On Top of Upstairs
Matt Reiser, Wine Director,
Upstairs on the Square, Cambridge, MA
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
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:
have a go-to region or type of wine?
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
What is a favorite current
pairing from your menu and list?
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 tan-
nins, all of which play well together.
What software system do you
use to manage your list/inventory?
We roll old school with Excel—
and with a wonderful financial man-
ager who helps me every month to in-
put 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.
How many distributors do you
do business with?
Currently, just over a dozen. A few
years back, I dealt with over 20. Man-
aging and developing relations just
took up too much time. Also we scaled
back and offer a more focused list.
Do you have a system for
managing your wine orders?
Yes, very careful ordering, which
only comes after years of buying. We
are a unique restaurant in that we con-
sistently have large-scale celebrations
and many different selections, so be-
ing on top of the amount of supplies
What recent trends have you
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 Bur-
gundy. So a grape like Frappato actu-
ally 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.
How do you measure the
success of the wine program?
We monitor wine sales on a week-
ly, monthly and yearly basis. My phi-
losophy 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.
What do you find yourself
frequently telling your staff?
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.
What are some other wine
programs that you admire?
Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge To-
mate [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.
Selections on wine list:
Bottles in inventory:
Price range of list:
Average bottle price:
Sweet spot on list:
Wine list strengths:
Wines by the glass:
Price range by the glass:
Le Verre de Vin
UPSTAIRS ON THE SQUARE