: What are some recent trend(s) you have noticed in wine in general?

SS: People are flocking to Italian wines with open arms and we are thrilled.


Cuisine: Modern Steakhouse
Selections on the wine list: 375
Price range of list: $45-$1,200
Average bottle price: $85
Sweet spot on list: Italian red and domestic Cabernet Sauvignon, blends and single-variety wines, $65-$145
Wine list strengths: A healthy balance between steakhouse classics and Italian cult.
Wines by the glass: 35, adjusted weekly
Price range by the glass: $11-$45
Type of stemware: Mircenza
Preservation system used: WineEmotion


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